Photo Editor: Raw Format File Size Options

Posted on 7 Jul, 2015 by Scott Jones
Knockhill BSB sidecars Andrew Sloane LCR Suzuki

Recently I had occasion to make an unusual decision: I wanted to bring only one camera body to a motorcycle race. Usually I bring three camera bodies, a Nikon D4, a Nikon D3x and a Nikon D700.

Why do I carry three different models instead of two or three copies of the same model? Because I look at bodies sort of like they are lenses, each one offering different possibilities within the scope of my work. Each of the three bodies above has its own benefits and drawbacks, and on a given race weekend I can leverage those benefits while I mitigate the weaknesses in order to get the best results possible.

The D4 has the best image quality and low light performance, plus the fastest Frames Per Second capability. The D3x has the highest resolution and great image quality at low ISO settings, but only 5 frames per second compared to the D4’s 10 fps. The D700 has great image quality, very good low light performance, and the lowest resolution, which is why I want to talk about today.

Why is lower resolution a benefit? It’s a fair question in an environment where camera makers are pushing resolution higher and higher, and their marketing departments are trying to convince us that higher resolution equals a better photography experience. The Canon 5DS and 5DS R announced in February have 50.6-megapixels sensors, creating files that are 8688 x 5792 pixels. Doesn’t that sound great?

For certain types of photography it does sound fantastic. For me, I shudder to think of using a 50-megapixel camera at the track.

While it’s true that I use a 24.4-megapixel camera (the D3X) regularly, I do so only when neither of the other bodies I carry fits that situation. In fact, whenever possible I use the D700. There has to be a compelling reason to use the D4 or the D3X. If there is none, I grab the D700.

Why? Partially because even seven years after it was announced, the D700 still has fantastic image quality. But mainly it’s because the D700 is only 12.1 megapixels. Love it!

Why is a relatively (compared to current models and marketing chatter) low resolution a benefit? Simply put: Overhead.

If you’re shooting a small number of images at any given time, file size is no big deal. Hard drives are cheap so a slowly-growing collection of photos is not much of a problem. But when you shoot 2000-3000 images on a race weekend, those files add up. That overhead is felt whenever working on the catalog of images (large files load more slowly), when backing up your work each night (the more data you have to copy to another volume, the longer it takes), and for the rest of your life as you manage the archive of each season’s photos (stored locally for easy access, stored locally as a back up, and stored off-site in case of a serious problem at the office). You don’t just have a single copy of each file, you should have at least three copies of it. So suddenly each file is three times as much data as the camera records with a given exposure.

While the easiest solution is simply to shoot in jpg format, as I’ve discussed earlier this is a compromise I’m not willing to make, because for me image quality is super important.

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  • gearsau 2015-12-04

    Scott, do you carry three different battery chargers as well ? Every now and again, I think about obtaining a D3x, but, have a cold shower instead 🙂 Works every time .

  • Scott Jones 2015-12-05

    The D3X uses the same battery as the D3, D3S and D700. The D4’s battery is an updated model. So I bring two chargers if I’m going to be gone long enough to need them. If I’m going to a single race, I don’t bring the chargers at all. I have spare two batteries for the D4 and three batteries to share between the D3X and D700. That set up gets me through a race weekend, no problem, and saves room in my case!

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