Megapixels and Image Quality

demiro

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A few days ago there was some back and forth about m4/3s vs FF (shocking, I know) and I commented that I found images from Canon 5D and it's 12.8MP to have a special but undefinable quality to them. That got me thinking... I've also found the Fuji X100 to produce some special shots. 12MP. To a lesser extent, the Olympus E-PL1 has some special sauce as well. 12MP. As does the Fuji X10 point and shoot, at only 6MP in EXR mode.

These cameras are all dinosaurs at this point, in the era of digital photography, and I can't say in any way how they compare to best stuff that's come out recently. But in there day, and maybe for the next five years, they were special. I really looked forward to the 5D2 (21.1MP), to overcome some of the technical limitations of the original. It did, and it was a great camera, but it somehow lacked the magic of the original. The Fuji X100T is an awesome camera at 16MP. Better than the original in every way, but again, just didn't seem to have that magic. I'd say the same about the E-M5 and it's 16MP in comparison to the E-PL1.

Now I'm not completely insane. I understand that if you shoot with any of those newer cameras I referenced vs the older you will get way better results, generally speaking. But with the "classics" you might get a couple of shots, when the lighting is just right and the technical limitations of the camera are not in your way, that just make you say "wow". So we all have known for a while that more megapixels does not equal better IQ. But is the opposite somehow true? Is this a photosite density thing, or some other next level technical jargon that I don't really understand with my high school Physics knowledge from 35 years ago? Is it just something these cameras get right with design and execution that goes well beyond MP count?

I tend to think the last point makes the most sense. The fact that my all-time champ for producing that special look is the Sigma DPM series, 15x3MP, supports that. But those cameras are really freaks, with their Foveon sensors and god knows what other witchcraft baked in, so I'm not sure. I also wonder why the newer, higher MP cams, replete with bells and whistles and ever fewer technical limitations don't recreate that magic very often.

Does any of this really matter? No. It's just a curiosity. Wondering if anyone agrees that some cameras just have that special something, and if anyone can define or explain it.
 

WT21

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I have no idea, but I wonder if a lens matched to it's sensor is just as important. If you have a super high MP sensor, and a lens that doesn't resolve to it, and if IQ is based on viewing at 100%, then doesn't the image look poor? Conversely, if you have a high resolving lens (plus other important characteristics like good bokeh) and you view the image, it seems better matched.

In the end, I've not idea. For me, it's like wine - I don't understand the technical merits, but i know what I like and don't like.
 

Lcrunyon

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I can’t answer any of your questions, and I’m certainly not trying to invalidate them. But I do wonder, could it just be that it was the moment that was special and not the gear? I think that photography is often about the perfect lighting and the perfect moment. Gear is inconsequential compared to those things. Do you think that if you had whatever camera you are using today back then, that exact picture would have turned out any differently? Or, maybe you were just remembering those great moments more vividly because that’s the way our minds oftentimes work?

If it’s not any of those things (and I’m not saying that it is), then I would have to also wonder if the lens was more of a driving factor than the body.
 
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demiro

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I can’t answer any of your questions, and I’m certainly not trying to invalidate them. But I do wonder, could it just be that it was the moment that was special and not the gear? I think that photography is often about the perfect lighting and the perfect moment. Gear is inconsequential compared to those things. Do you think that if you had whatever camera you are using today back then, that exact picture would have turned out any differently? Or, maybe you were just remembering those great moments more vividly because that’s the way our minds oftentimes work?

If it’s not any of those things (and I’m not saying that it is), then I would have to also wonder if the lens was more of a driving factor than the body.

That's a good point Loren. But I think the opposite is true. Some of the special shots are completely unspectacular in terms of the moment. And not that I shot the exact same scenes with multiple cameras, but I've almost always had more than one camera at the same time. So I would've shot the same generic photos with the X100, for example, and whatever ILC I had at the time.
 

ralf-11

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you aren't comparing sensors, but entire systems - sensor, lens, rendering engine, etc.
 

John King

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Serendipity plays some part in almost every photograph ...

5 MPx E-1 with f/2 50 macro

E-1_JAK_2008-PB040481_Ew.jpg
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John King

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But megapixels have their place ... it's just not every place. But when you need them, they are very nice to have.
I don't disagree, Walt.

It seems that 16 MPx is 'enough', though.

My E-M1 MkI lets me go as big as I like. My E-M1 MkII gives me about 1/2 to 2/3 stop better DR and noise, but the resolution increase is all but un-noticeable.

I think we have reached a point where all decent cameras have 'enough'. One of the reasons why the entire ILC market is slowing down and drying up.

Even my E-M1 MkII was just spoiling myself ...
 

WaltP

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I don't disagree, Walt.

It seems that 16 MPx is 'enough', though.

My E-M1 MkI lets me go as big as I like. My E-M1 MkII gives me about 1/2 to 2/3 stop better DR and noise, but the resolution increase is all but un-noticeable.

I think we have reached a point where all decent cameras have 'enough'. One of the reasons why the entire ILC market is slowing down and drying up.

Even my E-M1 MkII was just spoiling myself ...
My point is this
Your 'enough' might not always be my 'enough'. And when i need more than 16 or 20 megapixels, it is nice to have them avsilable.
It may be rare, but I cannot say that becsuse 16mp is enough for me, the issue is finished for you as well.
There are different needs in photography. Spy satellites have different needs than portrait photographers. And without being able to "zoom in" on that license plate across the Golden Gate bridge, the villian might escape justice on my favorite show. Surely you are not saying that because tv shows can zoom CCTV footage infinitely we should stop with CCTV cameras and throw the rest away.
Hollywood has found the technology that allows both infinite zooming of 2mp CCTV footage and 6 bazillion shots without re-loading. The key appears to be having a star on your bathroom door. ;) THAT'S what we ALL need to purchase. Problem solved. ;)
 

John King

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Almost all of the absolutely wonderful photographs taken by the Voyager and Mars were taken with tiny megapixel cameras ...

