Do we really need more than the current 45 megapixels to print large?

donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,650Member
edited January 5 in General Discussions
There is a constant clammer for sensors with more megapixels. I have been investigating this lately. The common standard for the most detail a person can see in a print is 300 dpi when the human eye is one foot from the print. The Z8 and Z9 produce files which are 8256 x 5504 pixels. At 300 dpi this equates to a print 27.5 inches by 18.5 inches. You cannot look at such a print with your eye one foot away because your eye cannot see the whole print at that distance, you have to back off to see the entire image. It is also commonly said that when viewing distance is considered printing at 200 dpi yields an excellent print because as you back away to be able to see the entire print your eye is no longer able to distinguish 300 dpi. In other words, 300 dpi contains details which the human eye cannot see at the normal viewing distance for a large print. Z8 and Z9 files printed at 200 dpi yield a 41.3 x 27.5 inch print. Many people say it is basically impossible to distinguish between a print at 300 dpi and one at 250 dpi even when examined with the eye one foot away and at 200 dpi when viewed at normal viewing distance for a poster size print. So basically, our current 45mp sensors are good enough for printing large. The "need" for more megapixels, such as a 60mp sensor we are likely to get in a Z7III this year, is generally not really a need for most of us. I should also note that if you process NEF images from Nikon's lower megapixel sensors in Nikon's NX Studio that software has an option to save them at 8256 x 5504 pixels so Nikon NX Studio can transform 24 mp images into 45 mp images automatically. I have done this frequently and have not detected a loss of image quality. (An example of NX studio taking a 12 mp D2x image to 45 mp will be posted below for your examination.) So basically, all current, and even older, Nikon bodies do allow for printing large.

But what if you wanted to print really large, like 5 feet by 4 feet, normally thought to be only medium format territory? Or said another way, do we need to purchase a 100 mp medium format digital body to print larger than poster size? I conclude the answer is no. Modern upscaling software, such as Topaz Photo AI can upscale the pixels in a file to print much larger. To prove this I took a 8256 x 5504 image which contains both sharp detail and bokeh and upscaled it two times to a 16,512 x 11,008 pixel image and saved it as a 53.3 mp jpeg file. At 300 dpi this file will print to 55 x 36 inches or 4.6 x 3 feet. Printed at 250 dpi the file will print at 66 inches by 44 inches or 5.5 feet by 3.7 feet. When printed at 200 dpi it will print at 82.6 inches by 55 inches or 6.9 feet by 4.6 feet. Basically, you should shoot a 6 foot tall person and print that person life size and the image would be sharp at normal viewing distance. Amazingly, we can now use a Nikon Z8 or Z9 and software to do what Richard Avedon did for his In The American West series using an 8x10 film camera! It should be noted that this is just a conservative 2x upscale by Topas Photo AI and that software can upscale larger. If you want to print life size at 300 dpi you can use Topaz Photo AI to upscale more than 2x and I think the results would be just as good going to 4x. Here is a link to flckr where you can examine the 2x upscaled file for yourself. it was shot at ISO 800. Click the image below to go to flckr and view the original 2x upscaled file to examine the detail.

Post edited by donaldejose on


  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,650Member
    edited January 5
    This is a 12 mp file from a 20 year old Nikon D2x processed in Nikon NX Studio to transform it to as many megapixels as a 45 mp sensor produces. Click through to flckr to examine it full size. This example only uses Nikon NX Studio. Topaz Photo AI is not used in this example. I could now take this 8256 x 5504 pixel file through Topaz Photo AI and enlarge it 2x like I did above. (I used a different white balance in the Nikon D2x photo which accounts for the different color of the statute.)

    Post edited by donaldejose on
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,650Member
    What happens if you you use Topaz Photo AI to upscale a 45mp file 3.9 times? You get a 32,000 x 21,333 pixel file. When printed at 300 dpi this produces a 106.6 x 71 inch print or an 8.8 x 5.9 foot print. When printed at 250 dpi this file produces a 128 x 85.5 inch print or a 10.6 x 7.1 foot print. Thus, you can photograph a 7+ foot basketball center, upscale the file in Topaz Photo AI and print him full size at 300 dpi. Such a print should be remarkable to see. Click on the image below and it will take you to flckr where you can examine the original file full size.

