How large can this be printed with good quality?
I am looking into investing in a digital SLR and I am wondering how much of a difference in how large you can print up to for a decent quality with a 12.+ MP photo digital SLR with either a full format (frame) camera vs. a regular (I guess a 35mm equivalent) size? I am sorry if I don't have the correct terminology. Is a full frame or format camera similar to a medium format non-digital camera?.

I just would like to be able to do large prints and need to know if I should go with an older model camera that has full frame (but doesn't have Live View which I really love) to a comparable new DSLR that doesn't have full frame, but lot's of great features. I really don't want to have to upgrade cameras for a while and want to make the right decision for me now instead of finding out later it lacking for my needs. I wish I could go with the higher MP cameras (like the new Mark III but can't afford to spend 8k!), but I can't afford more than 2500.00 total..

Thanks for your help and let me know if I should be asking this in the pro forum instead as I wasn't sure which area would be better suited.Amber..

Comments (8)

* "full frame" (FF) means "sensor is same size as 35mm film frame"* most DSLRs are not FF and have same 35mm lens system but smaller sensor* differences between non-FF and FF is mostly about optics, not image quality* medium format implies a non-35mm lens system, and usually an even bigger frame.

Note that the following is true regardless of camera format (P&S, DSLR, MF, etc.), assuming the camera processes the sensor's image into good final image quality. This is true of any of the DSLR market leaders' bodies, but slightly less true for the P&S crowd. You'll hear that "megapixels don't matter," but it does affect the calculations for total print size range. What the saying implies is that you may decide on a different minimum density (e.g., 150dpi below) depending on the camera's actual image processing capabilities..

* 12mp is about 2800x4200 pixels.* density of at least 150 dots per inch is generally great print quality* 2800 dots / 150 dpi = 18 2/3 inches* 4200 dots / 150 dpi = 28 inches* Larger posters will have less density.* Smaller prints will have higher density..

[ e d @ h a l l e yc c ]

Comment #1

The easy way to determine the acceptable quality maximum enlargement/crop for a certain camera is to make standard size prints, cutting the original file in halves in the Photoshop (or whatever you use to process), so that photo #1 is full size, #2 - half (equivalent to 2x size standard), #3 - quarter, etc. A very cheap, quick and exact way to measure it. I use Extensis Smartscale for really huge enlargements, which are normally contemplated from a distance. I would also like to say that when you go to extremes you'd always be looking at a certain amount of compromise, regardless of the equipment or media you'd be using. And it's OK, as long as the picture looks good. Taking better photos is more important than keeping them technically excellent - have a good look at the jumbo prints at any WorldPressPhoto exhibition and you'll see what I mean..


Comment #2

Ed's explanation (above) says it all. A 12 (or even a 10 or 8) mp dslr will make bigger prints than you probably will ever want..


Comment #3

The chart about halfway down this page

Shows the relationship between megapixels, resolution, and print size output. As you can see from the chart, even a 6 megapixel camera can produce good 16x20 inch prints. How often are any of us going to want to print anything bigger than that?Study to shew thyself approved 2 Timothy 2:15..

Comment #4

Thank you so much for your answers. I am toying between a Canon D5 or the Nikon D300 (I think the Nikon DX2 is still too expensive) for right now. I am also considering the Sony A700, but not sure if that will fill my needs over the years. I do understand that MPs is really what determines how big you can go, but I appreciate the explanation over my confusion with the term full format. I remembering seeing one camera that had 17 MP I think (but don't recall what model it was and probably isn't in my price range anyway.) I am thinking of canvas prints around the 20 x 24 size range so that is why I asked..

If anyone has any suggestions on a worthy DSLR that will be used mainly for dog photography for fine art (so some action, but a strong emphasis on portrait, (but nothing crazy like car races), reproduces nicely at a higher ISO rating without too much noise due to low light/florescent light at indoor dog shows where you can't always use a flash; will allow me to expand inexpensively with newer technology like wireless lights and transfer download, of course lens, etc. over time; will hopefully do 14 bit RAW (and yes I use CS3 photoshop (still learning it to be truthful) for most photo alterations, along with some other specialized programs like Photomatix for HDR imaging etc..).

