The Great Megapixel Race!

The race to build the best digital consumer cameras will not be won by the camera with the most megapixels. This competition to provide more and more megapixels is distracting the camera manufacturers from what’s most important – the picture quality.

This is a problem that is plaguing digital consumer cameras, regardless of whether it’s a mid-range point-and-shoot, or a range-finder style of camera, or a consumer SLRs. Cameras are being sold with the megapixel ratings emblazened on the packaging, consumers are buying based on that,yet the pictures seem to be no better than the ones produced by the cameras they replace.

You see, and I am sure most of my readers know this, but as megapixels grow, there is more and more crowding on the sensor chips, and that leads to heat and to noise. This is most noticeable when the camera needs to strain the sensor in order to make up for low levels of light – in the case of some cameras, that includes any picture taken indoors! (This noise is visible as grains in photos, sometimes just gray, or colored.)

I have owned, or tested, quite a few digital cameras over the past 8 years, and frankly the low-light performance of consumer cameras seems to have stayed stagnant or barely improved (and in some cases declined) with each release. The megapixel count has, however, increased at a brisk rate. My first real digital camera was an Olympus 2020 purchased in 1999, boasting an impressive 2 megapixels (impressive at the time) – and it took pretty nice indoor photos, yet limited in how large those prints could be. Today I own cameras that are fast consuming my disk space with their 12 and 21 megapixel files.

One camera style I have been following is the digital rangefinder cameras from Canon, the first one of these being the PowerShot G7 (that’s when I started paying attention). I put off purchasing the G7, and G9 (I wonder why they skipped the G8 ) due to firsthand testing that revealed grainy pictures whenever the camera had to increase its ISO to 200 or above. Here is an independent review of the latest in the series: 

The G10 leaves that lingering question. Just how good could this camera have been, had Canon taken a more conservative approach to resolution and put as much effort into optimising image quality as it did into making such an impressive camera body?

(via Canon PowerShot G10 Review: 24. Conclusion: Digital Photography Review.)

Canon’s not alone. Nikon’s competing model is similarly plagued by noise. Other manufacturers are suffering similarly in this same crazy race.

I urge the manufacturers (Canon are you listening?) to exercise some restraint on the megapixel bloat, and to focus on picture quality and camera performance. We can all live with slightly smaller than wall-sized prints in exchange for beautiful photographs. (The majority of us will probably never print anything greater than an 8×10.)

-mz

Some links:

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~ by mz on December 27, 2008.

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