ND – Dark, Warm, Blue

So, Nikon have just announced their first new DSLR camera for some time. The Nikon D3100 is the company’s new entry-level DSLR, incorporating a new sensor that runs at 14.2MP. But wait, can it be true that this “starter” camera has got a couple of million pixels more than the much higher end Nikon D700 that Nakedigit usually sports? Is this a better camera? Is the D700 toast?

Of course not. Far from it in fact.

I’m not going to do an in-depth comparison here, there’s plenty of places to go for those, and it would be unfair to judge the D3100 as I haven’t even seen one. But I’ve worked in the computer entertainment industry for many years now, have watched the MegaHertz wars between the CPU manufacturers, and understand that marketing teams need numbers for new products and those numbers had better be better than the products being replaced. With cameras we have the MegaPixel wars.

I find it particularly funny when a cellphone tries to cram into it’s tiny “eye” the same number of pixels that you would see in a contemporary full frame DSLR sensor. Dropping that tiny cellphone sensor behind a pinhole of a lens rather than something a little bit more “quality” is the cherry on that cake.

That aside, is a jump from 12.1MP (D700, full frame sensor) to 14.2MP (D3100, DX sensor) an improvement?

Recently I’ve been spending more time working on photographic printing projects where images need to be displayed at a much larger size than any of these cameras can manage natively whilst meeting the recommended pixel-per-inch guidelines of my friendly neighbourhood printers. That recommendation is to operate at a resolution of 300ppi which from a camera like the D700 (4256×2832 pixels) means that you can natively print at (approx) 14.19×9.44 inches. Less than that if you’ve inevitably had to crop something off the image in post production.

The D3100 may have more pixels, but they’re spread over an area, rather than in a straight line, so an apparent 17.35% increase in pixels is actually much less of an increase than it seems on paper. In fact its resolution is 4608×3072 pixels. at 300ppi you can print off an image at (approx) 15.36×10.24 inches. That 17.35% pixel count increase actually translates to a horizontal pixel increase of 8.27%, and a vertical pixel increase of 8.47%.

Yes, it’s a little larger, but I’ve been aiming for A2 sized prints recently and they come in at 16×24 inches. Future projects intend to go somewhat larger.

Yes, the extra pixels help. But when you’re taking a picture of a badly lit piece of graffiti in a hole in the ground from some distance then I’d rather use a cleaner higher ISO that the D700 is capable of whilst strapped to a tripod. Particularly as the final image required necessary vignetting and cropping to set the scene as desired.

I must admit, I kind of fancy a Nikon D3X. The ISO’s don’t quite go as high as the D700, but it’s got twice the pixels and it’s definitely a fabulous camera. But even then, I’d still need to carefully up-sample my images to get the sizes I require, I just wouldn’t have to push them quite as far as I do now.

The D3100 is likely to be a great little camera for It’s target market, but I’ll be happy to stick with my D700 for the forseeable future, even if Nikon upgrade that as well. The D700 would have to take a pretty big jump for me to feel the need to replace it.

Have fun,

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(c) Nakedigit 2010


About nakedigit

I have legs and a camera. I also occasionally use a passport. The camera with my brightest lenses can almost (almost) see in the dark. So the only thing stopping me from putting it all together regardless of where and when i am is, well, me really! However, when i don't completely muck it up the results may end up here on this blog and also my Flickr page. I now Twitter and a website is coming... ND August 2010
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