The Panasonic GX8 - Do those extra pixels count for anything?

In my previous article I wrote in glowing terms about the Panasonic G7. Since its release however the GX8 has appeared. There are some 'upgrades' over what the G7 offers and foremost among them is that the GX8 finally breaks the m4/3 A3 file size barrier with it's 20MP output. But is this important? 

First off lets see just exactly what those extra pixels mean.

Above is a comparison of various image sizes. Far left is a 3:2 ratio 24MP file. This is in all sorts of cameras from the 'full-frame' Nikon D750 to the APS-C sensor in cameras like the Sony Alpha 6000. If you crop that image to a 4:3 ratio making sure that you get the maximum image size, then you get the image second from the left, which comes out at just over 21MP. The next image, third from left is a GX8 4:3 image, which is 20MP. Finally on the far right is a 'standard' m4/3 4:3 16MP image - Panasonic DMC-G7, Olympus E-M1 etc. So the GX8 image is pretty much the same in terms of pixel count as a 24MP 'full-frame' 35mm film ratio image if cropped. 

So the GX8 is right up there with what is currently probably the 'standard' size we would expect from a high-end camera, of whatever format. 24MP for example is the size of the images from the new Leica SL (Typ 601) It's also the size (almost - its 23MP) of the files from the new Sony Xperia Z5 smartphone, but that's another story!! Now an 8MP difference between 16MP and 24MP is quite a lot. 8MP is after all the total size of an iPhone image before the iPhone 6s finally increased that. And I remember buying an 8MP digital camera some years ago and thinking that was a big deal. But is 16MP > 20MP equally a big deal? Well again, my first serious digital camera, an Olympus E-10 was a 4MP camera. And I sold (and continue to sell) images from that camera and I have copies of magazines with images from it printed A4 and looking good. So an extra 4MP could be seen as an extra A4's worth of resolution. OK, I know it doesn't work like that, but I just thought I'd slip that in!!

What is probably the case is that if you still own and use a camera with a 16MP sensor in it, you probably would like to have us believe that it isn't really a significant difference. However, if you have just bought a GX8 you would probably like us to believe that it is. Well, I own and use both so I'm the obvious person to come to an objective conclusion. (and if you believe that etc..........)

In reality, mostly with regard to print reproduction, there probably isn't that much difference. However, extra pixels are extra pixels and DxO have declared the GX8 sensor as the best m4/3 to date, though admittedly not by very much. So the difference is worth having, if only for the extra cropping that becomes possible and the fact that Panasonic have slightly increased the sensor size in the GX8 and the quality of the image as well. Though again this is not by much. 

Increased pixel counts don't usually make a lot of difference for reproduction in terms of pixel size unless they are significant. For example Canon DSLR users who have been 'stuck' at 22MP for years will appreciate the huge jump to 50MP that the 5Ds provides. But that kind of huge leap in resolution is very rare. In real terms for the majority of print publishing needs we are way above what will produce a decent A4 cover and an A3 double-page spread. But that's assuming things will stay the same and the printed page and the internet will remain the way that we look at images.

I've recently bought a Canon Connect CS100 (Review pending) that enable me to hook up a storage disk to my flat screen TV. I've been playing my videos and still images on that screen. One of the interesting features is that I can enlarge sections of those still images on that screen. And the detail from my Canon 5Ds is just mind boggling and way better than I would assume it to be. When the screen tells me that I have reached 'Actual Size' because it's only an HD resolution screen i.e. 1920 x 1080, that 100% blowup is huge and the amount of detail then revealed is incredible. And all of this is PC free photography, which is actually quite refreshing.

Some of the current TV's, including 4K are actually mind boggling in terms of what they can reproduce and I suspect that this is going to be the way forward. Sure there is a lot of picture sharing on small devices such as smartphones as tablets, but when people actually get to see what their photos and videos look like on a huge, high quality flat screen then things may change. And when that happens we will all start to see very clearly what those increases in pixel counts (and 'pixel quality') give us. 

It was the anniversary of the Back to the Future movies date a few days ago and a lot of media outlets are checking out what was correctly predicted and what wasn't. And one of the things that hasn't happened (yet) is the huge wall-mounted flat screen being the interactive communication and entertainment hub of our homes. Somewhat bizarrely that is now the function of our mobile phones. But I can see it happening. And then I think that there may be a somewhat disappointed reaction to some of the images that have been created on many of the smartphones people have been using, though with the current crop emerging that may not be the case.

So maybe there is a point to all these 'pixel wars' after all, but we just haven't seen the real benefits yet. In any case, I've always thought it worthwhile to get the best output I can from my cameras to make what I shoot is as future proof as possible. It always seems to be the case that things move slower than we think and often take unexpected turns. But it doesn't hurt to bear this in mind in terms of what we use now. Plus my view that the photographic internet is way too backward looking for my taste is now becoming one of the 'themes' of this blog and monster pixel counts is something I think we should embrace, rather than denigrate it. Who knows how we will view images in 10 years time and for me it doesn't hurt to be prepared for any eventuality.