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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Megapixel Wars Heat Up

One of the games you have to play in the technology world is knowing when to buy a product. Invariably if you buy an iPhone, Apple will announce a new model soon thereafter. The same thing happens with everything else electronic. But there is no real percentage is waiting for the next new thing, because the next new thing will always be there. As I watch the electronic parade, new "updated" products are announced almost daily. There is no "annual cycle" like year model cars or new TV seasons. Hmm. By the way, cars are being introduced all the time now also.

Recently, there has been one of those huge jumps in technology that can make you feel out-of-date no matter how astutely you consider your purchases. This is in the area of the resolution of photo sensors for cameras usually measured in pixels, as in Megapixels. if you would like an expanded explanation of digital cameras, please avail yourself of my other main blog posts on FamilySearch's TechTips. I have several articles there explaining most of the basics about sensors and cameras. I will also have a more in depth article about the new cameras shortly.

First of all, the real question about your existing technology, especially with cameras, is whether or not it is serving your present needs? Keep that thought in mind while I talk about the new cameras and the new sensors.

The first shot in the present battle for sensor supremacy was fired by a cellphone manufacturer, Nokia. It model 808 smartphone came out on February 27, 2012 with a 41 Megapixel sensor. Yes, you read that right -- 41 Megapixels. In the electronics world, no advance (if you call it that) takes place in a vacuum. The backroom technology is always under development and something a significant to marketing as a catchy number of Megapixels will not go unchallenged for long. To give you a sense of perspective, the high-end Canon Professional Camera, the EOS 1D X, costs almost $7,000 for just the camera body, no lenses, and has a 18.1 full-frame sensor (35mm equivalent).

Camera sensors for all types from cellphones to professional digital cameras, have been running from about 10 Megapixels for the average point-and-shoot, to just over 21 Megapixels for professional digital SLR cameras. Kodak introduced a 50 Megapixel sensor in 2008, but it was only used in high-end industrial cameras and one consumer camera, the Hasselblad H4D-200MS for $44,000. 

An aside. The quality of a photograph is not determined so much by the resolution of the sensor but more by the quality of the lenses and other factors. One important factor is not the number of pixels but the overall size of the sensor. Also remember that individual Canon and Nikon lenses can cost thousands of dollars and they aren't electronic, they are mostly glass and metal.

Just in case you were wondering, Nokia has no present plans to sell the 808 in the United States.

The next salvo in this round of warfare, came this week. Sharp announced a new 20 Megapixel sensor for point-and-shoot cameras. This is a huge step. Twice the resolution of the older sensors for the same level of camera. About the same time, Nikon got into the battle with two new cameras, the DX-800 with a 36.3 Megapixel full-frame sensor and even more recently, an mid-range DSLR, the D3200 with a 24.2 Megapixel sensor. Clearly, the incremental battle where sensors have been creeping up in quality has gone by the wayside. With Nikon's jump from a maximum of 18 Megapixels to over 36, there is clearly a new battle front. Nikon's DX-800 is not the same as a Hasselblad, obviously, but it is similar to the problem Ferrari might have if Fords started topping 200 mph with a similar design.

What to do? Nothing. Keep using whatever camera you already have until you are ready to upgrade and then be glad you can buy something with higher resolution for about what you paid for your old camera or less. If you are thinking about a new camera, then wait for a little while for prices and availability to come down. Don't buy a camera based solely on its Megapixel capability.

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