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!