Why use a high-resolution camera?
The Nikon D810 (affiliate) is a camera that surprised me for how much I liked using it. The high resolution of this camera was a drawback for me initially. But it had very responsive AF. Also, super-crisp images because of the improved sensor and due to the lack of the anti-aliasing filter. Ergonomics. (I have big hands.) But I didn’t anticipate that I would love the D810 as much as I do. For a long while though I kicked against the idea of using a camera with a very high resolution. But then the Nikon D810 convinced me. There’s a story here. A story of progression, including my own.
A short history of digital cameras:
The pivotal time when digital photography with really good cameras became accessible, was when the 6 megapixel cameras ruled, e.g.: Canon 10D and Nikon D100 and the Fuji S2. These were the crop-sensor cameras. It was just a matter of time then before full-frame DSLRs became available.
There was a certain progression after the first full-frame DSLR, the Contax N Digital was released in 2002. While the Contax was a 6 megapixel camera, the next full-frame DSLRs was the 11-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds (also 2002). This appeared to be the landmark camera that helped sway the medium-format film shooters to dump their Hasselblad bodies in favor of digital cameras. (The Kodak DCS Pro 14n, released in 2003 never quite took off due to various production problems.) In 2004, the 16-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II was released, and a year later (2005) the much more affordable Canon EOS 5D, brought higher-resolution (and a clean 1600 ISO) to the general photographer. The Canon 5D had 12.8 megapixels, and turned out to be another landmark camera in the quick ascent of digital photography. And in 2007, Nikon finally released the 12 megapixel full-frame Nikon D3. With only 12 megapixels and a sweet sensor, the D3 had the best high-ISO noise at the time.
Around 12 megapixels:
You will notice that the three landmark cameras mentioned there, were in the 12-megapixel range. For me this also seemed to have hit a sweet spot – large enough images, and clean higher ISOs.
For example, the 12 megapixel Nikon D3, had a resolution of 4256 x 2832 pixels. If we consider a 300 dpi quality for prints, then the D3 images can be printed to a 14 x 9.5 inches without even scaling the photo up in Photoshop. In terms of wedding photography, a 12×12 album or a massive 14×11 album would be about the largest you’d print an image for an album. This would only mean a slight up-scaling of the image in Photoshop, with no visible loss in print quality. When the 16-megapixel Nikon D4 and 18 megapixel Canon 1Dx were released, we had (in my opinion) about the optimal size image for the vast majority of photography needs.
I was very impressed with the image quality of the Nikon D800 – here are my first impressions of the Nikon D800 – but I resisted the idea of such a high resolution camera. The image files are massive. They take more storage, and take longer to process, and I simply felt I didn’t need it for the majority of my work – wedding photography.
But occasionally I need more pixels:
As my photography worked started shifting more towards Commercial work, I thought it was time I invested in a high-resolution camera. The bumf on the Nikon D810 (affiliate) made it out to be a really exceptional camera, so I bought one. The more I used it, the more I liked this camera. Even above the D4 bodies for a lot of the time.
Where the D810 affected how I shoot, was when photographing kids. These little buggers scoot around at speed. This makes it tough to predict which way they are going to move and run. With the 36 megapixel real-estate available to me, I could crop a lot into the image, and still end up with a high-resolution image! I’m not sure why this surprised me the first time when I cropped a horizontal 36 megapixel image as a vertical 2×3 ratio image … and still ended up with a 12 megapixel photo. The math is so obvious, but it took actual cropping of an image and the numerical values to show, before it sank in for me. There are huge possibilities now in how I could creatively crop an image.
For example, as I photographed kids running around in a park, I could shoot wider to make sure I have them in the frame – and then crop in post. The brisk AF of the D810 made it easier to get sharp images.
I can now shoot more central images, relying on the more sensitive cross-type sensors. Afterwards I can then crop for an off-center composition as needed.
An advantage of high-megapixel cameras – freedom of composition afterwards
About this photo above – it is 13 megapixels in size. A brutal crop from the original 36 megapixel file. Yet the final image is still large enough to be printed to 14×11 or such.
