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Are Pixels Enough?

September 22, 2008 - Dave Hecei
Consumers are driven by numbers. This is bigger than that so it must be better. The wise consumer is not easily fooled, but digital cameras are still sold by their megapixel rating. I'm here to tell you that pixels are not enough.

Just a few years ago, digital cameras were in the 5 to 6 megapixel range, and they took excellent photos. Today they are in the 10 to 12 megapixel range and will soon go beyond. Having more megapixels does allow larger photos, but that is not the only thing that affect quality. There are many factors in a digital camera that contribute to quality images, pixels being far down the list.

First and foremost is the lens. The size and quality of the lens is the number one factor in picture quality. Having more pixels on a inferior lens just makes for a larger file size for a inferior picture. The smaller the camera the smaller the lens has to be. You cannot get the same image quality with a lens the diameter of a dime compared to a lens 10 times larger.

The other factor is the size of the sensor. Smaller cameras need smaller sensor. These smaller sensors have to pack the same amount of pixels on a smaller area. These smaller pixels cannot resolve the same detail as a larger pixel can.

In the DSLR arena, Nikon has finally embraced the 'full-frame' sensor idea. Canon has had these for a while, and now Sony has joined the crew too. Unfortuneately, point-and-shoot cameras are usually trying to be as small as they can. There are some exceptions, like the Canon G9, the IS 5

The size of the pixel on the sensor is another part of the equation. A larger pixel has the ability to gather more light and thus more data. Combine this with the new sensors coming out that are full-size and have amazing low light capabilities and you get a camera that can produce amazingly detail photos in practically any light.

Last on the list is pixels. The number of pixels can give you higher detail and with the other factors above, can give you more resolution. New SLRs from Nikon and Sony prove this. Soon, there will be some point-and-shoot class cameras that combine these elements in a quality camera.

So when you are looking at that new wiz-bang digital camera with a bazillion megapixels, look at the lens, the sensor size, and sensitivity because these, along with some test shots, will tell you more about the quality it can produce.


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