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Web Image - this represents only 1/16th to 1/20th of the actual capture.

Uncropped Image

Question of the Month

How Much can a micro 4/3rds Image be Cropped and Enlarged?

Background: While we were in Panama Mary and I photographed a Harpy Eagle nest, a real photo highlight for the two of us. The bird was about 70 yards away, and I was using an Olympus OM D E Mark II camera, (a micro 4/3rds sensor camera), and a 300mm f4 Zuiko lens and 1.4X tele-converter. Because of the smaller image size, the 420mm of focal length was the equivalent of an 840mm lens on a full-frame camera.

In our Trip Report and on FB I posted several processed images of the Harpy Eagle and they looked great. Images on a computer screen can be misleading, however, so I wanted to do a test to see how a good an enlargement of one of those eagles would be. So I had a 20x30 canvas enlargement made from CG Pro canvas.

The red oval encircles the full frame image for comparison.

Cropping in, the enlargement is 16X the original.
On the far right is the original size for comparison

The Test: The image in the 20x30 print was extremely cropped, representing, at best, only 1/16th of the actual captured image. In my camera viewfinder, the eagle covered about 3 squares of the focusing blocks -- pretty darn small in the frame.
Look carefully inside the red oval on the image above and you'll see the size difference.

A tight view of the finished print. I did a very prefunctory job of applying
a little PS Unsharp Mask sharpening on the eagle and Gaussian Blur on the
background - hence the funky edge above the eagle head.

The Results: When I checked the finished print and looked at the eagle up close I was disappointed - the eagle's head and foliage was very pixelated.

Stepping back, the pixelation was still quite noticeable, but at this point I was still looking at a smally portion of the print, and I'd guess about 1/64th of the original capture on the sensor.


Then I stepped back, and at a distance of 10', a comfortable distance for viewing and taking the 20x30 print all in , the print looked fine. This reminded me of a painting I examined of Robert Bateman, an incredible wildlife artist from Canada. If you know wildlife art, you know the name. Anyway, I was admiring a painting of a family of grizzly bears on a ridge in Alaska. It looked great, and seemed to have plenty of detail. However, when I stepped in close to admire that detail I discovered that there was none, and that the bears practically disappeared as separate brush strokes. It was amazing, and I wondered how in the world one could even paint that way, as at an arm's length/paint brush distance, the bear and her cubs were not really discernible. I wondered if he used reverse magnification lenses (if there is such a thing) in order to paint this. This discovery didn't lessen my appreciation of the painting -- instead I was even more impressed with Bateman's incredible talent.

On dispaly, as seen from a normal viewing distance

Hung on the wall, above a 36 inch (long) print that was only cropped by about a third (two-thirds of the original is in the print) and viewed from anywhere in the room the print looks fine. If anyone climbed a ladder and put their face a foot or two from the print, it would show the pixelation. At a normal viewing distance, it did not.

Here's the 4.5x7 inch print I did to test how this
cropped image might appear in a book. At 7 inches
it was acceptable, and would be quite acceptable
if printed at a smaller size

Finally, as a final test, I made a 4x7 inch print on regular paper, testing to see if at 4x7 inches would be suitable for publication in a book. The result - the image is not razor sharp but would be usable, especially if printed at a slightly smaller size. I've done several books now where many of the images are only 3.5 inches on the long side -- and at that size the cropped eagle would do quite well.

Conclusion: You might totally disagree with me but I am not obsessed with how many megapixels a camera has (within limits, of course). Those that disagree will argue that they want great detail in their landscape shots -- hence more mexapixels. I'd counter with, at what distance are you looking at a big print?

In this test, it should be obvious that I absolutely pushed the limit on cropping. The 20x30 print is something like 170X larger than the sensor capture, and that 20x30 print represented only 1/16th or less of that capture. I was truly enlarging a very, very small portion of the sensor, around one million pixels out of 20 million on the full sensor.

A larger image size is always best, but a sharp lens can capture incredible detail. I'd have loved to have shot that was essentially full-frame, but I couldn't get that close. So I didn't have a big image size here, but I'm confident that anyone who sees this Harpy Eagle canvas on our wall, especially if they're a birder or bird photographer, is going to say 'Wow!' At a comfortable, normal viewing distance the image works -- and I'm happy to have it on our wall!

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