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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