Your Printing Questions Answered

Q. With today’s advances in enlarging or upsizing files, such as Photoshop’s new “Preserve-detail 2” option, do you need a full frame camera to get good quality prints as big as 40×60 inches?

A. The question of how large a print you can make from a particular image file is mostly dependent on actual resolution—the size of the file in megapixels. The more megapixels in the file, the larger a print you can make with acceptable quality.

A larger camera sensor, ie. full—frame, doesn’t always mean it will have a higher megapixel count that a smaller sensor camera. And there are also sensor technologies, such as Olympus’ Hi-Res Shot mode, which more than doubles the native resolution of the sensor from 20MP to 50MP, and this is a 2x crop sensor or half the size of a full—frame sensor.

What matters most for me is a high-quality raw file, with minimal noise, good tonal gradation (especially in the shadows and highlights), and excellent sharpness in camera, before I make any adjustments in Lightroom. The better the file I start with, the less I have to do it afterward, and the easier it is to upsize to make larger prints.

Now you can argue that the best files will come from a full—frame camera since it has the largest pixel size relative to other sensors, but that’s not necessarily true, and your technique, in addition to your choice and use of lenses will also have a dramatic effect on the quality of the file. This is why I would rattier invest more money in lenses than camera bodies.

Finally, acceptable quality is also something to consider. For a fine art print destined to be framed and displayed in a gallery, my standards are much higher than someone who simply wants a large print for their personal use at home. Only you can make that judgement.

One thing is certain—today’s technology is allowing us to make much larger prints from the same megapixels than say seven years ago. The interpolation algorithms in Lightroom and specialized software like Alien Skin blowup are providing amazing results and I have been able to print larger than I thought possible before with limited resolution. Printers and papers have also improved, so the future is bright for making large prints.

Have questions about photography, printing, Lightroom, or creativity in general. Ask Me Anything here!

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