Home > gear talk, Photography, technology > Could the megapixel race finally be over?

Could the megapixel race finally be over?

Click HERE for today’s photos.

Could the megapixel race finally be over?

Let’s hope so.

Here’s the headline: “Canon releases a new camera with lower resolution and better image quality.”

While this seems a bit counterintuitive, it does make sense.  You see, cramming ever more and more pixels onto the same sized image sensor is NOT the way to improve image quality.

In my view Canon did a VERY smart thing in reducing the pixel count with the G11.  And to make the news even better, they upped the sensor size, so you get a double whammy effect that results in larger photo sites, meaning a higher signal to noise ratio and lower overall noise.

I don’t want a super high resolution 100 megapixel image that is so noisy it looks like it was taken during a snowstorm.  I’d much rather have a sub-10 megapixel image from the same sized or larger sensor as that will dramatically improve final image quality.  Sigma, with their 4.7 megapixel Foveon sensors in their DP1 and DP2 cameras have proved this.  Granted Foveon sensor technology is something entirely different from CMOC and CCD, but the fact remains that the 4.7 megapixel resolution images have the sharpness, clarity, and detail of 10-12 megapixel images shot using CCD or CMOS technology.

The only thing that really puzzles me is why Canon decided to grace the new S90 with an f2.0 lens, whilst only giving the G11 a widest aperture of f2.8?  I am sure anyone who knows anything about taking pictures would have easily traded the 140mm zoom on the long end of the G11 for the 105mm on the long end of the S90 if it meant they could get an f2.0 aperture on the wide end.

S90: f/2.0-4.9 28-105mm (35mm equiv)

G11: f/2.8-4.5 28-140mm (35mm equiv)

In its defense, the G11 does have a very useful articulated LCD screen, although it is (marginally) smaller than that on the S90, AND on the long end of things, the G11 has the S90 beaten both on aperture, as well as reach.

It seems funny, but I think the biggest threat to Canons new G11 is their very own S90.  The again, maybe not, since they seem to be marketed towards slightly different groups.  The S90, being very pocketable is a “take it with you everywhere” camera that is sure to be popular with everyone.  But the G11, while still compact, is certainly not something that you will want to stuff in your front pants pocket, not unless you want to make people think you are happy to see then anyways…  The G11 seems geared toward the same crowd as the G10, those serious about their pictures, and after an all-around best-fit camera to fit as many photographic situations as possible.

I also see that they left HD video out of both of them, further ensuring a solid upgrade path for those that buy into the current lineup.    So neither the S90 not the G11 are perfect cameras.

Smart.  Very smart.

And in truth, I don’t think it is in any manufacturers best interest to produce the ‘perfect” camera.  After all, their goal as a manufacturer is to make money.  If they made a perfect camera then why would people fork over more of their hard earned (or inherited, or ill-gotten, or whatever type) money for a new model?

Businesses are IN business to DO business.  Period.

That’s why we see such incremental product updates most of the time.  It cuts down on R&D and manufacturing costs while maximizing the mount of units being sold, and this translates directly into profit.

It is a fine line though, and I am sure Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and everyone else I watching each other like hawks to make sure than no one manufacturer gets too far ahead of the curve and upsets the balance.   I can just see the CEOs of all the big camera companies getting together once every year to decide what features to release on the public, how much to charge, and what features should be reserved for future product updates.

Following is a brief summary of my thoughts on some digital camera manufacturers.  Basically, I attempted to describe each companies philosophy when it comes to making cameras:

Canon: Full frame is where it’s at, ergonomics are for pansies.

Nikon:  Full frame is overrated (oops, that was last years line…) “Full frame is where it’s at, and oh by the way, our ergonomics wipe the floor with Canon.

Olympus: Damnit, 4/3rds IS full frame!  (if you can accept the logic that the original Pen was a full frame camera this may make sense, otherwise, it’s a bunch of rubbish…), and lets make some really good glass, but lets also make the mistake to price it outside of most peoples ability to afford.

Panasonic:  Yes, we really do make cameras, not just electric shavers and flat panel TVs.

Leica: Screw sustainable business models!  We’re making rangefinders and medium format digital cameras that nobody can afford.  But just to hedge out bets we’ll partner with Panasonic and place one of our fabled red dots on a few of their models which will allow us to instantly charge $400-$600 more for the exact same camera.

Pentax:  It’s all about the glass.  (And they are absolutely right)

Sigma:  No, really, it really IS a 14.7 megapixel sensor!    (all the other makers roll their eyes)

Kodak:  Someone has to sell cameras to the people who bought Yugos

Mamiya:  Isn’t that Italian?

Casio:  Someone has to sell cameras to people who are ready to step up from Kodak.

Ricoh:  Yes, yes, I know this shot looks like it was taken during a snowstorm, but look at just how sharp that palm tree is!  Ricoh should sell their cameras with a disclaimer: “Use Only In Direct Sunlight”

Hasselblad:  Let’s make our equipment even more expensive than Leica.  That way we can feel exclusive and justify our high prices.  Never mind that our digital backs cost more than a mid-sized SUV.

Fujifilm: We’ll take a Nikon mount and put one of our bodies and sensors on it and instantly charge $400-$600 LESS than the comparable Nikon.

Epson:  Epson?  I thought they only made printers?

Contax: R.I.P.

Sony:  A little late to the DSLR game, but since buying up Konica/Minolta they have really come into their own.  Now if only they could increase their focus speed, and decrease their high ISO image noise.  They have been making solid point and shoot cameras for years.

HP: I thought they just made printers and computers?

