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Reader Comments: Is Pixel Binning an Option in RAW for D800? What About Computer Speed for 36MP?

Gregory F writes in response to yesterday’s post on downsampling and binning:

Your response to Kim P. regarding downsampling vs. binning is interesting, especially your comments for intelligent, in-camera binning. But is binning an option if one wants to shoot in raw? Unless I am missing something, on my D700, the reduced quality (binned) options are limited to JPEG files. That never seemed like an issue with a 12 megapixel camera, because getting every bit of resolution possible is always desirable.

But the resolution and file sizes on a D800 are far beyond that of a D700. If one wanted to limit file sizes - either for processing or storage - does a D800 or D800E give one the option of obtaining a RAW image in reduced size such as "medium" quality, which is roughly a 25 megapixel resolution?

It looks like the cropped modes (1.2, or 4 x 5, or DX) allow reduced size RAW files. Each of these options would reduce file sizes and be attractive in some situations, but these options reduce file sizes by simply cropping the image and throwing away pixels, so no binning is involved. The ability to record 25 megapixel images in normal (4 x 6) and RAW format would often be more attractive, assuming that binning reduced both file sizes and noise - something closer to the low-noise, 16-18 megapixel D800 that I would have preferred.

Is there a way to obtain reduced files sizes through pixel binning and still shoot in RAW with the new D800 cameras?

If not, what is the minimum computer configuration one needs to process images with these new cameras? Will a relatively high-end MacBook Pro or iMac have the capacity needed? They are fine with my 12 megapixel D700 and with a 16 megapixel Panasonic GH2, but 36 megapixels at full RAW resolution is a big step up in terms of the amount of data to be manipulated even in simple adjustments to WB, exposure, and sharpening.

Thank you for your great analysis of cameras, lenses, and Macs. Thanks also for the many great images you post. I enjoy them as much as the analysis. In fact, they are a critical part of your analysis. I did not appreciate the beauty of large aperture, wide angle images until I became a subscriber and avid reader of your web sites.

DIGLLOYD: The specifications for the Nikon D800 suggest that there is no “sRAW” option (small RAW). It seems that smaller file sizes are available only in JPEG. But it’s not spelled out, so I’m not sure. Nor do the specifications indicate whether the built-in HDR is offered in RAW (probably not based on what other cameras do).

The Nikon D800 brochure skillfully omits any mention of which features work with RAW vs JPEG. And why Nikon shows blurry low res images that look awful on my 30" display at a comfortable reading size— well isn’t that a bit ironic for a 36MP camera brochure.

Computer processing power

Processing the 36-megapixel RAW files will feel sluggish compared to 12MP RAW files— about 3X slower. And the file sizes will incur more overhead in reading and writing (especially writing a 16-bit TIF). So the use of a fast SSD will help reduce disk I/O overhead to a minimum.

Assuming one has a good fast SSD, the main bottleneck will be CPU speed, so the use of the fastest CPU (clock speed) is mandatory unless you are a very patient soul with time on your hands.

For a laptop, the latest 2.5 GHz quad-core MacBook Pro with a fast 6G SSD and 16GB memory will do just fine. The MPG Pro Laptop is your best bet, based on one of my recommended MacBook Pro systems, such as the 2.5GHz 15"or 17" model.

The Mac Pro 3.33 GHz 6-core is my top pick for Lightroom/Photoshop/etc, ideally outfitted as an MPG Pro Workstation. See ULTIMATE Mac Pro. While a newer, faster Mac Pro is perhaps on the horizon, see also Mac Pro Now, or Wait? and No New Mac Pro Yet, Which Means What?.

See also Where to Buy a Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, iMac?.

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