By now no doubt at least some of you have taken the time to familiarize yourself with details of Nikon’s new D800 which offers the highest megapixel count of any 35mm format DSLR so far, and the resultant web chatter as to whether this is a good thing or just one more ridiculous marketing ploy. On the one hand it rather pours cold water on the idea that the megapixel race is dead; on the other, it’s kind of curious from a company that has, with the one exception of the D3X, pretty much made a habit of being very conservative about packing sensors with photosites. That’s still the case with their new flagship model, the D4, though that body is arguably aimed more narrowly at a niche market whose highest priorities are speed, ruggedness, and world-class low-noise/high-ISO performance. The D3X engendered similar debate about how many megapixels were enough when it came out in late 2008, but even with its stratospheric $8,000 cost it gained a very significant following and high praise for superb image quality. Whether the D800 will measure up as well remains to be seen, but at a much reduced cost of just under $3,000 and far more built-in flexibility the prospects are pretty good.
So what about the megapixel argument itself? Whether it even matters to you will depend on many things of course—your favorite photographic subjects, what you do with your images once you capture them, your budget, and whether tool discussions interest you in the first place, to name a few. And as in all these matters, one size doesn’t fit all and every tool is a compromise of one sort or another, so there are no easy answers regardless. One astute thread of this discussion is on Mike Johnston’s “The Online Photographer” by the contributing author Ctein (who legally has only the one name, pronounced “kuh-TINE”). In it he addresses myths about megapixels that may or may not be of help to someone grappling with the issue; at any rate, it’s very informative for the technically inclined.
Will I be considering a Nikon D-800? Not really, because I have far too much invested in a Canon system. But I happily used Nikon equipment for many decades and have the highest regard for their top-end gear, and if I were looking for a mid-range pro-level Nikon body to cover a lot of bases in relatively good light (i.e. not semi-dark, candlelight environments demanding superior ISO performance) I’d see the D800 as a stellar option. And I hope it turns out to be just as good as is expected; we’ll likely all be better off for it.