I’ve written before about the digital camera industry’s misguided megapixel race, leading to ever more pixels crammed onto the same size sensor in each next generation of camera. The problem is that increasing the density of pixels damages the camera’s ability to cleanly pick up detail. So I wanted to call attention to a recent review of Canon’s new EOS 50D digital SLR at Digital Photography Review, one of the best photography review sites out there.
The new 50D, an upgrade to Canon’s year-old 40D model, includes a 15.1 megapixel sensor, up from 10.1 on the previous model. But the greater number of pixels are simply crammed on the same 22 mm by 15 mm sensor plate (known as the APS-C format in the industry) as the earlier model. So what do you think happened when reviewers tested the camera? Major disappointment:
Considering the disadvantages that come with higher pixel densities such as diffraction issues, increased sensitivity towards camera shake, reduced dynamic range, reduced high ISO performance and the need to store, move and process larger amounts of data, one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that at this point the megapixel race should probably stop. One consequence of this is that the 50% increase in pixel count over the 40D results in only a marginal amount of extra detail.
We’re by no means saying the 50Ds image quality is bad but it’s simply not significantly better than the ten megapixel 40D. In some areas such as dynamic range and high ISO performance it’s actually worse and that simply makes you wonder if the EOS 50D could have been an (even) better camera if its sensor had a slightly more moderate resolution.
Here’s the review’s comparison, for example, of close detail in photographs taken at a high ISO rating by the 50D and 40D:
All of this makes one more than a bit disappointed that Canon and others in the industry can’t get over the marketing benefits of the megapixel race (“hey, it’s got more pixels so it must be better”) and move onto to promoting features that actually make a difference.
Canon wisely chooses to back down megapixels (3/2/2006)