Is 12 enough?

An interesting news story came my way today over on CNet where Akira Watanabe, manager of Olympus Imaging’s SLR planning department said that most needs of most people can be met with a 12MP camera.  The full story is here, but does bring what has been an ongoing discussion into a more defined state.  As we’ve seen megapixel counts increase from counts lower than 3 MP less than a decade ago to counts that now are at 12 MP or higher, discussions have arisen throughout the industry on “How much is enough?”

From my perspective, I would agree that 12 is probably close.  Yes, processing capabilities are increasing and hard drive storage space costs continue to decrease at almost ridiculous rates (you can get a 1TB hard drive for around $100 these days!), but these are mitigated by need.  When you look at the true and honest need for most folks (myself included), we do not regularly print much larger than 8×10, or 12×16.  I would venture to guess that even artist gallery prints and portfolios do not exceed 16×20″ dimensions that often.

Yes, more megapixels means you can crop smaller and retain print quality, but at what price?  More grain or noise?  Yep.  Reduced dynamic range?  Yep.  More processing demands?  Yep.  More storage needed?  Yep.  While all of these can be addressed by buying software to handle noise, bracketing exposures to increase dynamic range, and buying more storage to meet the increased demand, there does come a point of diminishing returns on the investment, and Olympus seems to have set that mark at 12 MP.

But, will the market agree?  I think so.  It’s no secret that the economy is not doing so well.  People are likely going to be more frugal in their purchases, and getting that full-sized wall print may not be as high a priority as, perhaps, bread on the table is anymore.  Do we need to re-assess our priorities?  Some say yes, that it’s not all about the megapixels.  Some say we should be asking for things like low light responsiveness, better auto-focusing, faster auto-focusing, better in camera noise handling.  I don’t think any of us would complain either if we saw a decrease in the costs of fast glass.

But who knows – maybe the masses will continue to push for more megapixels.  Now that Olympus has drawn a proverbial line in the sane, will other vendors see the logic and start to taper things off?  Or will the megapixels wars continue indefinitely?  Sure, we can’t predict the future, but guessing and talking about it can be a good source of discussion too because it can get us thinking about what is important in our pictures.  So, what do you think?  Where will things go from here?  Sound off in the comments, and watch for the podcast coming up on Monday where you’ll get an extended version of my thoughts on where things may go from here.

In the meantime, have a great weekend, and go out and getcha some (pictures)!  We’ll see you back here on Monday!

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7 comments for “Is 12 enough?

  1. March 6, 2009 at 4:57 am

    I agree that 12MP is probably enough for most, but I also think it’s human nature to be greedy for more, bigger, better, faster, cheaper, whether it’s needed or not, and I think the market will reflect that. I’m still shooting at 8MP, and for what I do, it’s just fine. Would I like a 10 or 12 MP, why, yes I would! Do I need it? Probably not. Will I buy one, eventually, anyway? Yes, I imagine I will. But above 12MP? Doubtful, as I think that would be taking overkill to an extreme, as far as my personal needs are concerned.

  2. March 6, 2009 at 7:42 am

    I agree 12MP is probably enough, though I often print at A3 and its nice to be able to crop and print at that size. I’m guessing that if you took a straw-poll of all the sizes people print you would be right Jason, 10×8 etc. I don’t think the pixel war will stop myself though. Every time I show my camera to non-photographer friends, the first thing they ask is “how many MPs?” – its what the marketeers have told us is important. We know different, but the average consumer assumes more is substantially better….

  3. March 6, 2009 at 11:16 am

    I think 10-12 is enough for most people, but then, how many point & shoot digitals are out there that rarely if ever have images printed or even downloaded to a pc or the web. But, there will be some people that will always insist on having the most/biggest/fastest and will buy anything the camera makers put out there. Will there be enough of them at $10k a camera to make it profitable? That is the question the good folks at Nikon/Canon/Sony/etc should be asking themselves right now, before they invest millions and then try and get the next financial bailout package.

  4. March 6, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    12 MP is definitely enough. My primary camera (a 20D) is 8.7 MP, and my wife shoots a D30 (at 3 MP) regularly on paid portrait shoots. It has always been plenty of resolution. We’ve NEVER printed anything larger than 16×20.

    But I think consumers will continue to demand more pixels, because pixels are sexy! I think it’s similar to cars and their engine power. Manufacturers continue to eek more HP out of engines. I bought a Dodge Ram with a Cummins diesel back in 2004, and it had 600 pounds of torque and something like 250 HP. It was PLENTY for pulling my RV. I traded it in for a 2008 model last year (I need 4WD in Colorado), with 650 pounds of torque and 325 HP. Did I need the extra power? Nope. What I got was a truck that gets worse fuel economy. I equate it to negative side effects in cameras. Sure you get more MP, but you get more noise too.

    But what do you know, the truck enthusiasts start getting antsy when their their truck is 10 HP below what’s “state of the art”. They gotta buy another truck.

    Just like me. My cameras have plenty. But I still have to resist the urge to get a new camera. Instead I’m focusing on getting better lenses. New lenses don’t require me to buy a new computer and more hard drive space.

  5. March 8, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    12 is not enough for me. If you do any kind of post processing on your picture that involves sharpening, dodging, playing with contrast, etc… you need to have as many pixels as you can since it will leave less artifacts.

    There is also the cropping thing: at 21Mp my 5DMrkII starts to be interesting. I can take a picture in landscape mode then take a portrait crop out of it and still have enough pixels to send it to the printer.

    For me, as long as I am not trading MP for noise, I am happy!

  6. March 15, 2009 at 5:00 am

    Absolutely 12MP is enough. In fact, 12MP may still be overkill for a lot of people. I know even when I was shooting with my 10D (6 MP) that for some applications at a low enough ISO I could no kidding do a very acceptable and marketable 16×20–did a series of 3 lighthouses that made me some serious ca-ching at that size.

    At this point, what matters is not size but ISO performance, color performance, camera processing/writing speed, noise reduction, and sharpness. Congrats to Olympus for getting it right.

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