Reconsidering High-Resolution Cameras

A Western Landscape - Near Las Vegas, Nevada

A Western Landscape – Near Las Vegas, Nevada

For most of my photographs, 16MP to 20MP works great and it’s perhaps an ideal resolution. They are detailed enough for my uses and they don’t bog down the computer or suck down undue storage. But my recent 32″x46″ metal print that I printed at Shiny Prints, got me thinking. I like that print so much, it’s tempting me to get into serious landscapes.

Currently, I’m not much of a traditional landscape photographer, though I do take a considerable number of urban landscapes. There was a brief period, a few years ago, when I went to Big Bend National Park and some parks around Las Vegas. That’s where I shot a bulk of my serious nature landscapes. When I did my Shiny Prints Review, I noticed a few technical issues with my photograph. The print itself was fine, but it was more my technique and/or my equipment that was slightly lacking.

What I discovered is that when you print at 32×46 inches, you may see weaknesses in the image that you normally miss. That was the case with me. I used the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II in high-res shot mode, which creates a 40MP JPEG. I cropped to a 2×3 aspect ratio which left me with 35MP. I always knew that the bottom left corner was a little soft. What I previously never saw was a soft bottom right corner, also. Since the bottom center is sharp, I suspect a less than perfect copy of my Olympus 12-40 f2.8 Pro lens. These detailed observations may be considered pixel-peeping, which I usually don’t do, but it becomes critical with super large prints. These are optical deficiencies that I notice in the metal print, though, I’ll note, it didn’t seem to bother my wife.

Putting on my gear hat, hypothetically speaking, I started thinking of the perfect setup for making high-resolution landscape prints. Beyond the resolution of the camera’s sensor, there are other equally important considerations. Does the sensor have an anti-aliasing filter, which is designed to slightly blur the image to reduce moiré. The sharpest lenses are also critical, not just in the center, but from corner to corner. The image processor and the quality of the RAWs also need to be considered as well as the RAW converter and post processing software.

Let’s look at the list of possible cameras. The lenses, while equally (or more) critical, requires additional analysis, which I won’t include in this post.

From the traditional DSLR big boys, there’s the 50.6MP Canon 5DS R and the 45.7MP Nikon D850. The Canon has a special filter that’s supposed to negate the anti-aliasing filter, while the Nikon doesn’t have an anti-alias filter.

There’s also the Pentax K-1, while “only” at 36.4MP, it also lack an AA filter and it has the pixel shifting technology that increases sharpness and improves color.

In the medium format world, there’s the compact mirrorless 50MP Hasselblad X1D and the less compact mirrorless 50MP Fujifilm GFX 50S. While these sensors share the same resolution with the Canon 5DS R, their larger sensors should give them an edge with dynamic range.

Sony recently released their A7R III with 42MP, also with a pixel shift feature similar to the Pentax for increased sharpness and color fidelity. Olympus also uses a pixel shifting system but actually increases the file size with additional resolution. The 16MP OM-D E-M5 Mark II produces a 40MP JPEG and 64MP RAW while the 20MP PEN-F creates a 50MP JPEG and 80MP RAW. Finally, the brand new Panasonic G9 also uses pixel shift to create 80.6MP RAWs or JPEGs.

So am I about to buy a new camera system? No, not yet anyway. I suspect that I won’t get into serious landscapes for at least a few more years. But the possibility of making more giant metal prints did get me thinking. And it would take me a while to analyze all the different variables including the availability of high quality lenses for a new system.

However, I wonder if super high-resolution is really that critical? The dye sublimation process used to create metal prints, when it infuses the color into the metal, softens the images somewhat. So all that extra resolution might not be necessary. In reality, the biggest issue for me was corner sharpness from my particular lens. And ultimately, color, composition, subject and the mood of the photograph is more important than absolute sharpness.

I’ll need to further test my 12-40 f2.8 Pro to see if there is truly a corner sharpness issue. There’s certainly a possibility that it was user error that caused the problem. For now, it makes sense for me to use the PEN-F for landscapes with the available 80MP RAW high res mode or the easy to use 50MP JPEG. I’ll certainly report my findings, if I start shooting landscapes again.