I am extremely particular about the technical aspects of my photographs. I have seen comparison after comparison of mFTs 16 MPx prints with even 100 MPx MF prints. Until one gets to wall size prints, there is little difference. Now, bit depth and colour space are different matters.

And, I am not suggesting ANY of the things you have put into my mouth ...

I fully understand that other people have different wants (and sometimes even needs ... ) from what mine are. I have never denied this.

Please tackle someone who is disagreeing with you ... :rolleyes: :hmmm: :shakehead:.
 

b_rubenstein

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Is this a photosite density thing, or some other next level technical jargon that I don't really understand with my high school Physics knowledge from 35 years ago?

Unless your High School Physics included a Masters level section on Quantum Mechanics, you were never taught anything relevant to camera sensors. You also wouldn't have the analytical skills (advanced math) to make sense of the theory. Internet forums are lousy places to learn anything about very technical subjects. Professional photographers are even less useful, since if they went to college they all have BA degrees and have virtually no idea how anything actually works. Lots of excellent universities post course material for advanced technology classes, but without the requisite math background, one won't get very far.
 

Lcrunyon

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Unless your High School Physics included a Masters level section on Quantum Mechanics, you were never taught anything relevant to camera sensors. You also wouldn't have the analytical skills (advanced math) to make sense of the theory. Internet forums are lousy places to learn anything about very technical subjects. Professional photographers are even less useful, since if they went to college they all have BA degrees and have virtually no idea how anything actually works. Lots of excellent universities post course material for advanced technology classes, but without the requisite math background, one won't get very far.
Now I don't feel as stupid for not knowing what people are talking about half the time. :hmmm:
 

WT21

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I found 12MP was fine if the shot I took was what I wanted. 16MP gives me cropping room but doesn’t give me enough cropping to fake having a zoom lens ;)

I would like 24 TBH, but may try one of the 20MP bodies as 24MP doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon.
 

tkbslc

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I don't know the answer. But I also know that some people consider the same to be true of lenses. There's some sweet spot in history where lenses were modern enough to be very good but still old enough to be simple 4-6 element designs. And people say these lenses produce "magic" shots. Newer computer designed "15 elements in 7 groups" lenses are vastly superior in technical terms, but can give a disconnected feeling to the image. I even heard some blogger say things like "newer lenses make pictures that feel like they were shot through a window".

I do know that sometimes older gear can make "magic" shots. But the problem is that it's so inconsistent and limited in scope that it is hard to trust it. Sure you get everything aligned and get a magic shot. But then the next 100 shots aren't magic and just have soft corners and too much ISO noise. Or in the case of X100 vs X100F, 1 in focus and magic shot on the X100 for every 30 where the camera was a bit slow and not quite in focus. :)
 

oldracer

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How are you viewing these images with a "special but undefinable quality?" Small prints (finish?), large prints (finish?), inkjet, dyesub, projected (resolution?), computer monitor (resolution?) ... ?
 

Quadna71

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I completely understand what you are saying. I had a Canon 50/1.4 lens that was friends with my T3i, 7D, 5D, 5D2, and 6D. But of all those bodies, the images I took with the 50mm on the 5D classic (12.8mp) were the ones that so often just had that “it” look to them. Nothing I could really put my finger on if pressed, but it was something tangible. Even my wife said she liked the look of the pictures from “that one camera with the bad screen on the back of it” I guess in the end I can’t say for certain if it was just the body but when those two were together they made magic :thumbup:
 

MPrince

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I've always been far more concerned (and impressed) with the quality of an image than with the "image quality", however one goes about defining that phrase. In my experience, most people seem to define image quality as "sharpness" (a rather bourgeoise concept if you ask me ☺ ) or by "resolution" (how little of the image you can see when viewing at 100% on a 65 inch monitor).

I'd rather see a beautifully composed image of a breathtaking subject in sublime lighting than a brick wall so sharp your eyes bleed when viewed at 100%.

But that's just me. Others can and will disagree.
 

StirlingBartholomew

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I hauled out my no-longer-used DMC-G2K last week and did some testing with it. I do this periodically to remind myself what I like about the OM-D EM-5 classic I picked up used in 2014 on this forum. I shot some hand held images of a white lampshade illumined by window light at ISO 100 with Zuiko 14-54@40mm @ f4. I then turned up the ISO to 1600 and shot some more tests of same subject. I then mounted the lens on my EM-5 and shot some tests at ISO LOW and some at ISO 200, then 1600. Loaded all of these images into LR 6(final) and added plus exposure to everything to even levels of brightness. Converted all images to B&W. Then poured a glass of Revelation Cabernet-Merlot and studied the noise patterns at 100% magnification.

I really like the noise from the DMC-G2K, reminds me of Kodak Recording Film 2475 when exposed at 800-1000 standard development printed on high contrast Agfa 4 paper. Did some street portraits with this film shooting with a Nikkor 85mm f1.8 at f4. Great results.

I will continue to run tests like this periodically to keep my notions about sensor resolution anchored to aesthetics not technical specifications.
Screen Shot 2020-07-22 at 1.10.36 PM.png
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