Last question would be if you could only have 2 or 3 lens what would you choose for this type of work? I admit that I am pretty green to photography, though I am reading and trying to learn as much as I can. I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ30 in 2006, because I mainly wanted a camera that would be as close to an DSLR as possible, but without high expense and the need for changing lens. I expected to use it to photograph my artwork for reproduction and to take reference photos for my dog art. It is a wonderful camera I think for most people's needs and then some and has suited my needs well except for the low ISO limit (it only goes to 400 and makes taking photos of dogs at indoor shows miserable and you can't use a flash). It offers so many manual controls that you usually don't have unless you have a DSLR and I have learned a lot with it I think. But now, I am more interested in photography and digital imagery as it's own art form and have outgrown this camera..

Anyway, I appreciate any further input/advice you can offer.Thanks slo much!Amber..

Comment #5

Amber, you really want enough pixels to print at near 300 dpi. So this image size depends on your print size, but 8x10 inches is (8 inches x 300 dpi) x (10 inches x 300 dpi) = 2400x3000 pixels. This is 8 megapixels, less very modest cropping. This 300 dpi is where the lab printers are built to run, and it is optimum quality, if your image has the same quality. Most online print processors do not mention optimum, they only give a "minimum" size they will accept. This is quite small, and crummy quality, and may confuse some, but it only means they dont want to turn away much business.


But if they said a 8x10 needed the 2400x3000 pixels, then it would seem to turn away all their business from smaller cameras than 8 megapixels, and they are not about to do that. AdoramaPix is one lab that tries to tell it like it is, see their recommendations at

You are mentioning all high end stuff, and you dont want to print at 150 dpi..

However, 150 dpi may be quite suitable for the 20x24 inch print, simply because there are no other choices. And very large prints dont have to be greatly sharp anyway, because we view them from a few feet away, instead of under our nose. And there are not many printers that large that can do much better anyway...

Comment #6

Are all above..

Since your talking about printing to canvas you don't need a whole lot of Mpixels. The rough canvas surface hides the pixelation well so even upresing isn't necessary. Any of the DSLRs with 10M will do you well..

Second, if you print big just hang them high. In other words the distance from the print is what is important. I have pictures that I project to a 6ft diagonal that only have 2Mpixel (that's the projectors resolution) and look great. Why, because you can't get closer than 20ft to the picture. Most billboards only have about 2Mpixels of information up there.To cut to the chase quit chasing the Mpixels!.

What you do need is good high ISO performance and the ability to upgrade to sophisticated flash, I'd be looking at the Nikon D300/D80 as good choices with a quality lens like the Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S DX That range is good for events and such and the f# is low enough for low light events, but it costs about $1200. Ask over on the Nikon forum about the lens, I'm an Oly owner so don't know the Nikon lens range well..

While an Oly E-3 could do the job for you and Oly has some really nice lenses that you would find ideal, their flash systems aren't as sophisticated as the Nikon units. The Nikon will do you well in being futureproofed as well..

I threw the D80 in there, not because it's the latest and greatest but because it's a good performer and you seem to be on a budget. You may find the the lens you need will blow the budget with a D300. Don't be afraid of going low on the body, it's the glass that makes the camera. A D300 saddled with a poor lens will struggle where a lesser camera with a great lens will sail thru. The D300 will still be around in 2 years when the D400 comes out and you'll be able to upgrade for a song or even afford a D3 when the D4 is introduced..

Again, cutting to the chase, accumulate good glass the quality is there, not so much in the body.A member of the rabble in good standing..

Comment #7

LM2 makes an important point. Megapixels are not the only measure of image quality by a LOOONG shot. You can print to any size with any modern DSLR of 6 MPixels or more..

The printing process, the viewing conditions, the nature of the image itself, and your own personal expectations will decide what print size preserves the image quality you think is necessary, far more significantly than will the number of pixels in the sensor..

Pick a camera system that has the lenses, flashes, and features (like Nikon's excellent flash system or Canon's very good high ISO performance) that you require, and get a body that gives you the control system you need to get the pictures you want to capture. Then get started..

But fuss less about the number of pixels..

Nothing is enough for the man to whom nothing is enough...

Comment #8

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