Do You Need 21 Megapixels?


You've probably heard of the megapixel wars—the race between companies to cram more megapixels onto their sensors. The 5D Mk II, for example, has 21MP. With many of the entry- and mid-level DSLRs starting to creep into that area, users should consider whether or not they really need that many megapixels. To demonstrate what can be done with 21MP, we'll take as an example something I shot years ago. 

When I graduated college, I was thrust into the world of the paparazzo. Every morning, I'd wake up and get an email from my agency that a celebrity's agent had leaked that their client was filming a movie around the area in NYC. So I'd head out to shoot, with my 5D Mk II, 24-105mm F/4 L IS, and a MacBook . Of course, this was all done in public, and sometimes I wasn't able to get as close as I'd like to the celebrity.

One day, Sarah Jessica Parker was filming a movie around the Metropolitan Museum or Art in NYC. The cast and crew sectioned off a whole city block, and Sarah was located right in the center of the block. For most of the time, I and other photographers had to shoot from the other end of the block.

This was an original image.

And here was my crop. Pretty good, right? The good news is that it was totally sellable.

Here's another image. I honestly thought that there would be no way that I'd be able to get this one. I was extremely far away from Sarah.

However, I was able to get this crop from my original image.

When I uploaded these images onto my MacBook, I thought that it would be impossible to use the above image.

But I was able to get this. Take a look at Sarah's beautiful expression. Not only was this cropped, but also straightened. Notice the lines of the hotel behind Sarah.

This time I was able to get much closer to Sarah.

And once again, photographing her with a 24-105mm F/4 L IS didn't fail at all.

So even when you think you're not close enough, don't lose hope in yourself or your editing abilities. You can always crop, or find a way to rescue an image with advanced software, or even programs like Photoshop Elements. I will also admit that Image Stabilization helped quite a bit, because not only was I very far away, but I was also breathing heavily due to the fast-paced work, a gear bag slung across my chest, and the heat of that summer day.

What's the moral of the story? If your work includes lots of cropping and blowing up, you should consider cameras that give you lots of megapixels. 21MP is more than enough for most users, because they can crop to their hearts' desire and still retain lots of great detail in their images. With all those megapixels I was easily able to crop in to get sellable images for my agency. For the average picture-taking consumer who won't need more than 8 x 10 blowups, 5 megapixels will suffice. Besides megapixels, your lenses are also important, as you'll need to determine whether or not you need a wider or more telephoto zoom range for your shooting style.

What do you think about the megapixel race? Do you crop often? Let us know in the comments below, and if you'd like to take a closer look at the images, check out the attachments below.

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And now we have 21 mp cameras on our PHONES.

I do middle school and high school sports photography on a wide field.  Sometimes I'm at one end shooting the other end.  I tend to do lots of cropping.  Having a Canon 7D w/ 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens has been a life saver.  I also like to use it when shooting wildlife in my back yard.  Being able to maintain the clarity of smaller birds and animals is awesome.  Using the smaller lenses to do outdoor casuals is also good because I can get more background in the shots, but crop later to the desired effect.  So a resounding yes to cropping.  Thanks for the article.

Of course, all of this depends on two things:  the quality of your lens and the ability to focus sharply.  If the image is soft, no amount of megapixels will help when you try to crop.  The will help, however, if you bin pixels and reduce the overall resolution of the image.

Nothing replaces good technique.