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Saturday, November 19, 2011

36mp? Enough is Enough!

36 Megapixels? Enough is Enough!
November 2011, Carl Garrard

Rumors have it (or leaks if you believe like me) that Sony are set to introduce a new 36mp sensor for the A900 replacement. The recent experience I've had with the new 24mp APS-C sensor from Sony is cause enough to give me pause on the thought of a full frame camera having this much resolution. Why? For several reasons. First of all, the cost of the production of camera will have to increase for development of the new chip. Secondly the file sizes are going to be monstrous putting massive loads on your storage card, hard drives, and image post processing time. More...

Sony Alpha A900 24.6MP Digital SLR Camera (Black)

Now before I get going on this I'd like to be really clear about my motivation. I think I can sum up my thoughts here by saying that I think the timing of this sensor is just off. Economically the world is in transition still and it doesn't look like we're going to get a break from a down market anytime soon. A sensor like this will require purchasing of bigger memory cards, possibly more external drives, and possibly an upgrade in your laptop/desktop computer as well. That is of course you are willing to suffer the hit that will likely result from this sensor.

On top of all that, what remains to be the wild card here is the image quality. 36mp on a full frame sensor is a lot of crammed and smaller pixels, some three times smaller than Nikon's D700 and D3 cameras that still currently lead the DSLR industry in low light high sensitivity shooting performance. Surely more resolution could be had than those cameras, I concede to that much, but I think 36mp is frankly way too overboard.

Another reason I bring this topic up here, is because many of the manufacturers like Nikon, Pentax, and others buy sensors from Sony. They are the only two likely to use this new sensor (Nikon more than Pentax probably) in addition to Sony but together they make up three of the 4 major brands that make DSLRs. Not much choice unless you are a Canon shooter. And speaking of, I think Canon nailed the specifications with the new EOS 1DX at 18mp. Plenty of resolution (medium format cameras used to be this much not too long ago), but promised excellent low light shooting. Currently the Canon 5D Mk II performs even better than Sony's 24mp model so 21mp even seems to be quite enough.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP Full Frame CMOS Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

If Sony are going to try and get more market share this is not the way to go. I think the average DSLR consumer wanting to upgrade to full frame are starting to realize that megapixels isn't all that important anymore. The term itself at least in the US is becoming increasingly less popular in conversations I have with everyone. In other words, most people don't give a crap about megapixels as much as they used too.

I think if the brass at Sony have made this choice already, it is a bad choice. If they haven't made this choice then I implore you in Tokyo- don't do it. Just make a really great FF body with all the essentials with some modern flair to keep it fresh and viable on the market. And please, offer a FF camera with an optical viewfinder and and electronic viewfinder so you can cater to both sides of the buying crowd.

-Carl Garrard


  1. I agree with the notion to build 2 cameras, OVF and EVF. Give us at least the choice, when spending the amount of money a full frame camera costs, I'd at least like to choose. I think that a 36 megapixel studio or landscape camera is a decent idea, however I'd use TMT in the 36 megapixel camera. Obviously the TMT technology will take a decent amount of time to bring it's higher ISO performance close to on par with traditional reflex cameras. Designate the a99 as a high megapixel studio/landscape camera bring it in at $3000 (if possible). At that point noise would be moot at low ISO, people would be happy. Then Sony should cater to the crowd that want to shoot at higher ISO, with lets say a 16 or 18 megapixel "traditional" mirrored camera that will have ISO abilities similar to the d3s. Both camps are satisfied, a massive resolution camera for those who desire it, and low light, high ISO monster machine. Ahh if they could employ a full frame sensor with the noise performance of the a580, winner winner chicken dinner. Heck I'd love to own an "ancient" a850/900.

  2. Seriously? Worrying about card sizes? That is such a moot point. I can remember spending $200 on a 128mb cf! The high end/res camera should be targeted at pros, and pros accept that they constantly have to upgrade equipment. With the current tech level, almost no-one is going to take a 36mp camera on a holiday for snaps... Storage is NOT an issue as the goals are always moving. As for sensitivity, a choice should be available so you can pick what suits your work the most.