    TopazTest_3.9xZ80_0159A_406-topaz -denoise-enhance-3.9x-2
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,650Member
    In my opinion the new 100mp "medium format" digital cameras are interesting but just not necessary. We don't need to either berate Nikon for only offering 45mp or spend upwards of an additional $20,000 for a new MF body and some MF lenses if we want to print people life size. Software can add the additional megapixels just fine. I see no big problems with the upscaled files posted above. Do you?

    If the Nikon Z7III comes with a 60 mp sensor that will produce a file of approximately 9,500 pixels by approximately 6,300 pixels. Such a file printed at 300 dpi produces a 2.6 foot by 1.8 foot print. Suffice it to say a 60 mp file could easily be printed at 3 feet by 2 feet without any loss of perceived sharpness. If such a file were upscaled just 2x it would produce a 19,000 by 12,600 pixel file. Printed at 300 dpi such a file produces a 5.3 foot by 3.5 foot print. Suffice it to say such a file could easily be printed at 6 feet by 4 feet without any loss of perceived sharpness.

    These file size numbers do not include the additional pixels which can be created in a file by "pixel shift" sensors. Of course, pixel shift requires a non-moving subject while upscaling by Photo AI does not.

    We all tend to lust after more megapixels, myself included, but we already have enough to print people life size with good upscaling software. Purchasing and using Topaz Photo AI is far cheaper than moving to MF cameras and lenses. I believe good software has obviated the need for digital MF cameras.
  • PistnbrokePistnbroke Posts: 2,443Member
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,650Member
    Yes, camera manufactures need something to make us feel that our current camera is inadequate so we "need" to buy a new one (or can rationalize it to ourselves). In reality few people print anymore and mostly view images on cellphones and computer monitors at about 2 megapixels so even an old 12 mp sensor has to have many of its pixels "thrown away" as the image is downsized for our 2mp displays. But another take away from what I illustrated is to shoot in RAW and save those RAW files because it is highly likely that processing them with tomorrow's software will allow us to get more info out of that RAW file than we can today. A final takeaway is that Nikon has become a very good company because it provides free software updates which add new features. In the past you had to buy the new features by trading in your D3 for a D3s or D4 for a D4s or a 24mp D7100 for a 24mp D7200, etc.
  • Capt_SpauldingCapt_Spaulding Posts: 721Member
    edited January 12
    I agree. I’m sure I’m not the most critical viewer, but I’ve had good luck enlarging 24MP landscape images from a D610 and D750 to 20x30. At that size and given the print’s placement most will be viewed from between 5 and 10 feet. At that distance the small telltales of over enlargement are difficult to see.

    As for the clammering for ever-more pixels, I attribute it to human insatiably. As much as we may try to claim otherwise, for many of us the word “enough” has no operational meaning. That fuels runaway consumerism that manufacturers are eager to promote and happy to accommodate.

    I’m a poster boy. I just bought a Z8 / 24-120 f4 combo when my existing equipment stable was in great condition and equal to any task I as a photographer was equipped to undertake.
    Post edited by Capt_Spaulding on
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,650Member
    Me too. I predict a 60mp or more Z7III will be out this year and I may find it hard to resist even though I have proven to my own satisfaction that I can upscale 45mp images to yield life size images of people printed at 300 dpi (which I am never going to actually do). It is hard to find wall space for even poster size prints.
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,742Member
    What happens when you can paste your living room wall with 4k monitors where the boundaries are undetectable at a normal viewing distance for a 40"" monitor?

