My view on megapixels has changed

Editing workstation

I recently asked How many pixels are enough?, that was about camera specifications and the requirements to make effective use of the resulting image files. I concluded that quite a modest specification by current standards, 16Mpixel, was more than enough for most professional purposes.

But it got me thinking about the impact for post-production, for editing and processing images files. Obviously the larger the file size the heavier demands it will place on computers, both memory and processing power and of course for storing the original images. A 50Mpixel file is three times larger and is going to increase the load on the editing workstation by a similar factor, could even be more. After all each action is going to have be applied to three times as much data. My PC would cope but there were other considerations.

Where it really got me thinking was with regard to the specification of the monitors on my editing workstation. They are overdue for replacement as they have dim back-lights and no longer calibrate for colour management properly.

I have been delaying the decision in the hope that 4K (3,840x2,160px) monitors would come down in price so that I can replace my HD (1,920x1,080px) with current best specification. After writing 'How many pixels are enough' I started to think differently about what I need for image editing and especially for quality checking my work for submission to photolibraries such as Alamy.

It struck me that I always check an image at 100% to make sure it is sharp, noise is managed and to find a correct any dust spots. If I go with too high a specification the pixels size will be smaller and I may not be able to resolve individual pixels so the image may look sharper and less noisy than it actually is. My HD monitors are about 100dpi which as I highlighted in my previous article is close to the limit of visual acuity of the human when viewed at a normal reading distance of 25cm or so. If I move closer to the screen I can just about make out the individual pixels which means I can see the actual limit of the files sharpness.

If I go to a 4K monitor it will be around 200dpi and even close up I will struggle to see individual pixels without using a magnifier. As a result I will not see any single pixel noise for example. That would be good for the average viewer but for someone who needs to check the image quality at pixel level it presents a problem. I could go for a bigger screen but it would need to be huge (around 50inch) to have the same pixel pitch as my 24inch HD screens—I could not get two of those on my desk, even if I could afford them!

Therefore I  have a new idea as to what I need. I could simply replace my monitors with similar 24inch HD screens. That would be the least expensive option at about a third of the price of the cheapest 4K option. A slightly larger 27-28inch HD screen would work well as I have the space. It would be about half the cost of 4K monitor. However, I am leaning towards going for the middle ground of a 27-28inch screen of 2,560x1,440px at about 60% of the price of a cheap 4K monitor. It would have similar (slightly smaller) pixels but would give me greater working space to facilitate my post-production image editing. All these non-4K options have the additional benefit that I would not need to replace the existing graphics cards in my PC. It would bring down the price on my favoured top specification to under half the cost of replacing my two screens with 4K versions.

So the 2,560x1,440px 28in monitor is the direction I will take when my next client cheque arrives. For once the right choice is the less costly option, something that is rarely the case with photography.


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