by Mike McNamee Published 01/02/2009
Mike McNamee lets off steam about chip size and advertising copy writers as he ponders the trends in higher pixel counts on camera chips.
"Closing the lens down just one stop from optimum can cause a catastrophic loss of image detail across an entire picture" Lester Lefkowitz The Manual of Close-up Photography
Andy Astbury's comments on diffraction limitation set in motion a train of events culminating in this page or so of writing. The quest for market-place advantage has had the advertising boys 'bigging up' pixel count as if it were the only thing that mattered about a camera. If you look at the bodies of both the Sony Alpha A350 and the Olympus E 520 the pixel count is even writ large, as an engraving on the front of the camera, highlighted in white, in case the unsuspecting punter misses it!
It's a bit like the way they used to badge a saloon car with '12-valve' - most of the buying public had not the faintest idea why 12 valves are better than eight. Now that so many engines have got 12 (and everybody is benefiting from piston-head scavenging), the makers have stopped telling you how many valves you have on the car boot. This nonsense all started with 'twin cam' and 'twin OHC' badges for those of you old enough to remember - happy days!
In much the same way, the camera makers have matured in their outlook and the high-end cameras boast less about pixel count and more about some of the things that really matter. They also offer a range of resolutions, chip sizes and pixel densities, so that the professional can choose on the criteria that matter to them and their type of shooting.
Camera purchase issues fall into two categories, psychological and technical. Under psychology comes a need to have a demonstrably larger (ie more 'professional') camera than Uncle Fred at the wedding. Now that the wedding professional does not hide behind a Blad or Mamiya 67 they can look a little too much like a guest, many of whom will be toting the latest DSLR. Having extra pixels over the guests' cellphones is a perceived (and real) advantage!
On the technical side matters are more ordered. You have to choose between the 'low-noise, high ISO, small pixel count' and the 'higher noise, slower ISO, large pixel count'. The choice is sector-dependent. By this I mean that the wedding shooter will strive for more ISO but never, perhaps, enlarge greater than 16x12 inches, whereas the fashion shooter can go for a higher pixel count and avoid image noise/low ISO issues by simply cranking in more light on the Elinchroms!
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