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14 thoughts on “Reconsidering High-Resolution Cameras

  1. Here you go, your gear lust solved (briefly until the next latest greatest thing comes around):

    Seriously though, here’s my voice of reason hat on. You are way too talented to waste brain cycles on stuff like this. Are you going to do huge prints often and on metal which softens a bit anyway as you said? The main way you share your images is in a paltry 1024px on the web. Printing big like you just did, unless you are planning to do that often, is the exception not the rule.

    1. Thanks for your voice of reason, Mike. I’m not going to rush into getting some fancy setup just to be used once in a while. I’m too cheap for that 😉

      I’ll certainly push the Olympus to the maximum extent first. And, as you said, for the majority of my photography the Olympus gear works really well for me.

      That said, there’s also no reason not to improve and take on new challenges. I often think years ahead. As I begin to approach retirement, I’ve been contemplating different types of photography challenges and certainly, increased travel.

      Also, I actually love analyzing gear. Not as much as the actual photography, but there’s a good left and right brain balance going on.

  2. More likely than not, your sharpness issues will be from in camera hi res stacking issues than the lens itself. The 12-40 should be able to resolve just fine and my copy was always sharp all over.

    Hopefully you do not have an out of spec sample of the 12-40.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Andrew. Good to know that your copy is sharp all over.

      I’m not sure if it’s the stacking, since most of the picture is sharp, except for the corners. The top corners may also have issues, but I can’t tell in this scene because of the sky.

      But I certainly think it’s worth doing a good analysis. I don’t want to blame the equipment if it’s my poor/improper technique that’s responsible.

  3. My Olympus 14 to 140 had a soft bottom right quadrant. I tried to work around it, but I couldn’t. I sold the lens to a friend and it doesn’t bother him at all, but every time I looked at one of its pictures, it irked me. Maybe it’s a matter of degree, but it ruined the pictures for me.

    1. It happens. I’m not usually super picky, especially if I can’t see optical issues full screen on my 27″ monitor. But give this is a super large print, the requirements are more extreme than my usual standards.

  4. Andy – I’m a firm believer in using tripods for landscapes. You don’t say if you used one here or not. That said, shake would show up all over the image, not just in corners. You also don’t say if you’re using a filter or not, which can also soften an image, sometimes in unpredictable ways. Also, the aperture you used can affect things – too big, and you have too little depth. Too small, and you have softening from diffraction. Then, I look at ISO (many of us bump up the ISO so we can comfortably hand hold, but then we have to remove the noise that comes along for the ride, and that softens the image). Of course, you can always focus stack, but that’s another topic for another blog.. 😀

    I start with those things. If I used f/8-f/10 on a tripod with no filter and mirror-up release (my 5DIII has a monster mirror that really shakes things up), any softness in the image would be due to a lens defect, or something moving in the image.

    All of that said – I really like the image. It’s a nice composition with lots of layers – very appealing. Just don’t let photographers get near the corners.. hehe.

    1. Hi Bernard, thanks for the excellent suggestions. Just to give you more info on how I shot this…

      1. I did use a tripod. BTW, most if not all of the pixel shift technologies require a tripod.

      2. I used f8. ISO 200, the base ISO for Olympus

      3. No filters.

      4. There’s no mirror to lockup on the Olympus, since it’s a mirrorless system.

  5. For the hi-res camera / lens combinations. Excellent quality control, periodic price promotions in addition to already low costs.

  6. Hey Andy,

    Your review of Shiny Prints Caught my eye, I have had several requests for a BIG metal Print, larger than the 20 X 30 range, great stuff my friend!

    I reached out to them and they spoke highly of you, good peeps and a good business, and they like the Empress…thanks a bunch!

    1. Man, everyone likes the Empress!

      Good to hear. I like working with them and I’m glad it’s worked out for you too. I’m also happy that my review helped.

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