My first digital camera had about 3.2 million pixels, delivered JPEG output only, and used now-extinct SmartMedia memory cards that maxed out at 128 megabytes, if I remember correctly. I didn’t really consider it to be a “serious” camera, and just bought it to play around with. It turned out to be lots of fun, which led to my second digital camera: a Pentax *ist DS. The Pentax had a huge (in my mind) 6.1-megapixel sensor, and had won some sort of award that made it (again, in my mind) a “real camera.” Perhaps more importantly, it was capable of outputting RAW files and thus became my introduction to the wonders of RAW post processing. I pretty much wore that camera out, and still have images from it that I will gladly show without compunction. It is amazing what you can do with a mere 6 megapixels.
But then as the technology became available and affordable I moved to 10, 12, 16, and 24 megapixels, and through a few brands in the process. But when I got to 36 megapixels I realized that for most of the photography I was doing 24 MP was plenty. Just my opinion, but when I’m out on a photo walk, 24 megapixels is the sweet spot. 36 MP and more is great for careful, contemplative tripod-mounted work, and I will admit to keeping just such a system in my dry cabinet. I even take it out once in a while because, having spent a bit of time with medium and large format film cameras, I do love that slow, thoughtful photographic process. But when time is limited and I know I’ll be on the move, 24 megapixels is perfect.
There are exceptions, of course. I recently heard of a bird photographer who had purchased a very fine 24-megapixel model, only to sell it almost immediately because it didn’t have the resolution needed to shoot (probably better to say “photograph” in this case) distant birds and crop later. Clearly this particular photographer was only filling a tiny portion of the frame with the subject, necessitating some very tight cropping. Fair enough, but I’m pretty sure the situation would have been the same, if not worse, with 35mm film. New photographers today don’t know how good they have it.
Taking things to the next level, Phase One, a very high-end camera manufacturer, has just released a camera with a 150-megapixel sensor. That’s one hundred and fifty million pixels! I have boundless respect for Phase One because, not only do they make some truly amazing cameras, but they also make Capture One Pro, the RAW processing software that I use. I can afford Capture One Pro, but they probably won’t be getting $50,000+ out of me for their new XF IQ4 150MP Camera System. That’s OK, I am not jealous. Pixel envy doesn’t affect me at that level.
Might as well try to sell me the Hubble space telescope.