Select Page

I’m having a deep internal debate right now. There’s some really heavy techie stuff that I want to talk about but I know that many of you don’t care so much about all of that stuff. So the debate is really about whether or not I want to rant or actually write out all of the science and facts behind it for an article on an industry site (ie: Fstoppers).

Akuac by David Bickley Photography

Basic summary is this. All anyone seems to care about is megapixels. That’s what camera companies market to the amateur consumer…well, to an unfortunate extent the pro consumer as well. This is so supposedly important that it’s able to be used to help you buy an inferior product.

(obviously I’ve decided on the rant route)

Let me give you an example. Nokia is rumored to have a 41 megapixel camera-phone in development. At first glance that’s absolutely insane! There’s another series of cameras out there claiming to reach numbers slightly higher than that as well. Here’s where we get to something that I didn’t truly understand until I moved into digital medium format: Size matters. Sorry to say it, but it’s true.

The actual physical size of the camera’s sensor has way more impact on the image resolution than the megapixels. This is why you could take two cameras (MF vs 35mm) of the same megapixel value, take the same image and have mind-blowingly different results in actual detail. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that sometime in the future this won’t be different. But currently the tech just isn’t there. So what happens? Joe camera manufacturer comes out with either a sensor with super-small receptors all crammed in as tight as possible, or layered sensors and tells you that they are a certain resolution all the while hiding the fact that the number they gave you is (while technically correct) flat out wrong.

And that’s where it gets tech-y.

The crammed sensors are easy to explain. Smaller light receptors aren’t generally as sensitive to the dynamic range of light and color. You need that to make an image. Easy. Sensor layers are more complicated though.

Here’s the simplest way I can think of to explain this:

A dollar is worth a dollar. Right? Yes.

If I glue three one dollar bills together back-to-back so that they can NEVER be separated. Is it still worth three dollars?

Which has more value? The three dollars that are glued together forever, or three individual dollar bills?

My point is this. Some of these companies are producing layered sensors, then adding up the resolution of each layer and presenting that number to you as the final amazingly high “megapixel count.” It’s deceptive. In truth a 46 megapixel layered sensor is somewhere around 15.4 instead. The tricky part is that the layering does give the sensor slightly higher resolving capabilities than standard, but only at the number of a single layer. So a sensor with three 15.4mp layers will outperform a standard 15.4mp sensor with no “layering,” but not anything close to it’s claims.

Looking back I think I may have failed in keeping the rant simple…but it’s too late now.

See you tomorrow,

D