Okay, there’s a few interesting new bits of technology in the news that I’d like to riff on. The brand new Nokia 808 PureView, the Nikon D800, and the Canon C300. People love to focus on numbers, stats, specifications. Especially in the world of cameras, how things look ‘on paper’ is important. For many years, megapixels were kind of the end-all-be-all number that told you how good a camera was. Those days are over. In fact, they’ve been over for several years now but that won’t stop people from beating a dead horse.
Nikon’s new flagship DSLR is the D800 and it’s got a whopping 36 megapixels (that makes a dastardly 7360×4912 image). This guy gets a free pass because okay, maybe some professionals are using it to shoot images which might be printed onto billboards or something. But this new Nokia 808 PureView phone (seriously, a PHONE!) has… are you ready for this? 41 megapixels. That’s just absurd. And yeah, in the end, that number is nothing more than a headline-grabber, marketing mumbo-jumbo garbage, as the final image max size which gets saved is… 8MP. Hah. But my point here is that dudes, we need a new number to focus on. Megapixels are the new gigahertz (as in computer CPUs)… they are a distraction from what’s actually relevant.
The Canon C300 sprints boldly in the opposite direction. To be clear, the “C” stands for “Cinema” and this camera costs 16 large. However, its max still image megapixel count is a modest 8MP. And video maxes out with 1080p at 24fps (not counting interlaced modes, because f–k interlacing). However… It’s a light-eating monster. Canon should have some standardized number they could point to, which compares it to other cameras and shows how much drastically better the C300 is, in terms of real-world shooting. Like a light sensitivity index or something. Maybe the square micron area of the individual pixel size?
As an aside, check out this video below, in which they compare footage from the C300 versus the Canon 550D, aka the Rebel T3i, which happens to be the camera I own! For a camera that costs $500ish stacked up against something that costs 32 times that amount, I think the scrappy little Rebel holds up well!
When it comes to lenses, aperture is an excellent number to compare lenses by. But try to explain what aperture actually means to someone who isn’t intimately familiar with photography: F-number, it’s the ratio of the pupil diameter of the lens (which is proportional but NOT equal to the aperture diameter) divided by the effective focal length, which is the distance from the optical center of your lens to the film plane. That distance changes as you zoom, and so does the physical size of the aperture even when set to the same f-number. The aperture diameter at 50mm f/8 is actually not the same at 100mm f/8. Oh, and it matters where the aperture is inside of your lens too. Confused yet? Good! But you can look through say, the Canon lens lineup, and instantly tell which lenses are better ones, simply by saying hey this f/2.8 lens is a lot nicer than that f/4.5 one. (I know for the heady-est of heads, that isn’t WHAT makes a lens great or sharp, but painting with a broad brush, the statement “bigger aperture=better lens” generally holds true, in the same sense that bigger magnets generally equal better loudspeakers. A giant magnet isn’t the end-all be-all of WHY a speaker is good, but hey, you don’t slap a mammoth, expensive magnet on an otherwise crap speaker.)
What I’m saying is that we already have a standardized number, the f-stop, which rolls in a lot of really hard to discuss ideas into a nice, neat two-digit quantification. We should have something like that for light sensitivity.
And also, it kinda seems like we’ve hit a wall with 1080p/30fps video. Why are more cameras not featuring 1080p/60fps? That sure would be nice. And for that matter, why do we not have modes like 720p/120fps? If resolutions aren’t increasing anymore (and they won’t for a long time to come because you can’t buy a consumer-grade LCD with high enough resolution to actually display anything much higher than that!), then why aren’t our framerates skyrocketing? Everyone loves slo-mo, right? I have a prediction to make: we’re going to see high-speed video modes on a friggin phone before any (consumer) interchangable lens camera gets it. It’s so backwards, but that seems to be how the industry works.