‘Want More Megapixels? Be Careful What You Wish For’

The megapixel war is heating up again in the high-end DSLR market, with the 36MP Nikon D800 leading the charge and rumored high-MP Canon and Sony competitors on the way. If you’ve been drooling over massive megapixels, be warned: with great megapixels comes great responsibility storage costs. Photoshop guru Scott Kelby writes:

I was reminded this week how large the file sizes are for images I shoot with my Nikon D800. I grabbed a hard drive to copy around 1,000 images I took in Cuba, and I was shocked to see that it wouldn’t fit on the drive because it was a whopping 43 Gigbytes!!! I looked at what the Raw files were from my Nikon D3s, and for around 1,000 Raw files it was 1/3 the size (around 15GB) and for the same number of JPEGs from a similar camera it around 6GB. I’ll shoot more than 1,000 photos at any given football game in just three hours (glad I’m shooting JPEG).

If you’re planning to buy a high-MP DSLR this holiday season, you should also be thinking about stocking up on external hard drives as well.

It’s “Lots of Quick News” [Scott Kelby’s Photoshop Insider]

  • Mark Kalan

    Pretty obvious but not a problem (says the Hasselblad H4D-40 owner)

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    Surely this is just plain obvious? how is it a shock to anyone that a 36mp camera will produce big files? …

  • nemethv

    Could just shoot mRAW or something along those lines. Though I presume most people who buy a 36mpx camera (think) they need that sort of res.

  • Bryan.

    Wow, a camera with 3x the megapixels has files 3x the size! Surprise!

  • Adam Sparks

    This is one reason I hesitate to buy a D800. I want to go full frame and upgrade from my D300s. So do I (think) that I need the megapixels? No. However, if I buy new and since I have Nikon lenses, what choices do I have unless I buy a D4?


    you can shoot small size jpeg on d800 too. lolz

  • fahrertuer

    Captain Obvious was on holiday and took some brains with him…

  • Michael J Traynor

    I own a D3S and a D800, and previously owned a D700. You can buy a used D700 with a few thousand shots on it for $1400. Your D300s will get you maybe $600 so the upgrade isn’t too bad. The D700 is still an amazing camera, and unless you are shooting indoor sports, will do most things superbly. Spend the extra on a decent lens instead (Nikon 85mm 1.4).

  • John R

    D800, small, fine, DX crop Jpeg are around 1.8meg, and they beam straight off with an Eye-Fi card. What, me worry?

  • fahrertuer

    At the same time that storage requirements increase there is also an increase in storage size.

    2 years ago you could find 1 or 1.5TB disks. Now there are 4TB disks available.

    So whats the problem? When you upgrade your camera upgrading your computer as well is a good idea. More storage and increasing resolution also requires increased computing power…

  • Zak Henry

    I understand the hesitation to buy second hand, but the D700 wasn’t superseded that long ago, there should be plenty of new ones out in the wild. I have a D700, and apart from justifying the cost, the storage constraints are holding me back from upgrading to the D800.

  • quickpick

    yup, no upgrade comes without the costs..

  • YS

    My guess is that he’s on a Mac and Apple products aren’t the most upgradeable.

  • Goofball Jones

    My guess is that you have no clue as to what you’re talking about, and I’d be right.

  • DroidLover

    How upgradable is that Windows laptop? Or any laptop? Last I checked, on the normal MacBooks, you can swap out the HD pretty easily, or install more RAM. What else does a Windows laptop feature that’s really easy to upgrade?

    Scott usually works on a laptop btw.

  • Michael Lieberman

    You would be surprised though how many people I know who think they can upgrade to the latest and greatest camera and still have a 2 gig CF card from 8 years ago.

  • WildlifeShooter

    It takes me all of about a minute to swap out internal HDs on my Mac Pro.

  • Ivan

    And what would be the reason for getting D800 in the first place then? Is there anything cheaper, smaller, lighter with DX sensor that can shoot equally good JPEGs?

  • John R

    Sometimes, tiny is what you need. In that instance I was ‘beaming’ direct to a HD display monitor with the Eye-Fi and storing Jpeg and RAW on the camera, so yes, still massive files. The client had said ‘I don’t want to keep any of the photos’, luckily I had my RAWs when three weeks later he came back and asked for about 200 of them.

