Nikon Math

February 3, 2010

I was just skimming a press release for a brand new (and silly) Nikon superzoom model, when I came across this tidbit:

Additional features of the Nikon COOLPIX P100 digital camera include:

  • 10.3-megapixels and Backside Illumination CMOS Sensor for stunning prints as large as 16x 20 inches, while retaining fine detail
  • Ignoring the odd syntax, lets think about that for a second.

    The Coolpix P100 creates files of 3648 x 2736 pixels, at its highest resolution.

    Traditional print formats are in a 4:5 ratio; so what matters is the short dimension of the frame. That is, it’s the 2736 pixels getting enlarged to 16 inches wide.

    So, Nikon feels that 171 pixels per inch are sufficient to make a print “while retaining fine detail.”

    Okay, let’s take Nikon’s word on that.

    In that case, let’s say we have some worthless old 6 megapixel camera. It produces 2848 x 2136 pixel images.

    According to Nikon, it would be fine to print up to 12″ x 15″—with pixels to spare. (And how frequently do you make a print that large?)

    Or take some 3 Mp model, from the Paleozoic era (a.k.a. seven years ago). Its images are 2048 x 1536 pixels.

    Still good for 8″ x 10″ prints—with wiggle room to crop.

    Is Nikon really convincing us to buy a new camera here?

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    5 Responses to “Nikon Math”

    1. Huggie Says:

      You sir are a marketing guy worst nightmare.

    2. Rock Says:

      Recent fan of your blog. Keep it up!

      I’ll differ with you, though on this recent post. I own a Canon iPF 9000s 60″ printer. I make giant prints for advertising and also fine art “giclee reproductions” (fancy name for big inkjet print). 171 pixels per inch is plenty for viewing a 16 x 20 print from a few feet away. Fine detail a plenty. My customers are oil and watercolor painters who pay me to photograph their paintings and reproduce them for the masses. With a good lens, and some post production know how, we produce work every day at that size that is virtually indistinguishable from the original.

      Of course, I’m on your bandwagon about tiny pixels. 10.3 MP is no better than 5 MP if all we’re doing is blowing up diffraction and emphasizing lens defects.

      • petavoxel Says:

        Actually that doesn’t surprise me—I’m sure you get excellent results. I’m not really taking any stand on “how much is enough” ppi for good print quality. Too much depends on the viewing distance, how “dithery” a particular printer is, and so on. Really the best advice is for someone to make their own tests, and see what’s satisfactory.

        I’m just starting from Nikon’s premise and seeing where it takes us 😉

        • Rock Says:

          Agreed. But the viewing distance is more than ancillary to this discussion. Many of us view a 24″ computer display from a distance of about two feet and revel in the “100% crops” that we hold as the standard of resolving power and noise. My display has 94.3 pixels per inch. In our business, the final product is still a print, and I hope more of the discussion can focus on that.

        • petavoxel Says:

          On print resolution you find a whole spectrum of opinion, from the obsessives (who assume we look at prints microscopically) to the pragmatists (who assume a viewer steps back from any image until it’s a comfortable portion of their field of vision). So there won’t ever be one definitive answer to that argument.

          But about computer displays—I’ve mentioned before that 2.3 megapixels seems to satisfy us pretty well…


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