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What does 50 Megapixels mean vs 36 Megapixels?

See also Sony, Fix These Things and Win and On Sony.

See also Oversampling: More Pixels Always Better, at Least at Lower ISOs.

The rumor mill is grinding along with the rumor of a ~50 megapixel Sony “A9” (realname tbd) and ~53 megapixel Canon DSLR. I’d bet that neither company will invent a better camera name, this challenge being beyond their grasp.

50 megapixels vs 36 is 1.18X the linear resolution. In other words, you can make a 42-inch wide print instead of 36-inch wide, all other things being equal, which they most definitely will not be. That’s your best case, barring some other kind of improvement.

Note that the difference between 24 and 36 megapixels is 1.22X, and that difference is noticeable but modest, and only when conditions are perfect (perfect focus, optimal aperture, no shutter vibration, minimal field curvature). And depth of field in terms of exploiting the extra resolution is not only further reduced, but micro contrast and resolution are degraded by diffraction sooner (contrast vs resolution lp/mm). Moreover, noise might be worse (or at least no better), and Sony’s already heavily processed files just cannot stand up to real world demands for post processing in all too many scenarios.

So as per Sony, Fix These Things and Win, a 50 megapixel anything needs:

  • Superior dynamic range (15 bits please), and a lossless file format with ultra high pixel quality(offer the 11+7 bit format for the masses who should be shooting iPhone anyway).
  • It’s a camera Sony, not a damned game player or gizmo. Get rid of the crapware and randomly excreted menu choices, put in proper buttons and controls, and raise Sony camera credibility above mediocre. Parts is parts. Not.
  • A zero-vibration exposure mode, e.g., no damaging Sony A7R style shutter vibration.
  • A hyper accurate focusing system. Which means forgetting about the Canon and Nikon systems; it has to be on-sensor with special detectors.
  • Sensor image stabilization ever more important as a practical matter.
  • Lenses of Zeiss Otus grade if one wants to do more than pontificate about resolution gains across the frame: no focus shift, minimal field curvature, strict control of aberrations, etc. Can you say “another 14 megapixels of the same mush?” (the case for many lenses).
  • Existing issues with ray angle will be even worse on a higher res body (in per pixel terms), so don’t get excited about Leica M lenses on a 50MP Sony.
  • Design and manufacturing tolerances have to be higher! Good luck with that. And I wish all these vendors would spare us the fantasy MTF graphs, and publish measured results from real physical lenses (like Zeiss does).

Still, oversampling has merit, and technology can fix some things and steadily improve, so 2015 could be exciting. We shall see. Now the question is whether Leica will ever update the aging M240 with its yawner of a 24MP sensor (but which makes exceptionally lovely images with the Zeiss ZM 35/1.4 Distagon). But Leica lens price escalation now puts many of them strictly out of reach and into the camera-as-jewelry realm.

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