Just so there's no doubt who's winning and has the tiger blood, Canon yesterday announced that it's got an APS-H (29.2x20.2mm) CMOS sensor with—gulp—250 megapixels, approximately five times the resolution of the 5DS. [UPDATE: I should have written "five times as many pixels...." As Mike Plews noted in the Comments, resolution doesn't double along with pixel count. Ctein concurs: "Resolution goes as the square root of the number of pixels. Five times as many pixels means 2.3 times as much resolution." —Ed.]
Canon Global says, "Canon is considering the application of this technology in specialized surveillance and crime prevention tools, ultra-high-resolution measuring instruments and other industrial equipment, and the field of visual expression."
...Cameras to take pictures with, is what that last means. Other sites have quoted Canon saying the DSLR sensor it is developing will have 120 megapixels.
This is 16 megapixels, which is generally good enough for me. Or so I think now. Of course, I was pretty happy with my 6-megapixel Konica-Minolta 7D once upon a time, too, and now you can't even buy a new camera with such a miserly paucity of pixels. I guess I have to admit that the landscape is always changing and always will change; but, really, will I one day have to write something like, "The older D4385 Mark IV has only 250 megapixels..."? Perhaps it's inevitable.
More likely, the megapixel competition, like other such races from insufficiency to excess, will soon enough simply be sidestepped. I guess in practice I have already done so, since I own a full-frame 24-MP camera but seldom feel the need to use it.
The aesthetic problem is that super-sharp, highly detailed rendering is only one "mode" or strategy of pictorial representation. For some photographs it works, for some it doesn't. But it's getting to be all we have. When photographs have more hyper-realistic detail than the human being with the best possible eyesight can see with the naked eye, that will be technically miraculous, but aesthetically just one effect...among many potential ones. The water will find its way around that dam. Just as not every single painting is trompe-l'œil.
"A version of an oft-told ancient Greek story concerns a contest between two renowned painters. Zeuxis (born around 464 B.C.) produced a still life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. A rival, Parrhasius, asked Zeuxis to judge one of his paintings that was behind a pair of tattered curtains in his study. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to pull back the curtains, but when Zeuxis tried, he could not, as the curtains were included in Parrhasius's painting—making Parrhasius the winner." [Wikipedia.]
(Thanks to Mathew)
Tech Ed. Ctein adds: In anticipation of the inevitable flood of "why do we need so many pixels" comments, readers might want to reread "Why 80 Megapixels Just Won't Be Enough..."
Which doesn't even factor in that those of us who used negative film saw no sin nor deficiency in cropping, sometimes to extremes, when it made for a better photograph. Perfect in-camera compositing is no special virtue, just a style.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
LeftCoastKenny: "I've felt for a long time that photographic sharpness is highly overrated. Looking at a photograph that is so sharp you can see the rods and cones in the back of someone's eye from forty yards away may appeal to some but it simply rubs me raw. In the last few days I've taken to photographing things intentionally out of focus, and finding simple light and suggested shape very appealing. In a way, it is an antidote to the jangled nerves I get looking at knife-sharp images."
Kevin Purcell: "The pixels in the Canon APS-H (crop factor x1.3) 250-MP sensor are 1.4 micron, so about cellphone sized. So nothing too novel there (though Canon probably aren't doing this in 180 nm process). They're probably monochrome pixels too.
"But It's not (just) the pixel count that's important. It's this:
The new Canon-developed CMOS sensor, however, despite its exceptionally high pixel count, achieves an ultra-high signal readout speed of 1.25 billion pixels per second, made possible through such advancements as circuit miniaturization and enhanced signal-processing technology. Accordingly, the sensor enables the capture of ultra-high-pixel-count video at a speed of five frames per second.
"The sensor delivers read five 250-MP frames per second at a data rate of about 15 Gbps. The real issue is how you deal with the data coming off the sensor at that rate (and deal with the heat from the DSPs and the sensor).
"The sensor size is interesting: APS-H. That's bigger than APS-C but smaller than 135 (36x24mm). It's the largest size you can make a sensor in a single 'masking step.' This might be needed as they might have a problem stitching more than one step with 1.4 micron pixels. It also makes me think they're actually producing this for a customer. I suspect a customer has worked with Canon to specify this sensor.
"I would speculate that the customer might be interested in flying these sensors with a 'normal-ish' lens on a UAV to make an 'simplified' GORGON STARE (a.k.a. Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System) -like system. The first WAASS is said to use 192 different cameras with increment 2 using 368 cameras. A 250 megapixel sensor should reduce the number of cameras needed.
"In systems like this you really want to put the image processing on the UAV so it can keep track of 'things' on the ground then send the digested information back to base. This data can be kept in a database so you can ask questions about movements on the ground ('What path did this guy just walk?' 'Who left this building in the last 10 minutes?' 'Where did this car come from?' 'When did it arrive?' 'Where did the occupants go?').
"This sensor is less about making photographs than extracting information from the environment. It's not coming to a camera near you soon!"
Richard Newman: "One question is; What are you using the higher resolution (related but not identical to bit count) for? If you want very large prints, then more may be better, but if you aren't planning on 90x120-inch prints, 30–50mp may be (more than) enough.
"For me, the advantage of higher resolution is in the ability to create good images by cropping the initial frame. On numerous occasions I have been unable to get as close as I would like, and have had to include extraneous elements in the frame. Post processing these starts with cropping. Unfortunately, with lower resolution, this can result in 'grainy' images. With more resolution I have more flexibility. On occasion I have been able to extract three or four good images from a single frame, while maintaining good detail, color and contrast."
James Bullard: "A thought in response to your observation that not all photos need to be that sharp: as a fairly regular user of Topaz filters I know that at least the Simplifier filter (and perhaps others) achieve their effects by averaging and grouping (albeit in irregular patterns). When using such filters you are, in a real sense, lowering the resolution of the image. The difference being that you are doing so stochastically as opposed to the regular pattern of a grid of squares."
Simon: "I can remember giving medium format a go back in the '80s. I parted with it fairly soon as it had more detail and tonal range than I wanted, happily returning to 35mm. The level of detail in every digital camera is astonishing but I agree is not the only pictorial approach."
Bernard: "The reason to use 250 megapixels isn't resolution, it's smoothness (for lack of a better term; no doubt there is one in Japanese). It's the same reason why portrait photographers used medium and large format in the film era: they didn't want their subjects' flaws to be sharper, they wanted a smoother look.
"The same principle applies in other fields. A sauce that's been simmering all day has more depth than one that's put together in ten minutes. A full orchestra has a fuller sound than a quartet.
"I'm hoping that the next generation of ultra-high resolution sensors finally puts the 'pixel peeping' era to rest. There will be no need to examine pictures at 1:1 on a monitor. We can finally all zoom out and look at the big picture, as it were."
Michael Perini (partial comment): "Cameras reached the point of sufficiency a while back for most peoples' needs. Most modern cameras are very very good by any historical imaging standard. That's wonderful. But it shouldn't stop us from seeing how good we can get. When I say good, I mean technically good, not aesthetically good which is a separate matter. So I say let it run—let's see how good we can get. No one is forcing us to use the technology unless we choose to."