The little boy, 3-year old Jack, was very busy. Barely gave me time to focus on him before running off again. When I took this photo, he pulled a weird mouth. I was on the verge of discarding the image when I wondered if there was perhaps something there in a much tighter crop of his eyes. And there it is. I like this version of the photo.
And if you’re curious what a 100% crop looks like, and how it holds up:
Camera settings: 1/4000 @ f/1.4 @ 100 ISO
Lighting via an off-camera Profoto B1 flash (affiliate) and the Profoto RFi 1’×3’ softbox (affiliate).
This incredible sharpness (on a kid who didn’t stop moving), is mainly due to three things:
- The sensor of the Nikon D810 is just incredibly sharp. Really sharp. Sharper than my D4 cameras.
- The auto-focus is superb. Faster and more confident than my D4 bodies!
- The razor-sharp Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens.
Here is the review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens
- You can purchase the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 via these affiliate links:
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART for Canon: B&H / Amazon
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART for Nikon: B&H / Amazon
Yes, that’s me with the camera that you can see reflected in his iris. The amount of detail that this camera allows is just incredible.
Shooting with a high-resolution camera changed how I photographed kids. That was unexpected. It allowed me to shoot “looser” and concentrate more on the moment and expression … and then I could crop the image as needed afterwards.
Current high-resolution cameras (affiliate links)
There are a few high megapixel DSLR cameras on the market. I expect this to become more of a trend:
- Nikon D810 (36 Mpx)
- Sony Alpha a7R camera (36 Mpx)
- Canon 5DS (50 Mpx) – to be released Jan 2016
More images from this photo session
Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used for this photo series
- The images above are only slightly cropped, or not cropped at all. None as heavy a crop as the image at the top.
- All of the images shown here were at f/1.4 or f/1.6 … which necessitated a fast shutter speed accordingly
- 1/1000 to 1/4000 @ f/1.4 to f/1.6 @ 100 ISO … with Profoto B1 off-camera flash
- Nikon D810
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG (for Nikon) / Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG (for Canon)
- Profoto B1 battery powered flash
- Profoto RFi 1’×3’ softbox
- Lastolite LS2453 monopod (91 inches)
Post-processing of these images
The images here were gently bumped up with more contrast and saturation through a sprinkling of Photoshop fairy dust – a combination of a few actions that I run. Along with Adrian (also known as Trev on the Tangents Forum), we’re working on an additional set of Photoshop actions to complement the Secret Sauce photoshop action set that’s been available for a while now. I’ll let everyone know through an update on this site, and via the monthly Tangents Newsletter.
- review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens
- review: Profoto B1 flash
- On-location headshots and promotional portraits (headshots: Jonathan)
- High-speed flash sync (HSS) with the Profoto B1 portable flash (model: Melanie)
- review: Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash – photo shoot
- NJ family & children photographer
31 Comments, Add Your Own
1Roy Barnes says
Stunning images Neil. Canon is moving ever forward too with the 5DS and 5DS R recently announced – both coming in at a stunning 50.6MP! They are also currently testing what will be the 5D MKIV. Where will it all end I wonder. And how much dough must we fork out to stay abreast of this technology. That said, the old 30D I keep in reserve can still churn out stunning bloody images. Exciting but sobering times.
2Mike Greenslade says
Considering the boy is constantly on the move,I can’t get over how consistant the B1 exposes its TTL exposures and in high speed sync aswell!
I’ve been toying with getting the B1 but the price has always put me off. I’ve heard the Phottix Indra500 is as good and cheaper but something tells me to hold back and go for the B1?
I have the Elinchrom Quadra but shooting moving subjects it’s no good, slows me down! TTL would be an advantage.
Keep up the good work!
3Neil vN says
Mike … keep in mind that my assistant (my wife) was moving along with me and the boy, as she held up the Profoto B1 on a monopod. That did help with the consistency of the flash exposure.
3.1Mike Greenslade says
I realised you had an assistant moving with the boy. Neil,Why did you choose the 50mm lens? Wouldn’t it have been easier with the 70-200mm f2.8 lens? This is my go-to lens with children on location.
4Neil vN says
I used the 50mm lens for the active photos of the boy – I specifically wanted that shallow DoF look, but with some pop to the photos via light from the flash and softbox.
