Megastupidity Marches On

January 7, 2010

The madness of the CES convention in Las Vegas this week is spilling over into the camera world, with manufacturers spewing forth a torrent of pointless point-n-shoots.

They are all kind of like these ones. Which is to say, completely lame and gutless reworkings of a camera type inherently crippled by deep flaws.

This newest generation actually is making matters worse, with its suicidal march towards ever-higher megapixels. It appears this market segment is now heading towards 14 Mp as the default—frantically trying to persuade consumers that they’re some improvement over everyone’s now-ubiquitous phone cam.

Most point-and-shoots are based on extremely tiny sensor chips—smaller than your pinky nail, typically. Jamming in more pixels can only be done by making each pixel smaller—thus intercepting less light for a given exposure setting. You can crank up the volume on the fainter signal, but the result is ugly speckles across the image.

Many of last year’s cameras already topped 40 megapixels per square cm; these new ones may hit 50. So we can expect atrocious noise at anything higher than base ISO; or else weird smudgy artifacts from the camera’s desperate noise-reduction processing.

To put this in context, the last compact camera that had any sort of reputation for good low-light performance was Fujifilm’s F31. It bravely held to 6 megapixels, and only 14 Mp/sq. cm. And let’s not even speak of Nikon’s flagship pro DSLR’s, at only 1.3 Mp/sq. cm—built to the standard photojournalists demand.

Of course the other horror of point-n-shoots is the slavish requirement for a zoom lens—even when this immediately causes a penalty of about two f/stops in maximum aperture. The typical P&S zoom opens to about f/3.5 at the wide-angle setting, but only f/5.6 when fully zoomed in. This means for anything other than bright outdoor shots, you’re doomed to the horrible glare of on-camera flash—the same light that makes you look so attractive in your driver’s license photo.

These cameras can’t do much to stop down their lenses, either. Tiny sensors imply midget focal lengths; and so their smaller f/stops begin to stray into pinhole territory. This means diffraction quickly sets in, blurring the image by even more than the spacing between pixels. Thus your precious 14 megapixels is actually a fraud—as you get no more detail than a 4 Mp camera would have yielded. Of course, your memory card and hard disk will fill up all the same with the larger, pointlessly bloated file sizes.

So, yawn, yuck, feh, bleagh, and fie on you, cameramakers. You’re pushing lies and deceptions and it’s time to stop.


4 Responses to “Megastupidity Marches On”

  1. Rainer Says:

    Will deliberately choosing/configuring a lower resolution of the images make anything better?

    • petavoxel Says:

      Well, it will let you fit more photos onto your memory card and hard disk; you can test for yourself whether you lose any real image resolution.

      With respect to noise, a 100% crop onscreen may look better. But at normal viewing or printing sizes, there’s probably not much difference.

  2. Rainer Says:

    Thanks for answering!

    I see, well I simply wonder how this compares:
    – reducing noise caused by an overmegapixeled chip by reducing the image size – is that possible or stupid?
    – would it always be better to use a smaller megapixel chip – resulting in lower noise?


  3. Michelle Rodriguez Says:

    Hey I happen to have a great driver’s license photo! The cops are always impressed whenever they pull me over, which happens often btw.

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