13 December, 2014

"Somebody's been de-mosaicing my pixels," said the baby bear.

Road ahead — now [click to enlarge]

For the most part, the pixel-count wars have ended. And it seems that the enthusiast camera market has settled, for the moment, on four, sensor-pixel counts: 12, 16, 24 and 36mp.

I'll cut to the chase to say that for me, at this point, 24mp is "just right." I can hand hold 24mp pretty well. The file sizes are reasonable. And I'm a printer, so even with some cropping, the remaining pixels are still sufficient for printing at A3 and larger.

Yes, some pixels are better than others. When there are fewer pixels on a sensor, other qualities, besides resolution, begin to shine. The Fujifilm X100, for example, started out at 12mp and quickly became known for its image quality. (In the later incarnations of the X100, Fujifilm has moved to 16mp on their X-Trans sensor.) And, more recently, Sony's A7s has become a bit of a legend for its 12mp sensor's low-light and video abilities.

Clearly, simple pixel counts don't tell the whole story. I've seen outstanding enlargements from 12mp captures. After all, it was as recently as 2009 that 12mp was still considered high resolution — and digital photographers did great work with those pixels. That was the year of the introduction of the Olympus Pen E-P1, and the year that I was besotted by my 12mp Panasonic GF1.

But that was then, and this is now. So now it's true to say that 24 good megapixels are usually better than 12 good megapixels. But is that progression valid to the next stage, 36mp?

When the Nikon D800 came out with 36mp camera in early 2012 (and then Sony with the A7r late last year), I said, "Wow." I still say, "Wow." But with 36mp, it appears to me that much higher shutter speeds and/or a tripod need to be regular tactics. It will be interesting to see if/when the Sony stabilisation for the 24mp sensor (A7ii) is offered in a version for the 36mp A7r — and how much that helps.

Both Panasonic and Olympus seem to have settled on 16mp for their four-thirds sensor cameras, as has Fujifilm's for its APS-C, X-Trans line.

I can work with 16mp (and have), but working with 24 is easier. It might be different if I used a zoom lens for my regular shooting, as I would be doing more framing in the camera and less cropping in Lightroom. Maybe.

There are also rumours about Olympus using their stabilisation (sensor displacement) technology to capture multiple frames to create much higher pixel counts. I already combine multiple shots using "stitching" in Photoshop; but it will be interesting to see how that very different process can be automated. I fear that the automated results may only be JPEGs, similar to current in-camera panoramas and in-camera HDR.

We can only wonder at the road ahead.

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