    I am not thinking about how my images will be viewed today, but 20 years from now.
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,650Member
    Yes, WEF I remember you using the phrase "future proof." It is a valid philosophy to shoot with the best image quality and most megapixels available today to "future proof" your work as best you can. In a way my efforts to "extract the most I can from old tech 12mp DX sensors is an illustration of how much future AI software is going to be able to "up future" the images we take today because we can expect that AI software will only get better over time. Looking back to see what can be done today gives us a clue as to what is going to be possible in the future. I have a Z9 and Z8 for "future proof" purpose and may be enticed to purchase any 60+ mp sensor Nikon releases this year. For "serious work" I will use my 45mp bodies today. I am also going to start keeping my RAW files. Many years ago I kept only the final jpg file due to thinking I would nave no further use for RAW files once the image had been processed to my liking. Now I see the value in keeping the RAW file to reprocess later in future software not available today. More will be able to be extracted from the RAW later.

    I also remember you considering going to medium format for higher mp and better image quality. Did you ever purchase a medium format digital camera? I never did, just too expensive, too bulky and too limited in lenses options. Finally, the Fuji GFX 100s looked more reasonable in size to me but I don't want to leave the Nikon ecosystem and all the excellent Z lenses being produced. It seems to me the technology leader (such as eye AF, etc) is and will continue to be in full frame mirrorless and going to medium format will force one to work behind the technology curve. If I was just doing studio portraits (which I am not) that might be ok but for an all around camera I think Fuji GFX 100 is too limiting. I don't think Nikon is every going to either produce a medium format body or put a larger square sensor in a Z body as you have suggested so I think I will always be stuck at the price point and size of FX. What will be the maximum resolution of Z lenses and FX sensors? I have long thought it will be somewhere between 60 and 100 mp. Meanwhile, medium format sensors will be able to go up to somewhere between 150 and 200 mp. They will always be ahead because those sensors have more surface area. Thus, maximum mp sensors will always be medium format and that will remain their main attraction forever. I think of it as the choice photographers had to make when using view cameras; do I shoot 4x5 film or 8X10 film? Personally, I will travel with FX and occasionally wish I had a medium format body for landscapes. At age 77 I am not going to be traveling much in the future so that longing for medium format will be a rare occasion.

    As of now I think I have demonstrated sufficiently to myself that current AI software is able to take a 45mp sensor file and upscale it sufficiently to print it at 300 dpi life size and take an old 12mp DX sensor file and print it poster size at 300 dpi. This "breaths new life" into the old D700. I no longer have a D700 around to test it but I think it should be able to shoot at about 1600 ISO and still produce AI clean large upscaled files. I think the old D2x should not be shot above ISO 400 and the old D300 should not be shot above ISO 800 to create less noise for AI software to start with. I would test the D700 at ISO 1600 if I still had one around. Maybe I can find an old D700 RAW file to work with but I doubt I have one shot at ISO 1600 since I would not have done that unless necessary. So it likely will remain and unanswered (and unimportant) question.
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,742Member
    No, I did not buy a medium format camera. If I was going to go to that trouble, the trouble being your points described above, I would go to Phase One - the only "full frame medium format" option. But as you noted about the price. And my biggest concern about investing in the Phase One system would be that Nikon would enter the market after they are finished fleshing out the Z-mount system.

    It is a small point, but it is not the size of the sensor that determines the potential resolution. It is the diameter of the objective (front lens). The farther apart the opposite sides of the front element, the more the resolution. If you are familiar with astronomy and the telescopes that they use, interferometry in particular, you will start to wrap your head around this idea. Also, think about diffraction limitations in lenses and how they depend on the f-stop. As you open up, you are increasing the effective diameter of the objective.

    My 18 year old is in first year physics and math at UBC. I made a deal with him. If he takes all the optics courses and then tutors me, I will pay for his double major in Science and Math and the likely PHD that will follow it.

  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,650Member
    I never moved to medium format either. Phase One is too expensive. The 100mp GFX "small medium format" sensor is attainable but having all new lenses makes the system too costly in the end plus it is lacking long telephoto lenses. I see Topaz Photo AI 2.3.0 and Topaz Gigapixel 7 were just released with new upscaling software. Both will increase pixels about 4 times. That will be "good enough" for me. I will shoot FF with its increasingly increased mp sensors and great Z glass and then just upscale when, and if, needed. So far I have not needed to print larger than poster size. My best wishes for your son.
Sign In or Register to comment.