Why More Megapixels Are Actually Better for Black and White Photography

This is going to sound a bit odd, I mean how the heck are megapixels and black and white correlated?

Does it have to do with details? Well, no; not really. Instead, it has to do with the capabilities of your camera sensor, and more often than not, lower megapixel cameras aren’t as capable when it comes to editing. Smaller megapixel cameras are great when it comes to high ISO output. But with higher megapixels, you often get a vast dynamic range and colors. Believe it or not, that’s precisely what you want and need here.

How Black and White Digital Photography Works

Digital black and white photography work by using the colors in the scene and converting them to shade and tone. If you shoot a color photograph and then desaturate the RAW in a post-production program, then the color channels won’t be active at all. But if you convert to Black and White, then the channels will work just fine. You’ll be able to adjust greens, blues, reds, etc. all based on the white balance of your photo. More megapixels give you more color depth per color and per area in the scene. So with more color depth, you get more out of your scene when editing the color channels in a black and white image. This is something that you can’t get with fewer megapixels, but with more of them, you get more color information overall. More color depth means more manipulation possibilities.

In black and white, you basically get to change the luminance of each channel. This is much better and more versatile than using the basic panel adjustments.

Colors: They Matter a Whole Lot in Black and White

So how do colors really matter beyond what I just talked about? Well, let’s apply this to particular types of photographers:

  • Landscape: You’ll be able to get more from the blue, green, orange, and red channels when editing a landscape image and depending on how you white balance. This is why I prefer 3200K and 5600K white balance.
  • Portraits: Orange and yellow channels, in addition to reds can be manipulated to make a subject or specific details pop more.
  • Wildlife: Pretty much the same as portraits
  • Photojournalism: You folks arguably have the toughest job, but individual sections can be manipulated better with these methods
  • Architecture: Pretty much the same as landscapes
  • Still life: As long as you’ve perfectly illuminated your subject, you’ll get everything you need.

Medium Format and High Megapixel Full Frame 35mm

While this post may seem like it’s in praise of high megapixel sensors, it surely is when it comes to manipulation of individual color channels and therefore editing. In that way, more megapixels are often better for editing. But you don’t necessarily need the higher megapixel cameras if you just have better control and idea over working with color channels and manual white balances. By that, I’m specifically speaking to working with individual Kelvin channels. Side by side and resized, it would be difficult for a person to be able to tell the difference between images from my X Pro 1 and my a7r III. While I often speak to Fujifilm’s great sensor versatility, Sony, Nikon, Pentax, and medium format sensor companies also have fantastic options.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.