    I do however agree entirely with the need for an OVF. A pro level stills camera should be just an amazing stills camera, and the EVF is a product of the integration of video. I want a powerful, uncomprimised stills specific tool. I doubt either of us will be happy with the eventual release...

  3. The hard-drive space/speed argument is a non-issue. It always work out in the end, because we end up with faster storage solutions and more powerful workstations. Yes, that 5 year old laptop might not cut it, but if you can afford a $3000+ camera, you can afford to upgrade the laptop. Keep in mind, SSD and flash storage in general will become more affordable AND faster.

    Yes, this sensor will probably have worse high-iso performance than a 1dx, but it seems like that's not what sony made this for.

  4. I do agree with you that Sony should have kept an OVF line of FF DSLR.

  5. Hi Randy, and thanks for replying others too.

    Not so sure the point is coming across here. I'm saying that in total, everything slows down.

    Your entire system of post processing slows way down unless you buy a new computer (and I'm not so sure $ is the only issue with that, how about inconvenience...?)- that, couple with all the other trade offs means that in TOTAL, this is a big pain in the butt to deal with for the average person buying a camera with 36mp.

    Also added that if nobody complains, 36mp will end up in much less expensive cameras, and so on. As it has been since the MP race started.

    I'm just saying, enough is enough, who uses 36MP of resolution??? A small niche in a big pond really NEED that much resolution. The rest of us have to suffer not getting a good body because we fear the consequences that all that resolution is going to bring.


  6. This is true. Sony's 24 megapixel full frame sensor is the Nikon d3x, and the d3x is the 2nd highest rated camera only bested by a $40,000 medium format back. I think it was great Sony had an a850/900 however they should tweak the 24 megapixel sensor for better noise control and like Canon, take a step back again to 16-18 megapixel sensor. It is not always true if you can afford a $3000 camera you can afford a new computer. I also agree with the thought that the economy isn't much better than it was a few years ago, so to upgrade a camera and storage and a desktop/laptop, isn't economical. And don't argue, well a full frame camera is only for a true pro because I don't make 100% of my income from photography, but I'd buy a full frame if it weren't $2500. 15-20 years ago most every camera was "full frame" 35mm. In the end who knows what Sony's going to do, I recall reading that Sony isn't going to focus on besting Canon or Nikon because they were already the best at what they do. I think their mode of thinking is this: Nikon asks for a huge resolution sensor for d800/d4 whatever and Sony says, what the hell we have this sensor so jam it in a camera. Sony rocked the world with the affordable a850, they can do iti again. Who knows if they will.

  7. I remember watching Jurassic Park (specifically the scene where the dino eats a man off the toilet) and said to myself "just because it can be done, doesn't mean it must". Sony is seeing possibilities and deciding that they are marketable just because they are possible - as you note, it's dangerous when everyone in a boardroom nods their heads when maybe two of them own sophisticated cameras.
    I know many forums say enough is enough, but that's never a decent slice of "average users" to know what they think of more megapixels. We only know of the average folks by their silence, when they don't buy Sony gear. Problem is many forum folk knew and loved the A700, but clearly sales of that didn't reinforce that direction for 'advanced' cameras.
    I've seen too many excellent results from the just-passing generation of 12 and 16M cameras to feel that *my* type of shooting justifies more. I know you're out there, pixel-cravers, and your reasons are valid just not my reasons.

    I've tried too often to tell Sony what to do, but I support Carl doing so; he has contacts that potentially can adjust coroprate planning. We'll see.

    Of course, when leaving Jurassic Park I thought "now they can do Lord of the Rings!" - and while not fully true to the books, they did a fine job..

  8. 36MPiX on an FF has exactly the same photosite density as a 16MPiX sensor on a 1.5 x crop factor APS-C sensor (as it has 2.25 x the surface area). Given that the D7000 & K5 are rated (image-wise) as just about the best APS-C cameras around (with the NEX-5n and A580 very close behind) then it seems to me that the ability to crop down to 16MP (1.5x) or 9MP (2x) could be very useful for wildlife photographers and the like.