The more posed photos with the parents, was shot with the 70-200mm as usual.
5Keith R. Starkey says
You opened the article saying, “The Nikon D810 (affiliate) is a camera that surprised me for how much I liked using it. . . . . But I didn’t think I would love the D810 as much.”
It’s the “as much” that confuses me. As much as what? In that you later mention your experience with the D800, did you mean, then, to start the article off with the D800 and that you didn’t think you’d like the D810 as much as the D800? Just wondering.
6Neil vN says
Hi there Keith … I’ve rephrased it now. Sometimes the initial sloppy writing is because I do much of this late at night when my brain is fading away.
To explain it further. I liked the D800 (which was a loaner), but the large file size was something I felt I didn’t need. Two years later, when the D810 surfaced, my needs have changed a bit.
There are other reasons why the D810 is such a pleasure to use.
– The shutter is quieter.
– The mirror black-out time is incredibly fast.
So there are a few other things as well which elevated this camera for me.
6.1Keith R. Starkey says
I completely understand “sloppy writing” with someone as busy as you are. No problem there.
6.2Regina Mangiamele says
Hi Neil….im looking for a used 810?? Any suggestions or assistance where to purchase??
6.2.1Neil vN says
My favorite place to check for used camera gear: FM Forums
I had a Kodak DCS 14n, it was a fine camera for its time, especially if you were a Nikon shooter, which I was. I believe the problems started when Kodak built a Canon variant.
8Neil vN says
I remember waiting and waiting for the Nikon mount Kodak DCS 14n to be released, and eventually giving up and just getting a 2nd Nikon D100 body.
9Kevin Rousseau says
Sony has announced the a7R II, a 42.4MP mirrorless camera freaking BEAST, with an image stabilized full-frame BSI CMOS sensor. It has a 5-axis image stabilization that is rated at 4.5 stops and does video at 4K (UHD) video at 30p/25p or 24p in the XAVC S 4K format. The 4K video can be taken either from the full sensor width or from a Super 35 crop.
10Blake Irvine says
Hi Neil, any thoughts on the D750? Is 24MP in the realm of “high res” per your thoughts in this write-up? Have been thinking of the D750 as an upgrade to the D700 but now maybe I should think of the 810… thanks for the great info as always.
11Neil vN says
By many accounts the D750 delivers the best image quality of all the Nikon cameras. The one major downfall for me of the D750 is that it is ergonomically uncomfortable. It’s just too small for my hands. With that, I didn’t even consider it.
For this article, I skipped the “middle ground” of the 24 megapixel cameras, such as the Nikon D750 and Canon 5D mark 3, and just concentrated on what is (for now), the highest resolution DSLRs on the market.
If you notice though, my main cameras are the Nikon D4 bodies, and I still think that for the vast majority of work that I do, it is really well suited. So if 16 megapixels will do the job properly, then the 24 megapixels of the D750 will shine.
11.1Blake Irvine says
Thanks for the comments!
12Frank Palmeri says
Hi Neil, it was gratifying to see you validate the practice of cropping images in post-processing. Some photographers were taught to avoid cropping and other changes in post…what you capture in the viewfinder is what you get in the final image. I treat a captured image as nothing more than raw material from which to create the final image in post-process, and cropping is an essential part of that creation process. Great to see you so effectively using creative cropping!
Someone lend Neil a Pentax 645z so we can finally get a proper review of the thing. It would make a great counterpart to this article.
I recently purchased the Secret Sauce Action set for what I thought was a very reasonable price. However, a few simple clicks later and my photos are most definitely still nowhere near as good as yours Neil! What I want to know is how are you going to resolve this issue?
Could you point me to an article to learn how to use flash with 1/4000th sec shutter speed. My camera manual talks about high speed sync, but is not very clear on how it works.
15.1ben bibikov says
You need to put your camera on Manual (M) mode. Then you set your shutter speed, the Flash (assuming you put in TTL) will do the rest.
16Neil vN says
Barry, here is a tutorial on high-speed flash sync.
If your camera is a Nikon, then you enable HSS via the menu. Usually it is custom function E1.
