It hasn't been that long since the Nokia Lumia 1020 made all sorts of waves with it's claims of a 41mp sensor and now (as if 41 were the magic number) we have a "smartwatch" on the horizon from Hyetis (pictured) with the same idea. It's called the Crossbow. If you're picking up some irritation in my tone you're not wrong. The mega-pixel war is still raging but we've shifted our attention from robust cameras to accessories with cameras built in. Don't misunderstand me, I want to be able to take high-quality images with my portable devices but really...when is it enough?
You flat out don't need that kind of resolving power in a device that isn't designed to take photos with absolute control over the result.
My biggest issue with all of this is that no company seems to want to address what's really important and that's the actual image quality. Instead the focus is on the best headline. "41 Megapixels" sounds way better than "crystal clear 5mp camera" which is actually the true purpose of the products sensor. These products aren't designed to give you a decent 41 megapixel image. They are designed to give you a mind blowing 5 megapixel image. They do this through pixel oversampling, a process where 7 pixels are combined to make one "superpixel" that is virtually noiseless in good light. Can this technology produce a 30 or 40 megapixel image? Yes, but that's not it's intention.
In the case of the Lumia 1020, the large resolution allows for lossless digital zoom. As you zoom the amount of oversampling is reduced until you hit your chosen base resolution. Meaning basically that if you've set your resolution to 5 megapixels then you can crop or "zoom" into anything between your base and the maximum resolution with little degradation in quality. It's a great idea, as long as it's understood properly. A 41mp watch or phone camera will not be as powerful and clean as a 41mp sensor on a big camera.
The same can be said for a 35mm versus a medium format camera. Even it both have equal megapixel ratings the medium format camera will most likely produce a better image due to the sensor being physically larger. Small sensors have small pixels, large sensors have larger pixels. Small pixels simply cannot gather as much light as a larger pixel. Smaller pixels mean less light which means worsening image quality overall.
I'm not telling you not to buy these products. What I am saying though is that you should resist the hype machine and look at these products with a bit more scrutiny rather than falling to the marketing hype. More megapixels doesn't always mean better images and it hasn't for close to a decade.
Read more about the upcoming Hyetis Crossbow here.