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2007.05.22

Sony Cybershot DSC-W200To quote Yogi Berra, it ain’t over till it’s over. We are talking about the megapixels race here. Not too long ago, Sony announced the 12 megapixels Cybershot DSC-W200. It has not arrived in stored yet, but based on its small form-factor and headline-catching megapixel count, the Sony W200 will probably be quite popular among people who do not read digital camera reviews.

Not to be left out of the race, Casio just announced the Exilim EX-Z1200 which also features a 12 megapixels sensor combined with a standard 3X optical zoom lens and built-in stabilization. Nearly simultaneously with that announcement, Panasonic announced the Lumix DMC-FX100.

With the FX100, Panasonic is really racing forward. Not only does it boast an incredible 12 megapixels of resolution but also high-ISO modes up to 6400! That is at 3 megapixels. Based on physics, that should basically look like an ISO 1600 image from the 12 megapixels sensor. Not to be pessimistic, but ISO 1600 shots from lower-resolution ultra-compact digital cameras are generally quite noisy – with exception granted to the Fuji Finepix F30 and F31fd. One place where the FX100 did increase resolution in a useful way is with its movie-mode which can capture video at 1280×720 @ 15 FPS. That equivalent to HD television in terms of resolution but slower in terms of frame-rate.

It seems like manufacturers are just racing because it is an easy way to advertise a camera as better and improved. After all, it is simple to see that 12 is more than 10. But how many people who use point-and-shoot digital cameras make the large prints that benefit for so many megapixels? Probably not that many. Most sharing of images is done lately through websites that automatically resize user’s images to less than 1 megapixel! Most prints are still 4″x6″ which also require much less than 12 megapixels.

What would be truly useful is to have a camera that increases sensitivity to light at the expense of resolution. A 3 megapixel camera with a modern sensor design can probably produce high-quality ISO 1600 images and still have enough megapixels for the occasional 8″x10″ print. At this pixel-pitch it would be possible to have a full-color image rather than a bayer-interpolated one using a conventional CCD or CMOS sensor. Such a digital camera would produce higher quality output for the web and common print sizes. A smaller megapixel count has other advantages too like smaller files which means faster writing speeds and a faster continuous drive with greater depth. That would be more useful to most snap-shooters than a noisy 12 megapixels camera. The trouble is that they do not know it yet!

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