Low Resolution Sensors Offer Better Low Light Performance, Right? Wrong!

It’s broadly understood that cameras with lower resolutions will give better low light performance and consequently less noise compared to high-resolution sensors. Apparently, this is a myth.

Chris Niccolls of DPReview explains how this fallacy became so pervasive, even acknowledging that he has contributed to its spread and it’s very likely that many of us are guilty of doing the same. According to this video, it’s time to acknowledge that we were wrong.

Debates over how many megapixels are required have resurfaced in the last month or so thanks to news that the forthcoming and highly anticipated Canon EOS R3 will have a 24-megapixel sensor. For me, this resolution offers the sweet spot between detail and file size and while some will invariably prefer more, we might be approaching a time when the difference between 24 megapixels and 60 megapixels is becoming irrelevant. Machine learning is already introducing significant developments in how we can manipulate our images and deep neural networks will be able to generate details so successfully that an upscaled 24-megapixel image will be indistinguishable from a 60-megapixel image.

AI’s potential to eliminate noise is also introducing notable improvements. Will we see an era where noise is no longer an issue thanks to technological advances? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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2 Comments
Deleted Account's picture

I don't think this is correct how they compared it. If I compare low light shots around ISO 6400-12800 of my D800E vs the D4. The D4 has a significant better dynamic range in high ISO situations. And this is what it is about: dynamic range. It is better (physics) on lower resolution sensors.
Cell size (single cell of the sensor) is directly related to noise. This detailed article does cover it well:
https://clarkvision.com/articles/does.pixel.size.matter/
A pixel size of 5 microns seems to be the optimum between resolution and noise (we have to consider diffraction as well!). A 24MP full frame camera has a pixel size of 6 microns. A 42MP sensor 45 microns.

Paolo Bugnone's picture

Mmm that's not really correct.
Pixel size effect on the photo signal to noise ratio is indeed overblown and misunderstood ( for example many people think it's the reason why FF are better compared to M43 and say that if M43 had the same pixel density it would perform equally, ignoring there are already M43 on the market with the same density as FF like the GH5s compared to the A7rIII, yet the FF has 2 stop advantage anyway) but it definitely matters.
Pixel size impacts read noise, especially at higer ISO a lower mpx camera will sperform better, and you can see it on the comparison on DPReview... https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/image-comparison/fullscreen?attr18=lowl...