Home > Canon, Gear, rant > The Megapixel Myth is finally reaching manufacturer’s ears.

The Megapixel Myth is finally reaching manufacturer’s ears.

Nikon’s P7000 increased the model number from the previous model’s P6000, but actually decreases the pixel count on the chip, while increasing the size of the chip. Both factors serve to allow more light into the camera, let the camera record images with less noise, and require less noise reduction, which can obliterate fine detail.

Why the change?

Because Manufacturers are finally hearing the siren call from consumer and pundits who have proved, time and again, that increasing megapixels does not mean better pictures. After a certain point, the optics aren’t even good enough to focus all three colors onto the same pixel, and you get awful chromatic aberration.

But more importantly than that, a faster chip, and faster glass, means you can take great photos in more lighting conditions– like indoors, like at night, and it means that those photos will look better, with less blurred motion, or noise from gain. Moreover, it has the side effect of making the tiny built-n flash seem more powerful. Engadget noted this about the new Nikon:

Called the P7000, the follow-up compact will naturally be quite similar to its predecessor (pictured above), but is said to move up to a physically larger 1/1.7-inch sensor with a lower, 10 megapixel resolution — just like the G11. It’s also said to offer a 28 – 200mm zoom lens with an f/2.8 – 5.6 range, rather more flexible than the G11′s 28 – 140mm, f/2.8 – 4.5 glass.

Canon's Venerable G-series at #11.

And Similrly, Canon’s G10 did not get great reviews because of the limitations imposed by the higher megapixel chip. In less than a year, it was replaced by a lower megapixel G11. It would be like a car manufacturer saying the new model of car is smaller than the previous version, but in reality, that trade off has lots of benefits.

Canon’s press release for the G11 said it this way:

Professional photographers will benefit from the G11’s greatly expanded dynamic range. Canon’s new Dual Anti-Noise System combines a high sensitivity 10.0 Megapixel image sensor with Canon’s enhanced DIGIC 4 image processing technology to increase image quality and greatly improve noise performance by up to 2 stops (compared to PowerShot G10). The PowerShot G11 also includes i-Contrast technology, which prevents high-light blowout whilst retaining low-light detail – ideal for difficult lighting situations.

David Pogue, who has a knack for phrasing things just right, says:

I’m referring, of course, to the Megapixel Myth.

It goes like this: “The more megapixels a camera has, the better the pictures.”

It’s a big fat lie. The camera companies and camera stores all know it, but they continue to exploit our misunderstanding. Advertisements declare a camera’s megapixel rating as though it’s a letter grade, implying that a 7-megapixel model is necessarily better than a 5-megapixel model.

A megapixel is one million tiny colored dots in a photo. It seems logical that more megapixels would mean a sharper photo. In truth, though, it could just mean a terrible photo made of more dots. A camera’s lens, circuitry and sensor — not to mention your mastery of lighting, composition and the camera’s controls — are far more important factors.

Now that cameras that proffer much larger imagers are hitting the market- specifically the 4/3′s movement and other APS-C cameras, and soon camcorders, we have begun to shift the tide in the other direction- the direction of better low light capability- even better than film.

To demonstrate this, all you need to do is watch Zacuto’s excellent 2010 DSLR Shootout, episode 2, where the ultra high (far higher than this picture attests) ISO’s of these cameras were used to record video. A feat not really possible with video cameras at all. This image features an actor holding a lighter at arm’s length. A single flame at 2wo feet. Which, in essence, would be half a foot-candle of light. Yet the exposure is quite acceptable.

Is 1/2 a foot-candle enough? It is at ISO 10,000.

So I look forward to the forthcoming “large sensor” camcorders announced by Sony and Panasonic. I look forward to the possibility of a large sensor camcorder from Canon and the stunning images we can capture with them.

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  1. January 11, 2011 at 1:39 am | #1

    Thanks for explaining why more is sometimes less, in words even a layman can understand.

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