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06-28-2013, 08:36 PM   #1
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A question of sensor size - A comparative analysis

Photographer Ming Thein on his blog, performed an excellent comparison of sensor size and other parameters across 5 different camera bodies / sensor sizes, corrected them for comparison, then performed an evaluation. It is well worth the read, especially the comparison and analysis.
  • Hasselblad CFV-50
  • Nikon D800E
  • Olympus OM-D
  • Fuji XF1
  • Canon 520 HS
Conclusion - Im surprised not that the largest sensor with the biggest pixels wins in most categories, but that the results are so close at all; small sensors have really become quite good. (In fact, I suspect that if Id had an RX100 handy, itd probably be quite close to the OM-D despite having pixels similar in size to the Fuji.) The reality is that at moderate print sizes removing resolution from the equation differences in exposure and processing choices from one photographer to the next can well erase or even reverse the differences we see here. What this comparison does not take into account is that the compacts and the CFV must be shot at base ISO to achieve the best results, with considerable compromises above this; the D800E and OM-D will happily go to ISO 1600 without much penalty making them significantly more versatile cameras. They also have more malleable RAW files the D800Es files especially seem to be very resilient and forgiving of exposure errors. The Hasselblad, by comparison, is perhaps the most unforgiving camera Ive ever shot with it offers very, very little latitude for correction.

The only conclusion I can come to is that under ideal circumstances, most users may not see that much difference in climbing the diminishing returns curve; certainly not enough to justify the added hassle and expense. In real terms, the Canon can be had for $130 or so; the Fuji $400; the OM-D with a couple of good primes, $1500+/-; the D800E body is $3,300, and probably another $1000 for lenses, and dont even ask about the Hasselblad the current CFV-50 (50MP) model is a whopping $17,000 and thats just for the back, with no camera and no lenses. Is it six times better than the D800E? No. Is the Fuji 2.5x as good as the Canon? Possibly. The OM-D is still enough of an improvement over the two compacts, and surprisingly close to the D800E on a pixel level. But unless you have physically very large output requirements its tough to recommend upping the investment. Dont forget, it doesnt stop at the direct hardware: you need to consider adequate tripod support, computing power, storage, carrying, etcit never ends.

That said, I find the Hasselblad perhaps the most rewarding of the five: when you get it right, no correction is necessary. The above sunset was almost straight out of camera; its the first time Ive been able to correctly capture the tones and overall feeling at the time. (JPEG/ web compression reduces the overall impact significantly compared to the 16-bit TIFF on my calibrated monitor, though.) Interestingly, no other camera Ive used has been able to do this including the D800E. I can only chalk it down to all of those little differences adding up. MT

06-28-2013, 11:40 PM   #2
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Yep, smaller sensors have become quite good as have the lenses to use with them. A good example is the camera in my Samsung smart phone. The lens is about the size of the head of a pin projecting onto an eight megapixel sensor that is the size of a spec of confetti. The sad thing is that the phone takes real decent photos that are practical equivalents to those taken with my Canon G2 (expensive when new and acclaimed at the time for its excellent optics, but now quite obsolete).

So, is the phone the better camera. I can't really say. I do know that handling and usability suck. I also know that the f/2 lens on the Canon coupled with live view gives much better DOF control when that is the intent. The RAW files from the Canon are also much easier to work with. The phone output is pretty heavily massaged before I can even copy it off the camera and is hard to work with in PP. The Canon is also very configurable and designed for the task of taking photos. It also has a tripod socket and a true optical zoom.

So what does that have to do with anything? Simply put, there is more to the equation than optics and megapixels and noise.

06-29-2013, 03:53 AM   #3
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"differences in exposure and processing choices from one photographer to the next can well erase or even reverse the differences we see here"

The most significant statement in the article in my opinion.

With advanced digital photography we are no longer capturing images but, rather, editable data which only later may or may not produce a meaningful image depending on what we do, or don't do, with that data and I'm speaking both technically and creatively.

Having said that the article only reinforces my feeling that at this time, my present K5 with it's motley collection of glass is pretty much the sweet spot for my practical real world purposes.

My work may need a lot of improvement but it won't be helped, significantly, by more or "better" gear.

Last edited by wildman; 06-30-2013 at 02:14 AM.
06-29-2013, 07:22 AM   #4
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You found that line in the article before I could. Ming Thein is a wonderful photographer, and the prices ranged from $100 to $17K. I also doubt that I will be able to exceed the capabilities of the K5. For me its the sweet spot. It's the same pixel density as the D800, just a smaller sensor. Right now I am just happy shlepping along - shoot what I like, and I doubt that new hardware will really improve my images. For me its not in the cards.


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