The cameras that are being produced these days are nothing short of incredible. Understandably, it’s easy to become increasingly jaded with each new camera announcement touting more intelligent features and more and more resolution.
There was a time when I thought the so-called megapixel wars had ceased; I don’t know, maybe I had just stopped paying attention to everyone’s sensor upgrades.
No matter, resolution is as relevant as ever. It seems that a lot of people aren’t satisfied with anything less than 36 megapixels even if they have no need for or understanding of how to make the best use of all those megapixels.
And then there are those photographers who somehow find joy in their dinosaur 12-megapixel cameras.
Talk to the right people or browse the right forums and you may be surprised at how many low-resolution cameras are still in use.
The original Canon 5D (12.8-megapixels) is one such example. That camera was announced in 2005, and it’s still touted in some circles for the way it renders skin tones. Fujifilm’s original X100, a 12.3-megapixel camera, receives similar adoration.
Do photographers hang on to such cameras due to feelings of wistfulness, or is there some merit to using a low-resolution camera?
The short answer is yes; low-resolution cameras have some things working in their favor. Here are four advantages of using a low-resolution camera.
1. Smaller Files
A lower resolution sensor means smaller files. Smaller files put less strain on your computer’s processing capability, meaning you can process images quicker. If you happen to be using an older computer, you’ll run into fewer hiccups as you work.
Smaller files also require less storage space — you’ll get more out of your memory cards and your backup devices.
2. No Need To Downsample
Everything needs to be optimized for online sharing. Specifically, when working with large files, they need to be downsampled to adhere to the size requirements of a given website.
Downsampling is essentially the process of using a photo editor to decrease the number of pixels in an image to produce a smaller file (this does result in some loss of image quality, though it’s not typically apparent when viewed online).
With a lower resolution camera, you can usually skip this step and use the file as-is.
3. Better Burst And Buffer Performance
If you do any shooting that requires regular use of burst mode, you’ll find better performance as the lower resolution requires less processing time. The buffer will also clear faster, meaning you can return to burst mode sooner (of course, the speed of the memory card you are using is also a factor).
4. More Forgiving Of Imperfections
While it is commonplace to make a direct association between image quality and sensor resolution, the resolution of a lens plays a more significant role than some people realize when attempting to assess image quality.
If you are working with a lens that doesn’t resolve lots of detail, it won’t be noticeable in an image produced by a sensor that also doesn’t resolve a lot of detail.
Similarly, a lower resolution sensor is far less likely to reveal your focusing errors than a high-resolution sensor.
5. An Important Disadvantage Of Lower Resolution Cameras
Cameras with larger but fewer pixels certainly have their place in photography, but these lower resolution cameras also have a pretty important disadvantage that might limit their usefulness when pitted against high-resolution offerings.
The fewer pixels you have to work restricts you from doing any heavy cropping. While this may not impact photographers whose policy it is to get everything right in camera, it’s something to be aware of.
Given that you’re already starting with half (give or take a dozen) the number of pixels in more recent cameras, heavy cropping will have a noticeable negative effect on image quality and will limit your size options for both screen and print.
In addition to the technical considerations discussed above, some of these lower resolution cameras reportedly produce images that have a certain aesthetic not duplicated by their high-resolution counterparts.
If you do any photography in which high-resolution imagery isn’t a concern, then a 12- or 16-megapixel camera may be right for you.