We get this question a lot. Should I get the 24MP or 45MP new camera? One criteria that is often mentioned is how big of a print you can make from your native file size. This is especially of interest to those who print at home. Some photographers have ink jet printers that make 17×22″ prints, and a few even have the massive ink jet printers that make 24 x36″ (and larger) prints. And then there are commercial printers who make massive prints…that cover the side of buildings. We have seen our images used from 6 foot trade show prints to bill boards around the country.
First, a few things to consider. It is true the larger megapixel cameras like 45MP will give you more detail and resolution resulting in more detailed prints. Next, viewing distance is important. Many massive mural sized prints are printed at lower resolutions because they expect the viewer to be more distant when they are viewing the image. If you walk up really close to a wall sized print, chances are it won’t look as sharp. Another consideration for going with a 45MP is you have more room to crop and still have a decent sized image. If you like to crop, then maybe 45MP is a good choice for you. If you shoot commercially, you may be asked to use a higher resolution camera on your shoot. This gives the client more to work with in their end use. We just had a commercial client the other day request we shoot using a 45MP camera. And last, consider price. 45MP are generally more expensive than 24MP cameras.
Here is what we do. First, the majority of our wildlife photography is taken with a D5 or D6, a 20.8 MP camera. We regularly send our favorite shots to Bay Photo and they print beautiful 24x 36″ photos that are hanging in our house. If you open a D6 raw file you get a 12×18″ file size. But when we look closely at our 24 x36″ Bay Photo prints they look super sharp and fantastic. So somewhere along the way they are editing the file to make these beautiful prints from a 20.8 MP camera.
For travel and everyday photography we love the mirrorless Z6 and Z6II. This is a 24 MP camera, and produces a beautiful file. Once again traditional file size would say you can make a slightly larger print than the 20.8 MP D6 file. But when I spoke for Nikon at the CES trade show right before the pandemic, they had blown up one of my images for a trade show gallery display. And the image was about six feet tall…from a 24MP camera. When I walked up really close, I couldn’t believe the detail. And most viewers would be looking at this image backed off so they could take in the entire scene, so it looked even better. So Nikon created a beautiful massive print from a 24 MP file.
We also shoot 45MP D850s as well. The resolution is stunning, the ability to crop is fantastic and we know the files can be used for anything. Just how big can you print from a 45MP file. How about big enough to cover an entire building wall…check out this great video on printing from a 45MP file. Bigger than anyone is most likely ever to do…
So how many megapixels do you need? What one camera can do it all? Since 24MP is plenty to make beautiful prints, and this file size doesn’t fill up your flash cards really quick, this might be a great choice for many photographers. But if you want the most fine details in really large gallery prints, then 45MP makes more sense. Or maybe you use a 45MP for landscapes and 24MP for travel. In the end it is dependent on the photographer and their end use (or what a client might ask for). Most importantly, don’t fixate on pixels, just get out and make photographs!