    The other thing to note is that the very act of down-sizing improves the SNR and dynamic range. Indeed there is something very fundamental there. There is a trade-off between spatial frequency and noise/dynamic range. Reduce the former mathematically by down-sizing and it increases the latter. Hence a photo that is unacceptable at A3 may be fine at A4. What matters most is the collecting power of the sensor in terms of the number of photons it can collect (which is a function of area), the efficiency with which it turns it into electrical charge (the QE), the maximum depth of charge well and the avoidance of induced noise by the electronics (photon shot noise is inherent to the nature of light and is unavoidable).

    As far as the D3s goes, yes it does rule at low ISOs, but it certainly doesn't at base. It's far from the best camera for fine art, landscape, architectural or similar photography.

    Of all the arguments about pixel counts, the one that is most valid is the amount of data as that feeds through the system. Canon have gone for 18MPiX on their next FF, and I suspect that's a choice will have been made, in part, by the desire to produce a camera which can sustain 14 FPS at a high bit depth. Engineering is compromises, and without knowing what the criteria used were, it'd difficult to say.

  9. Hi Steve, my concern isn't image quality so much as it is the ancillary effects of such a large sensor. If I wanted to shoot medium format sized files I would have bought a Hasselblad years ago.

    I, don't.

  10. And I'll add that it would be really nice to own a full frame camera without having to spend 2-10 thousand dollars and have the huge file sizes to boot. I think there's a market for full frame cameras that are near the $1,000-$1,500 mark and would use 12-18mp of resolution, in fact I think it is a huge hole in the industry. No, the D700 is not the answer, it's out of the price range and being replaced.

    Like I said, enough is enough. That's my opinion.


  11. A would expect any such camera to be able to generate JPEGs with lower MP counts which, if done properly, would exhibit better DR and SNR at the expense of the unnecessary detail. That would retain the ability to generate higher MPiX images when required.

    Of course the problem with that is it is JPEG only which cooks in rather two many camera settings for my taste, but shouldn't be such an issue for those who use JPEGs for such photos. Much action and news photography is more about speed of distribution than ultimate image quality. A usable photo on a news site in a timely manner is of much more use than spending a lot of time tuning RAW files. Of course if it was possible to produce a file format that kept the full DR range of a RAW yet at lower resolution that might suit. Some people might refer to such a file as using "pixel binning", but that's a term used very loosely by many without much thought as to what it means. Pixel binning (in hardware) is a feature of many monochrome CCTV systems, but the mechanism used doesn't translate to Bayer matrices. The one MF manufacturer who claims pixel binning on a (CCD) back is rather coy over what they mean by it. Of course it's always possible to spit out 16 bit deep TIFFs at a reduced resolution, but unfortunately those will actually be larger than the original RAWs (unless downsized to extremes) as it will have to have gone through the de-mosaicing process in-camera.

    As far as the MF route goes, that's a step too far from many people. Add in the cost of the required lenses, and you can be looking at total costs many times that of what I would expect the next Sony FF to cost. Should the forthcoming Sony FF prove to be, in effect, a 36MP FF sensor in an A77 body then it could provide for a single, fairly compact body which can act as a 16MP APS-C (and crop format lenses) where size is the issue, whilst still giving the greater light gathering capabilities of an FF at others. That has considerable attractions to me.

  12. I am one of the persons that think that low light high sensitivity, or high ISO photo quality, is more important that more mega pixels. Especially if all your lenses don't say Zeiss in the front.

    I also consider that replacing the A-900 with an EVF camera using the SAME old tech 24MP's sensor from the ancient A-900 is a big mistake. The translucent mirror reduces the amount of light that make it to the sensor creating the possibility of having a new camera with even worst high ISO performance than the old A-900. And probably even reducing the detail that can be recorded since the image has to pass thru the "pelicule" mirror (or curtain) all the time.

    Yes. It will be a better "camcorder" camera. It will Auto-focus better (at least when using fast lenses). It will be able to have faster frame rates, Live-View, etc. But I use a real camcorder to record movies, and although Live-View and faster frame rates are useful those are not enough reasons for me to change from a quality OVF to an EVF.

