This time we compare the pros and cons of two way of reaching high resolutions, especially if we are interested in landscape photography: stitching or using, instead, a high resolution camera.
Given that stitching you can reach whatever resolution you want, given enough time, I will not show here a comparison between stitched and straight-shooted images; it would be useless. For the sintetic list of pros and cons for each solution read below.
Stitching, while theoretically it let us reach whatever resolution we want, is subjected like many other things to the law of diminishing returns. Before you run away scared from this post 😀 , it simply means that while you gain a lot more detail stitching three images with respect to the native resolution of the camera you are using, you gain a bit less (in percentage, if you wish) stitching six images and even less stitching sixty.
Yes, stitching sixty images you will maybe get a giga-pixel image, but for normal printing purposes this will be probably a giga-ntic overkill (lame pun intended); meaning that you could have limited yourself to six images to get the same result with way less effort.
Stitching, by the way, is THE solution if you are short of cash: even with a 100€ Sony Nex 3 or Canon 40D you will be able to make enormous prints.
Shooting closer to the subject (or using a longer lens than the one is needed; same thing) and then stitching the resulting images is also a good way to use not-so-good lenses. The lesser magnification will vastly reduce the visibility of optical defects and aberrations. So: don’t trow away your kit zoom!
And if you are getting the idea that stitching is, indeed, a big pain in the…neck, well: you are right! But like they said there is no free lunch.
Shooting “straight”, i.e. directly with an high resolution camera, on the other hand it is the only way if you are into fast moving subjects, sports, or people street photography. And if the light is changing really fast it is often the only option even when shooting landscapes.
In the end, between the two methods there are almost the same differences between shooting large format and shooting medium format or 35mm. The first can deliver stunning technical quality, but you will have to spend quite a bit of time for each shot and then some more in post. Medium format or 35mm require much less effort in comparison.
Even the time you need for each shot is pretty much comparable to that: stitching takes me more or less the same time it costed me to shot on 13x18cm film. With large format most of the time was spent setting up the camera; with stitching taking the actual shots and then joining them in post (even though, to be fair, this is a job that the computer will happily do without me having to assist).
Stitching: pros & cons
+ high resolution for cheap
+ you determine how much high a resolution you want / need
+ can overcome not-so-good optics
– slow to shoot (but after you become proficient not that much)
– slow(er) post processing times (compared to the shooting on a high res camera)*
– not that useful with moving subject, and definitely not for (people) street photography
– architectural subjects can be a bit tricky to shoot avoiding distortions
– difficult to frame accurately**
*but you can automatize the stitching process, so you can launch the job and go grab a coffee **you can always shoot a larger scene, and crop in post; however I find my hit rate with this method, compared to “normal” framing and shooting, is much lower; that said it could be just me
High resolution camera: pros & cons
+ high resolution
+ easier to frame and pre-visualize
+ you can shoot still and moving subjects
+ much faster (in post processing as well)
– it will cost a pretty penny
– the resolution threshold is fixed*
– you will need really good lenses**
So, which method do you prefer? I guess that, unless like I said you are short for cash or you do not want to risk your precious new camera in bad weather, the answer it is: it depends. Like large format vs medium format there is a time and an utility for each.