No camera is perfect.  I know because I seem to have tried darn near all of them.  But it certainly is an interesting time to be alive with the steady progression of technological advances creeping ever closer to the end-goal of what had been developed in the film world years ago, but with the added bonuses of better high ISO image quality, huge storage capacity for pictures (can you even imagine changing your memory card after just 24 shots?), and immediate image/histogram review.
Click HERE for today’s photos.

  1. August 21, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    The race will never end, Canon and Nikon will always try to out-do the other.

    For the Pro/high-end shooters, more will always be better.


  2. August 24, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Hi Jeff
    The Rebel has seen its last photo and I am getting ready to purchase a 5D. The newest 5D Mark II is 21.1 megapixels. Is it worth it? Or should I get one of the cheaper 5Ds with 12? I know the 21 sounds impressive, but read somewhere that its picture quality is better when on one of the smaller resolution settings.
    Hope all is well. I miss Japan terribly.

    • February 10, 2012 at 2:53 am

      hm… a fold-yourself pliohne cam?anyway, awesome that you’re making your own cam. go go diy!

  3. August 24, 2009 at 11:46 pm


    Nice to hear from you!

    Unless you are into shooting video, or printing your photos at ridiculously large sizes I would suggest you buy a used 5D.

    If the auto-focus on the 5DMII was upgraded from the original 5D I might lean towards the new version. But since it is the same, I myself don’t see the need to spend all that extra money for more pixels.

    The original 5D is an incredibly capable tool, and with the money you save you can either invest in some lenses, or just bank the difference.

    Hope this helped.

    • September 8, 2009 at 12:17 pm

      Hi guys,

      Sorry to barge in, but thought I would give you some input on the 5D vs 5D mk II decision. I have both and use them for work and I love both cameras.

      The 5D mk II is an excellent camera, it has a lot of features that makes it a bit more user friendly than the original 5D (automatic or manual iso settings, photo shooting mode (portrait, landscape, B&W) change is on a side button for quick access, expanded iso (3200, but with an expansion to more than 20000..not really necessary as it has a lot of noise) and the video function is pretty cool. The sensor cleaning is a big help if you are editing a lot of pics as well.

      Saying all that though, if you aren’t using it for a heavy workload, the 5D itself is a damn fine camera. I used it solidly as my main camera body for a year and loved it. As Jeff said, unless you are printing massive pictures or using it for work you will be just as well saving some cash and getting the 5D.

      In terms of megapix, a lot of it is gimic to help sell new camera models to people who shoot as a hobby, if you are just shooting jpeg and putting it on a computer or making prints up to A4 you don’t need a 21 mega pix camera, a 6 or 8 would do (I used to get by fine with an 8 megapix camera). The only real need for big megapix is for large prints in exhibitions, or if you plan selling your work to magazines or agencies. For newspapers jpegs are fine, for glossy mags or agencies you need big megapix cameras and you have to shoot in RAW so when you finish your edit you don’t lose so much image quality.

      Hope this helped…


  4. August 24, 2009 at 11:48 pm


    I do agree that for pros shooting medium format digital, more pixels is better. The larger sensors can absorb the increased pixel density while maintaining relatively large individual photo sites.

    You’ve got some really nice work on your website. Thanks for sharing.


  5. August 26, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Thanks for your advice! I am still grateful for the advice you gave me years ago to start out with a less-expensive Rebel and spend the money on lenses. I did exactly that and now have a very nice complement of lenses. The Rebel went through hell and back over the years as it traveled around the world and went with me pretty much everywhere. The shutter button just failed for the second time and I am due for an upgrade anyway. Right now I am cameraless and it’s killing me!
    I’ve passed that information on to several people who’ve asked me for SLR advice – go low on the body to start out and spend your cash on good glass.

  6. J.
    August 26, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Hi Jeff,

    the PotD “fujiisan with cloud cap” is simply magnificent. Do you have it available as a screensaver with higher pixel count than what is available on Flickr?
    So far I’m using your screensaver of the shinkansen at ShinYoko station (using it already many years) but it is about to be replaced by this one.

    Greetings from Tokyo,


  7. August 27, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Hi J.

    Send me an email and I’ll bounce you back a high resolution version for your wallpaper.


  8. September 10, 2009 at 2:10 am

    Pentax fan here! I agree with your statement about them. Looking forward to some day buying a few of their limited FA primes.

    Well that will be after I upgrade my *ist DS to a K7 once it drops in price a bit. Weather sealed, full metal body, improved auto focus, shake reduction, super quiet shutter, not bloated in size… so I’d say Pentax is on their game right now in bodies as well as lenses.

    I’ve read your blog for quite a few years off and on. Never seen you try a Pentax. Maybe you should give the K7 and a limited a try. ^_^

  9. October 20, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Actually the Pen was what they used to call full frame, and what we call now 35mm format was double frame. (Film frames are oriented the other way matching the Pen)
    At some point it got switched and full frame became half frame and double frame became full frame, for photography. I don’t think Oly has ever said it’s full frame, but some of the ‘fans’ sure have. It’s worked well as a marketing term too.

    I do shoot Oly and Oly’s SHG glass is expensive, but it’s also not all that different from Nikon’s high end zooms. The wide angle and telephoto are actually cheaper. The sweet spot is their HG glass. No one makes anything that compares to the 12-60 and 50-200. If it’s what you are looking for it’s a fantastic deal. Oly is all about the glass. The recent bodies have gotten much better, but still need some work. *cough* C-AF & Low light AF *cough*

  10. October 25, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Let’s see if the Red cam boys bring out a stills camera in the future…that will be the only one worth having.

  11. February 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    hey i need help, i need a cmraea within the $150-$250 dollar price range thats really good, can anyone help me???

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