Tuesday, May 27, 2014
There’s no substitute for megapixels. We look at the highest-pixel-count cameras, both medium-format and full-frame models, of all time.
Megapixel count is the most talked about digital camera spec by manufacturers and users alike. Megapixels are to cameras what horsepower is to cars: a simple specification that one can compare across all models and that's easy to wrap one's mind around. It's the spec that's impossible to get away from. While there's much more to a car's performance than horsepower, there's also an old saying that there's no substitute for horsepower. There's much more to a camera's performance than megapixels, but just like horsepower, there's no substitute for megapixels.
No matter where a camera falls in a manufacturer's lineup, megapixels come into play. Get two photographers in a room talking about their gear and you're going to get the question, how many megapixels does it have? Even entry-level DSLRs are offering 16 to 24 megapixels today. Megapixels do matter, and a high pixel count does offer some decided advantages—along with a drawback.
Higher pixel count doesn't always equate with higher image quality. There are compact digital cameras available with 20 megapixels, but none can touch any APS-C camera—much less a full-frame one—in image quality because their tiny sensors can't collect nearly as much light. But within a given sensor-format category, and contemporary technology levels, higher-pixel-count sensors can deliver better image quality than lower-pixel-count sensors.
A higher-pixel-count sensor can record finer detail than a lower-pixel-count one. This means more detailed landscapes and finer texture in fur and feathers in wildlife shots.
Of course, the lens plays a part in detail, too. A better lens will deliver sharper images with a given sensor than a less sharp lens. But a higher-pixel-count sensor will deliver more detail with a given lens than a lower-pixel-count sensor. If you want to get the most out of your high-megapixel camera, you'll need good lenses, but the higher-resolution camera will get more out of any lens you put on it.
Another factor in resolution is the sensor's AA (anti-aliasing) filter, or OLPF (optical low-pass filter). This minimizes the moiré and artifacts that occur when patterns in the scene conflict with the sensor's pixel grid, and are made worse by the fact that conventional Bayer-array sensors record just one primary color at each pixel site (see the "Sigma Foveon Sensors" sidebar). The AA filter slightly blurs the image at the subpixel level to minimize or eliminate these artifacts. The finer a sensor's pixel pitch (i.e., the greater the megapixel count), the less likely you are to encounter subjects that will produce moiré. A recent trend has been for manufacturers to eliminate the AA filter because eliminating that blurring filter produces sharper images. DSLRs without AA filters include Nikon's D3300, D5300 and D7100, Pentax's K-3 and K-5 IIs, and all Sigma DSLRs with Foveon sensors—all APS-C models. Nikon's D800E has an AA filter whose effect has been cancelled. Mirrorless cameras without an AA filter include Sony's full-frame a7R and Fujifilm's APS-C models with X-Trans sensors. Medium-format digital cameras don't have AA filters.
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