Saturday, April 19, 2008

Megapixels II

Most people buy cameras based on megapixels. The idea is, the more megapixels you have, the more detailed and better quality your pictures will be.

In fact that's not always the case, having more megapixels can actually /reduce/ the quality of your pictures!

I noticed this with my second camera. My first camera was a Canon Powershot, the second was a Fuji E900. The E900 had a 9MP sensor, the Powershot 3MP and 2 or 3 years older. The Fuji's images were consistently fuzzier and lower quality than the Canon's. It SUCKED! And that 9MP camera was pretty damn pricey back in 2006 :/

Interestingly, it turns you just can't have a 9MP sensor in a compact camera without getting fuzzy pictures. Cramming too many Megapixels into a small space makes for low quality pictures. This site even recommends buying 6MP compact cameras tops!!

When you try to fit too many megapixels onto a chip the sensor's pixels start interfering with each other in lower light conditions (i.e. when you are asking more from the sensor, and using higher ISOs).

Of course you /may/ be able to get a good quality picture, but you better be sure that you are outside on a clear day with your subject as still as possible (i.e. limiting yourself to low ISOs). Basically you better be damn sure you know what you're doing!

All things being equal, lower megapixels will give you great pictures with less futz.

Ask yourself why Canon's 10MP 40D is a cut above its 12MP 450D on the food chain? 10MP will let the 40D take better quality pictures in a wider variety of circumstances than the 450D. The 450D is aimed at people who don't know much about photography and use megapixels as a guide to camera quality, the 40D is aimed at those who know more about photography (ht).

Why do some people use megapixels as a guide to camera quality?

1) because megapixels are easy to understand, it's much more difficult to get your head around other things that count, like ISOs, noise, lenses, RAW files, CMOS sensor sizes etc.

2) megapixels /were/ a good guide to camera quality when digital cameras had only 1 or 2 megapixel sensors and took pretty poor quality pictures.

Things have changed, megapixels are more likely to get in your way and make it harder to take good pictures.

Of course there are situations where megapixels can be handy but, as I explained here, unless you need to print large high quality prints and unless you know exactly what you're doing, you're better off not spending your money on more megapixels.

[Update! Wow, read this (the Canon G9 is THE upmarket compact camera):

It's the biggest irony of the compact digital camera market: since the cameras all use very similar sensors (often the exact same sensor) and many even share the same lens assembly, the price difference between the entry-level models and range-toppers such as the G9 simply isn't reflected in a commensurate difference in output quality. And it doesn't matter how much you are prepared to spend; you can't buy your way out of the 'compact camera problem' - a small, noisy sensor is a small noisy sensor no matter what kind of tank you build around it or how many 'professional' features you build into the body.

And this is from a review of a cheapo /6MP/ Fuji F31fd:

It is the perfect illustration of the oft made point that more pixels do not mean better quality; we've compared the F31fd to a whole range of much more expensive compacts going right up to 10MP, and - aside from a little extra resolution at base ISO - it puts most of them to shame. Once you get to ISO 400 there simply isn't a compact on the market that can hold a flame to it.



The Dodo said...

"The 450D is aimed at people who don't know much about photography and use megapixels as a guide to camera quality, the 40D is aimed at those who know more about photography"

or people choose 450D because its way cheaper than 40D. especially when you're a newbie its not really covinient for you to squander over 40D.

anyways im considering upon buying a new digicam. i actually was considering 450D, john. any advice?

Anonymous said...

so, what r u going to buy?

Me said...

if i had the money i would buy something more top of the range...i don t so have to set my sights accordingly

Anonymous said...

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Unknown said...

Denica, if u'r strapped for cash nikon d40 is the best way to go!

Triesti, i'm more than happy with my nikon d40 :)

Anthony, thing is, from reading around, buying top of the range (and usually more megapixels) has drawbacks. Among those lower quality pix in low light conditions. Fewer MP will give you better results more of the time (all things being equal).

Basically, when it comes to cameras, more expensive ones don't give you better results. Sometimes give you worse results...

Sakura, thx again for that!! much appreciated :):)

Unknown said...

that should be: more expensive cameras don't *always* give you better results

Elyani said...

Hi John,

It's good you bring up this subject. When I went to Pasar Baru the other week, I dropped by a camera shop and learned Canon EOS D40 price is getting lower each day. Am not sure if EOS D40 is similar to D40 you're talking about? The vendor told me the price was about 5,7 million Rupiahs or USD 633. If I choose Nikon D40, I would pay more or less the same price. Am still weighing the advantages and disadvantages of choosing one of the 2 brands. Right now am using a Canon PSA700. It was quite a good compact camera but I want a better lens. I think spending on lens for my compact is not worth it. What do you think I should choose between the 2? I've never used Nikon before. My first basic digital camera was Olympus and then I had this compact Canon.
Your reply will be much appreciated. Thanks :)

Unknown said...

hey elyani,

i'm pretty sure the canon 40d should be more expensive. maybe you are thinking about the canon 400d?

my dad uses canons and i have a nikon, i don't think you can go wrong with either brand.

i personally think that nikon give slightly better bang for your buck (mayb i'm biased ;))

main thing is don't be tempted by pixels, and if poss save ur money for a decent lens :) lenses are generally a much much better investment than camera bodies.

Elyani said...'re right, John! The salesman at the camera shop must have referred me to EOS 400D Rebel Xti. I hope he gave me 40D for 400D price though :)

Anonymous said...

Good post.

I bought Novita a G7 and it's been a great camera, but when the G9 came out, I actually considering trading up - until many reviews came back saying in many ways, the G7 was the 'sweet spot' with lower noise, etc.

This post reflects the reason why I love my 5D: with the full frame sensor, it's actually quite relaxed in regards to pixel density; equal to approximately a 6mp aps-c (400d/40d,etc) rather than the 12+mp they're cramming onto those sensors (which are much larger than the compact sensors).

I find that I can shoot at ISO 1600 comfortably when needed and still print A3 and larger (with interpolation, but with nice results).

I'm one that would actually enjoy more mp, but only because I sell some prints at over 24x36". However, for probably 95% of consumers, 6mp would have been perfectly adequate (and would cut down on storage space needed, processing power, etc etc).

I'm looking at the 40D for Novita, but would like to see more responses for the 450 first. I *may* also just keep the 5D for her (and a backup for me) and pick up something else at a later time. For now, I'm in no hurry. The 5D is the first dSLR that I've held onto this long and haven't been scoping the 'next best thing'.

Unknown said...

hey brandon,

i suppose the pity is that camera manufacturers are knocking out cameras with large megapixels instead of just great cameras...

this is especially true of compacts, i reckon compacts should be all rounders that you can use at high ISOs.

the 5d is an amazing camera by all accounts. similar to the d3, u can get away with astoundingly high ISOs on that -- kinda revolutionary...

i'd like bite the bullet and get a d3 actually, but am not serious enoughinto photography yet, and don't wanna b seen as a clueless asshole with a top of the range camera :)