Feb 20, 2013 | Post by: Josh No Comments

Pixels: Bigger (not more) is Better

HTC One: the company’s flag­ship mobile phone, with a new ver­sion announced. And they’re brag­ging about hav­ing fewer megapix­els in their camera?

Well, they should brag.

For years, mar­keters have pushed more megapix­els as bet­ter. In the early days of dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy, this was true. A 1 or 2 megapixel sen­sor didn’t have enough dots to make a clear pic­ture, even with the best lens. So more megapix­els def­i­nitely meant better.

But now that we live in the world of 8,12, 20+ megapix­els, adding even more megapix­els is actu­ally bad.

Yes, you read that right: More Megapix­els is Bad.

Espe­cially in mobile phone cameras.

So why are few pix­els bet­ter in your mobile phone?

Because each pixel is a square tube. Those tubes are packed on a sen­sor, shaped like rec­tan­gle. The sen­sor sits behind your lens and catches the light from the lens. The skin­nier each tube, the more tubes fit on a given sensor.

Why Bigger is Better

Why Big­ger is Better

So to get more megapix­els on a given sen­sor, man­u­fac­tur­ers made tubes (pix­els) skin­nier. And as we know, cus­tomers have been sold the idea that more pix­els are always better.

But here’s the prob­lem with a skinny tube: less light reaches the bot­tom of that tube! Think about how much light hits your eye look­ing through a paper towel tube, com­pared to the same scene with no tube in the way.

Punch­line: if you have enough pix­els to make a good pic­ture, than you want the biggest, widest tubes for your pixels.

Because more light will make it to your picture.

And that’s good, because so many mobile phone shots are taken in dark sit­u­a­tions, like par­ties & dinners.

Fewer, Bigger Pixels

Fewer, Big­ger Pixels

More Pixels means Darker Photo

More Pix­els means Darker Photo

The HTC One sports 4 megapix­els, plenty for Face­book, HDTV, nor­mal pho­to­books and even photo prints up to 8×10″.

By the way, the new HTC One will have an aper­ture of f/2.0. That means the tube formed by the lens-to-sensor assem­bly is rel­a­tively wider com­pared to its length. This makes even more light avail­able to make the best photo.

Wider Aperture Helps Too

Wider Aper­ture Helps Too

Now if you want to make murals out of your pho­tos, 4 megapix­els may not cut it. If big prints are your goal,  shoot with a bet­ter cam­era, not your phone.

But even with top pro cam­eras, big­ger pix­els offered by Nikon make their cam­eras bet­ter in low-light sit­u­a­tions. Canon has more pix­els on com­pa­ra­ble mod­els, which makes them bet­ter for brightly lit scenes.

But the pros shoot­ing Nikon know don’t need more pix­els at this point: they need bet­ter pixels.


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