Are Megapixels going the way of Megahertz?
I’ve been looking at high end compact cameras recently, in my continuing quest for a reasonably sized camera that can capture good images in less than optimal light. My Nikon D50 does a very good job, and while a £120 vibration reduction lens would make it even better it’s still a big camera to carry around a theme park all day for holiday snaps. The Panasonic DMC-FS3 (a £100 compact) I took to San Francisco and Las Vegas earlier this year did an OK job in daylight but gave poor results as the light levels dropped.
Unlike the iPhone 3GS finally replacing my mobile phone and PDA, my quest for an all in one image/video capture device has been a failure. The Sanyo Xacti range failed to deliver, with the C5 and HD2 being too much of a compromise in both photo and video quality. A Canon HF100 now does video duties with excellent quality results, so the hunt is on for a compact that can deliver good results in low light.
The current model that has caught my eye is the Panasonic LX3. A fast F2-F2.8 lens (meaning more light reaching the sensor so faster shutter speeds and less blur) and a sensible 10 megapixels suggest at least one manufacturer has taken a step back from the megapixel race to assess what customers actually want. This happened a few years ago when AMD and Intel reached a limit in pure processor speed and had to start looking at increasing efficiency and the number of cores in their processors. Megaherts was never much more than a marketing buzzword, and megapixels means even less. Would anyone choose a fuzzy fifteen megapixel image over a sharp six megapixel one? The crazy thing here is that the number of pixels comes from multiplying horizontal and vertical resolution, so while my Nikon D50 produces six megapixel images of 3000 by 2000 pixels, a twelve megapixel camera which sounds twice as good gives images of 4240 by 2824 pixels, an increase of around 40% both horizontally and vertically. To get a true doubling of resolution to 6000 by 4000 requires a 24 megapixel camera, well out of the consumer price range.
The reason for this rather lengthy ramble is that todays big photographic news is the announcement of the Canon G11. Where Panasonic decided to keep the number of pixels the same and improve image quality with the move from the the Lx2 to Lx3, Canon has decided to reduce the G10’s 14.7 megapixels down to 10 megapixels for the G11. Hopefully reviews will shortly rave over increased low light image quality, and other camera manufacturers will finally realise that consumers value image quality over marketing hype. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but I suspect that two big names making a brave move may be enough to start a new trend.
UPDATE Looks like there’s another model to compete with The Panasonic Lx3, as Canon also announced the S90. Offering the same 10 Megapixel sensor with a 28-110mm zoom and F2-F4.9 lens this may be the model that goes head to head with the Lx3 at a similar price.