  • John R

    “Is there anything cheaper, smaller, lighter” actually that was the big decider on using the 800, it’s not big and heavy, I was sharing photo activity with Mrs. Me and she hates the D3 for that those reasons.

  • Ivan

    The exact math is not a surprise here. What surprises is that very few are thinking about consequences in terms of computing power, until they hit the wall. I guess there are two classes of users who are actually happy with high megapixel cameras:

    (1) Professionals, who understand precisely what they are dealing with, how much HDD space they would need, how much backup space, how much RAM to create 36MP Photoshop documents with multiple layers, how much CPU power to handle their postprocessing needs, and how much of their own time is needed to handle all this monstrosity. They are perfectly OK with 36MP (or higher).

    (2) Pixel peepers, who shoot test charts and boring scenes, quickly process, enlarge to 100% on screen, crop, then post tiny 100K or so 300×300 JPEGs bragging about how their gun that is bigger than yours. They do not need to preserve or seriously process their images, in fact they could easily loose all or most of them with zero impact. They are too perfectly OK with 36MP (or higher).

    For the rest of us it is just too much. I like features of some “pro” cameras, but I am frightened by the “infrastructure” demands to actually support them and make using them practical and comfortable. I wish every manufacturer has two versions for each advanced model, one with higher and one with lower megapixel count, something like D3s and D3x idea. I’d like to have options to buy pro bodies but with “s” version sensors (10-15MP, not more).

  • DafOwen

    Have used compressed (losless) RAW for a while – they’re a big (but small – boom boom) help.
    Still looking to get a NAS/RAID box though.

  • fahrertuer

    There are things like NAS solutions or just external harddisks that attach through USB or Lightning that don’t require you to open the computer…

  • Katy19

    this is not right. Somebody can up a petition somewhere? Because seriously camera companies clearly had the technological means to generate small files years ago, and now suddenly when point and shot goes out of business they lose this ability? Why? I have personally saved very large files as highly compressed Joint Photographic Experts Group images “JPGES” and they are nowhere NEAR this. #not OK.

  • Dominik Muench

    wow theres news. probably shouldn’t be playing with a professional camera if this isn’t obvious.

    I shoot with a Red EPIC and I buy new harddrives by default for every commercial shoot I do. 3TB drives now go for around 110$, is storage really an issue these days ? if you want the megapixels you should be prepared to pay the…comparatively….low price for the storage.

  • Krakers Kraken Maciek Krüger

    ” I’ll shoot more than 1,000 photos at any given football game in just three hours (glad I’m shooting JPEG).” writes photoshop guru…
    Photography pros shoot RAW ;P

  • Dan

    This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who understands data.

    The more information you put in a file it the bigger the file gets.

  • Matt

    Wow, sorry, but what is not ok is ignorance. Jpg is not a one size fits all solution, and the camera can do that already.

  • Matt

    Wow, really? Frightened by computers? If you would actually look you would
    know that storage is very cheap for very large amounts, 36mp is nothing. A multiple terra byte external drive is $100, a very small investment when buying a camera that costs thousands. Also, most good laptops are quad core any more with lots of ram. The issue is NOT “infrastructure” as it is freely and cheaply available. HD video is way more memory hungry than a still camera and I bet you don’t tink twice about it.

    The cameras have modes to record less than their maximum resolution already, why in the world would they want to make a new line of cameras for something they can already do? Additonally, most people will see and realise how valuable more resolution is to them and will use it anyway.

  • Ivan

    Just to clarify, I am not frightened by computers (far from it, I am an IT professional) but by the process of setting up and managing all the bits involved for something that should be enjoyable hobby for me as an amateur photographer, not a second job. I called all that hassle (perhaps inadequately) “the infrastructure demands”, meaning hardware, software, procedures, skills, and time required.

    Speaking of low(er) resolution modes: I was referring to RAW files only, not JPEG output. I can not find it in the specs for D800, but 2×2 pixel binning reducing 36MP to 9MP would do the trick when 36MP is not needed, but lower noise (binning reduces noise) at the expense of fine details (D3s vs D3x story). The main benefit would be to keep 12- or 14-bits per pixel for later more aggressive tonal corrections, something JPEGs are not adequate for.