    Rumors are that Sony is not going to make anymore OVF cameras. And since I have too many A-mount lenses to change right now to another brand, this means that the ONLY camera left in my list from Sony is the A580. I was hoping that the A900 replacement was going to have better high ISO performance, but looks like this is no longer the case. And if I buy a full frame sensor camera is to get better photo quality not just more mega pixels.

  13. Carl:

    Did you know anyplace were I can send my A700 so they can replace its old tech 12MP's sensor with the 16MP's sensor from the A580 (and a firmware update for this transplant)?

    Since Sony does not seems interested on making a camera I may want to buy.

  14. "Did you know anyplace were I can send my A700 so they can replace its old tech 12MP's sensor with the 16MP's sensor from the A580 (and a firmware update for this transplant)?"

    Seriously hah?

    Don't need to reinvent the wheel Sony, just make a good body exceptional. Imagine an A700 with live view direct off the main sensor, the A580's sensor, a highly improved AF system and top LCD. Without needing to change the body style much if at all. Keep the old quick-navi system, LCD and button layout.


  15. Thanks for your opinion on this topic Carl. I thought that I was all alone out here, wishing that SONY would put out a 16 - 18 MP FF a77 DSLR with OVF. I couldn't care less how it would stack up against NIKON or Canon. I'm still using my Maxxum 7D(black frames and all) and Fuji S20Pro(flash syncs up to 1/1000 sec)and would certainly welcome something that would not demand that I have to buy a new computer as well, just to process the files. I am retired after having my home based studio for portraits and weddings for 22 years. But I fear that I will have to settle for the a580, and buy a new fisheye to replace my 16mm, and a flash trigger of some sort to fire the studio lights that I have kept. Then again, maybe I'll think seriously about building a new darkroom, and dust off the Maxxum 9 again.

  16. Nope you aren't alone :).

    Personally I think that 24mp is just about the max I'd ever want to process. At some point you have to ask yourself just how much cropping room or detail you need in a print and at what size. The A900 made stellar 30x40" gallery ready prints and with some massaging could easily go as high as 40x60". Who sell's prints that large? What stock company needs that much resolution?

    Now we are talking doing 36mp that breaches medium format territory- it's ridiculous, but hey ... if there weren't a trade off in file sizes or computer power needed- I'd take the extra resolution. I don't know if I'd ever really use all of it but with no trade offs I suppose that would be just fine.

    But we know logically there are trade offs. That's just common sense.

    Sony put its users in a tough spot to make a decision, that's a fact Sony knew they were doing. They are making their own path the best they seem to know how to do, bless them for trying I suppose.


  17. The 16 MP sensor, despite being higher resolution, is better than older 12 MP and 14 MP sensor. Looking at A77 score, and comparing it to A55 (both camera lose light to pellicle mirror), it looks the 24 MP sensor is better than the 16 MP sensor. Once Dxomark posts Nex-7 results (that has no pellicle mirror), it will become obvious that he 24 MP sensor it better.

    I predict that 36 MP FF will be one of the best sensor ever made as of 2012, easily beating most CCD based medium format cameras.

    D3s/D700 aren't really good at base ISO. poor DR, low resolution. The Sony's 24 MP in A850/A900 is already better.

  18. "Looking at A77 score, and comparing it to A55 (both camera lose light to pellicle mirror), it looks the 24 MP sensor is better than the 16 MP sensor. "

    Just the score, yes. But in this case it doesn't apply practically to output when you compare them side by side. I'll show you that in my next article. And really, IQ isn't the main issue I have with 36mp, if you read the whole article you'll see that.

    "D3s/D700 aren't really good at base ISO. poor DR, low resolution. The Sony's 24 MP in A850/A900 is already better." Poor DR? On what basis? And I wouldn't call 12mp low resolution, low resolution nowadays is 6mp. The Sony's you state have twice the resolution of a 6mp sensor.

  19. Did you really want to EMPLOY sony, or IMPLORE? :-) Just razzin' ya.

    Great blog entry and you raise an important point -- Megapixels for the sake of megapixels is just silly. Frankly 24 megapixels is enough, for 35 mm full frame, and higher image quality at the same resolution would probably make a bigger dent in the Photographic world than a "compact medium format DSLR" is going to. :-)

    Then again, maybe the people who would by a 30+ megapixel camera in 35mm format are doing that instead of buying a Hasselblad....


