Monday, 9 March 2009

12MP is enough (or was that 640k?)

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Nikon D40 with standard kit lens AF-S DX 18-55...

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The forums at DPR are going a bit ga-ga over the CNET PMA interview with Akira Watanabe, manager of the SLR planning department. He said - "We have no intention to compete in the megapixel wars for E-System".

It is quite common in conversations with self appointed gurus, to moan about how the small sensors in cameras keep being pushed into higher Megapixels whenever a new model is released. These people say that manufacturers of cameras should voluntarily step back from the Megapixel race. And now, when one manufacturer says so, the same people or other doomsayers step forward and say that staying at a plateau of 12MP for the Four Thirds sensor signifies the beginning of the end.

What people choose to skip, is the following remark by Watanabe-san - “Instead, Olympus will focus on other characteristics such as dynamic range, color reproduction, and a better ISO range for low-light shooting”.

It is also well espoused by reviewers and by the anti-Four Thirds opinionists, that the weak points in the Four Thirds cameras is about a stop of dynamic range and earlier onset of digital image noise (graniness). So Watanabe-san is simply stating that the company does recognise the challenges in this sensor size and they want to improve the performance of these aspects on a higher priority.

Certainly, if Panasonic (or less likely, Kodak) comes to the table and brings an even denser Megapixel sensor, it would not be logical to sweep such a gift into the rubbish bin.

Much is also made of Watanabe-san’s statement: "We don't think 20 megapixels is necessary for everybody. If a customer wants more than 20 megapixels, he should go to the full-frame models”.

Again, nothing surprising in that. Lots of people don’t need the 20MP. Look at the long sales life and service life of the redoubtable Nikon D40 – a 6MP camera. And routinely still recommended as a useful camera – with punchy colours, low image noise. Many people, including myself, seldom print now (again there are aged, veteran photographers who frown on this and insist that the object of photography IS PRINTING) – and certainly web images or screen images, as a output result, uses less than 2MP.

So, why the angst? Why the neurotic chest thumping? It’s because someone practical and pragmatic stood up and announced that there is a finite limit to real sensors and real optics and the Four Thirds design as at the time of the interview.

Will there be electronic and optical improvements? Sure. By how much and how soon?

Should aspiring pros and pro-like fans abandon Four Thirds as of now so that they can fill their bag with CaNikZeiss lenses? Maybe. If you must have the huge Megapixel, the wafer thin DOF, the super creamy bokeh that an 85mm f/1.2 lens will deliver, the ISO 2500 without digital image noise, then they should have left the station like, oh, a year ago.

For the rest of us, the practical niceties of the Four Thirds system daily proves it’s worth. And when the time comes, when the legendary 24x36mm “full frame” sensor DSLR sells at today’s entry level price, we’ll take our options then. Until then, Carpe Diem – don’t burden yourself with the perceived loss of assets that aren’t.

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