  • Sammy

    actually Matt, JPG is one of the two formats (the other one being compressed, or RAR). But we all started somewhere! :)

  • RedSeatPhoto

    No Surprise here, I have a D4 and a D800E, when I shoot with the 800 I treat it like I have film loaded (check recheck make every shot count) Just invested $1,500 in a NAS device with 8TB of redundancy. Welcome to the club.

  • bart4u

    I shoot with the Canon 5D Mark lll and each RAW shot is 22MP and before that was the Canon 5D Mark ll and the Canon 1DS Mark ll and I have a ton of external hard drives. So far the large LaCie and the large G-Raid, portable Iomega and older portable LaCie have crashed on me. Not fun. I have four large Iomega’s that have been running very smoothly and my small LaCie Rugged Orange drive have runs good too. I just wish hard drives were a bit more reliable.

  • Larry Angier

    But wait, there’s more! 

    Open and save a 16bit file from the D800. They tip the scale at 217MB, more than double of the files from the D3/D700/D300, mere 12 MB captures…

But that’s not all! My master files that I craft in Photoshop crafted with burning and dodging, fine-tuning contrast and color and all the hoops one goes through to properly craft and prepare the best files start at 500-700-MB and go up to and over the 2-GB mark!

    Here’s my experience: One project this year is a mix of D700 and D800 images. 195 carefully-crafted and ready to go master files. It tips the scales at nearly 103 GB. Contrast that to a similar project in 2011 with files from the D300, D3, D700. 307 files and just about 45 GB!


The bright side is with those massive raw captures, I’m slowing down my shooting rate!

    So, buyer beware on the high megapixel cameras! You’ve got hidden “taxes” awaiting you beyond the cost of these new cameras! A partial list includes larger and faster media cards (and more of them!), more RAM and faster processors in your computer to handle the deluge of megabytes and gigabytes, bigger hard drives to work on and store all these files (thank goodness the shortage is over and the 2 & 3 TB drives are cheaper this year!), slower throughput, and image quality that’s simply out of this world!

 Got the older version of Lightroom or Photoshop? You’ll need
    upgrades for those, too!

    My first five plus years of digital images, scans from film, master files, etc., from the beginning of the century fit on a TB drive with room to spare, this year, I’ll easily fill 1.5TB. Next year, it may be 2TB if I start a second D800. I’m certainly happy after more than 27,000 images, though I’m hanging on to my D3s & D700 for day-to-day
    shooting since even 12 MB is overkill for much of what most photographers need.

    If one isn’t printing larger than 8×10 or 11×14 or simply posting the family snaps to Flick’r, Facebook, etc., the new generation of high megapixel cameras are little more than another place to sink money and bragging rights as to how many megapixels ones camera takes.

    For this new bunch of “camera owners” it’s no longer simply about polishing turds, but polishing much larger turds! They’ll never make an image better with any camera just bigger!

    Bottom line, for printing 20×30 and larger, the image quality can’t be beat, especially photographs created under hail-Mary lighting and other marginal conditions thrown at you working outside the studio!


Short of spending tens of thousands on medium format, more on lighting and years in learning the craft in a controlled studio environment, this bunch of high megapixel cameras more than makes the grade and inroad into MF land and are simply phenomenal!

  • Gadgetroid S

    Microsoft was right about PC’s not being dead. Get enough people buying this high capacity camera’s and we can revive the PC market again. Or better they could start bundling a PC with every DSLR camera sale.

  • John Newton

    as we say: no Sh*t Sherlock

  • Peter Lang

    Well as we all know more pixs means a better photo the new Nikon will be having the new sony 42mp sensor 2013,

  • lenslens1

    It’s horses for courses. The D800 is missing a quick down-conversion of RAW files internally when you don’t need all those pixels. They are kinda pointless when hand-holding at certain shutter speeds, for example, cause the camera shake will blur the image detail across pixels anyway. Even using a tripod without mirror lockup and some hefty weight can still be an issue. I guess you could down-convert the images to a smaller DNG before archiving to reduce storage size. Personally, I can get by with smaller megapixels and photo-stitching when the application calls for it.

  • Oj0

    RAR is a type of compressed archive, not an image. The one big difference between a RAR’d/zipped/etc raw file and a JPEG is the compressed archive uses lossless compression whereas a JPEG uses lossy compression, hence the lower quality.