  20. Thanks Warren (and for the typographical error too... fixed now, ugh!).

    And how many Hasselblads sell a year? :) For that matter, how many medium format cameras sell every year? I wonder.


  21. The simplest answer for Sony is to implement the 36 mpix sensor but allow binning at say 18 mpix for high ISO to improve the S/N ratio. While they are at it forget their lame JPEG engine and substitute DNR files. As for EVF or OVF, Sony has said there is no going back. If you look at the trajectory of improvements they have made in EVF, the next generation may lay the argument to rest just as digital has now buried film

  22. Perhaps when they make a pro DSLR with 36 or more Megapixels, they aren't targeting the average person. Maybe they're targeting the person like me that works with a lot of commercial portraiture, large fine prints and very high quality standards. I'd welcome 60MP and iso50, while you have fun playing in the dark.

  23. "while you have fun playing in the dark"

    ISO performance affects all ISO settings, what makes you think I take pictures in the dark? Or would you prefer to keep the conversation constructive instead?

    The issue with too much resolution is that it trickles down to all cameras eventually. That means that only the people who like this much resolution are truly pleased. If Sony/Nikon or whoever else continue to make lower resolution cameras, that'd be just fine. However that hasn't been the trend. I think that would please both crowds and I'd be happy to accept that, but I don't have high hopes that a manufacturer finds making two versions of the same camera profitable- they tend to only do that on the highest level cameras that are quite expensive.

    That means no full frame for the consumer with a smaller budget.

    What Sony did with the A850 was great, they just need to build on that.


  24. Touchy subject. Well, a few years back, everyone believed 8MP was the ideal for APS-C sensors. Yet, the best all-around APS-C sensors to date has been Sony's 12MP and 16MP sensors. I'm not a photosite engineer, I don't have the answer on how to make the optimal sensor given a specific area. But i do know that technology moves forward. If it didn't, we'd all buy Canon 1D classics because it has reliable AF and the cleanest 4MP resolution.

  25. Technology indeed does move forward, no doubt about that. Being a space race fan like no other, I'm huge into that.

    However, we are talking photographs here. And unless there comes a need for the average person to suddenly need to print 60x80" images on a daily basis- why increase the size of the resolution so much?

    My point is that there are so many other areas in a camera that can move forward technology wise and the MP simply aren't needed so much as they used to be now that very large print sizes can be made with current cameras.

    MP's are just an "easy" way to make sales... but I think that is an oil well that's about to be tapped dry soon.


  26. "However, we are talking photographs here. And unless there comes a need for the average person to suddenly need to print 60x80" images on a daily basis- why increase the size of the resolution so much?"

    Well, i think you're forgetting the rise of 3D printers here Carl. We no longer need to get our knockoffs from the PRC, we'll just take a picture and print it out at home. Hahah, i kid (but stranger things has happened).

    Point taken. Not everyone needs ever higher MP count. Sony must have learned a thing or two with their 24MP APS-C cameras. A 36MP or 50MP FF sensor might produce more noise at every ISO. But it might not. I rather see them try than not, that's my take on it.

    BTW, any plans for AF speed/accuracy tests? I'm interested to know how the K-5 compares to a D300 or the Pro camera lines.

  27. How about how fast the K5 autofocuses against the D7000? I'm afraid the D300/s is a bit long in the tooth now. I may have my hands on the D7000 soon and I'll keep in mind the request.

    (btw, I liked your kidding).


  28. Thanks for considering it Carl. K5 vs D7000 comparison would make for an interesting read.

    I've handled the D7000, i like the overall size and grip. Although i still wonder how the AF compares to the D300(s). Having a hard time finding an AF comparison online.

  29. I could only wish for an A-77 with a full frame 16mp sensor. But... it would have to have an optical viewfinder and such for me to buy it. And i would only be buying for the high iso performance. Everything else I already have in my A-700 and A-900 cameras. There is no other reason for me to buy a new camera. Unless there is a camera with the specs mentioned in the beginning of this comment.

  30. "640K of memory should be enough for anybody". Moore law. We'll see.