With Canon cameras, you enable it via a button on the flash itself.
We will have to know the details of your gear to give you specific advice.
“?All of the images shown here were at f/1.4 or f/1.6 … which necessitated a fast shutter speed accordingly
?1/1000 to 1/4000 @ f/1.4 to f/1.6 @ 100 ISO … with Profoto B1 off-camera flash”
Maybe off-topic, but I believe it is relevant since the f/1.4 and fill flash were integral to these pictures. I believe on camera flashes are typically limited to shutter speeds of 1/200s or slower. Wonder how the off camera flashes get around this limitation, even though the camera shutter is going at 1/400s? Appreciate if you have any comments on this.
17.1Stan Rogers says
The flash operates in a special mode. Most camera-brand speedlights will do this as well, as well as many third-party dedicated (TTL-capable) speedlights. (Recent-ish ones, that is; antiques don’t count.) Instead of flashing once after the shutter is opened, in high speed sync mode the flash fires many times at very low power starting just as the first curtain begins to open and ending just after the second curtain closes. You’re actually doing multiple overlapping flash exposures, each of which only covers part of the frame.
Very low power? If the flash fires 64 times while the shutter is moving, it only has enough juice to fire (at most) at 1/64 power each time – it can’t recycle between flashes since all of those flashes are happening in a very small fraction of a second. And the flash can’t really fire 64 1/64-power flashes that quickly because there wouldn’t be enough voltage (potential) across the capacitor to light the arc (make a flash) for the last few tries – but it can fire 64 1/128-power flashes. (The numbers are examples only, but they’re not far off.) So you lose some power there. And as your shutter speed goes up, more and more of the light will be hitting the shutter blades instead of the sensor. So you effectively lose power again.
BUT you’re able to use a wider aperture than when you stick to the X-sync speed in ambient light (which would normally force you to either stop down or use a neutral density filter in bright ambient light), so the loss isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. And if you’re using something like the B1, which is more or less the equivalent of ten “full size” speedlights, like the SB910 or the 600EX RT, you can use modifiers and back the light out of frame and still have enough light left for your picture.
Don’t confuse this with “high speed sympathy mode” or “tail sync”. Those fire the flash once *before* the shutter opens and make use of the “afterglow” from the flash tube. It’s better than nothing, I suppose, but the light isn’t very bright at all, and exposure will be uneven across the frame (the earliest part of the picture will be brighter than the latest).
Stan, Thank you for the reply. I think my Nikon SB-800 does this as well, although I have not really tried it out. Need to do that.
Another great post. I borrowed the D800 for about a week and found that I had problems getting shots of my little kids in sharp focus. When they turned out they were amazing, but those occasions were too few for me to purchase the camera. It seemed to be a combination of AF issues, and shutter speed requirements (possibly due to mirror vibration). What has been your experience photographing kids with the D810 at more modest shutter speeds (1/80 – 1/400), and which AF settings do you prefer for capturing such unpredictably quick little creatures?
19Neil vN says
Will … with this shoot again, I played with Continuous (AF-C) vs Single (AF-S), and single focus points and groups … and I kept coming back to AF-S and a single AF point close to the center. (This would be one of the cross-type sensors close to the middle.)
I had most success using the simpler configuration. I did lose some shots when he moved too fast, but that combo gave me the most success. Simpler.
Also check the Tutorial on choosing between focusing modes on your camera.
20Stephen S says
Once the Sony a7r2 comes out, that will be a game changer. 5 Axis IBIS, silent shutter, 42 MP, ability to use Canon glass with adapter and almost full speed AF with native Canon glass using cheaper adapter.
21Andrew Morgan says
As a learner photographer I really like your no nonsense, straight talking advice. I’ve just upgraded my camera to a Nikon D810, from a Canon and I’m a little confused about all the diffferent Raw file combinations ie. Lossless compressed, compressed, 12 or 14 bit etc. could you maybe shine some light on this and recommend a format to use. Also, what do you use for most of your day to day projects.
can you write something about your thought process in family portrait sessions ?
22.1Neil vN says
You would have to be specific with your question, instead of this “tell me everything you know” request.