Why Resolution Doesn't Matter - Fodor Photography

Drew Fodor

Why Resolution Doesn't Matter

February 27th. 2015


     Today, I'd like to talk to you all about something a bit different. There's been quite a lot of hype recently regarding super-high-resolution cameras popping up in cell phones and other such devices. Some models in the Nokia Lumia line, such as the 1020, have a 41 megapixel capability. That's a lot! In fact, it's almost double the pixel count present in the Canon 5D Mark III I currently shoot with, at 22.3MP. It also doesn't matter much. 

     See, at a point, captured resolution exceeds the ability for displays to reproduce it. For instance, the Apple Cinema Display I work on has about a 3.69 million pixels, and is considered a high resolution display. Now for professional photography, other applications (such as high pixel density or large advertisements) can require high resolutions, but none currently require higher resolutions than those present in modern DSLRs.

     Also, not all pixels are created equal. Modern camera phones can capture much higher quality images than say, five years ago. However, their small sensor size (the component which actually captures light) means that they capture much less light, and in lower quality. Color reproducibility becomes an issue, and lower quality optics introduce artifacts like chromatic abberation and distortion (whether pincushion or barrel). Additionally, these lenses often have narrow maximum apertures, further compounding the light availability issues.

     Together, these issues result in the typical bland and noisy images typically produced by camera phones, and higher resolutions will not solve the problem. Improvements to lens quality and image sensors are expensive for manufacturers, and many consumers do not have time to mull over camera test results, and instead go by resolution as an indication of image quality. Unfortunately, due to the above, this approach is often not optimal.

     For instance, in the below examples, white balance, color reproduction, and grain/noise present as issues in the left image. Dynamic range is also reduced, as evidenced by the fact that lowlights lack shadow detail, and highlights are blown out as pure white. Lastly, depth of field is limited to most of the frame being in focus, due to the narrow available apertures.

Anyone else have further thoughts about resolution or cell phone cameras? Take a moment to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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