First a Phone, Now a 41mp Smartwatch...Why?

First a Phone, Now a 41mp Smartwatch...Why?

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.

Posted In: 
Log in or register to post comments

19 Comments

I don't get it. First you state that 41mp does give you a better image (5mp with "superpixels") and better zooming. But then you conclude that more megapixels doesn't mean better images. Confused...

Daily life is full of contradictions we have to deal with. Read German philosophers.

Condescend much?

Think man. Stop being confused- think think think.

"Small sensors have small pixels, large sensors have larger sensors." - please proof read :S

Talk about proofreading: "...with it’s claims of a 41mp sensor". It's or its?

Hahaha smartasses. Or is it "smartass`"?

It's not possessive so nope!

Gjergji Bullari's picture

Why? I guess just to say that my watch cane take better picture than you camera ;)

Why? Creepers. That's why. Maybe private detectives. But mostly creepers.

Great Post- plain and simple presented. This really still IS a topic many people, especially amateurs never got properly introduced to.

John White's picture

I had blogged about this new megapixel war not to long ago ( http://iamjohnwhite.com/blog/2013-megapixel-war/ ) but that was more so about cameras. This on the other hand is just UNNECESSARY. What's next? iPhones shooting in RAW?! (that would be pretty cool though)

I'm pretty sure you can shoot RAW on your iPhone if you want. http://petapixel.com/2013/03/22/digital-negative-app-lets-you-shoot-raw-...

John White's picture

wow...that is awesome

More megapixels, for now, will soon become the next best thing when an optical zoom can't fit. 41-megapixels offers the ability to have a 5x zoom with 8-megapixels or a 3x+ zoom with 12-megapixel images. The extra pixels can be used to get to a 1:1 'zoom' crop without reducing image quality further. Yes, small pixels mean less image quality - but today's sensors with 18MP are still better than most 10MP sensors from 3 years ago - so technology does help to improve things along the way.

it's a wonderful world

Image quality isn't solely determined by MP count, whats the point of 41mp when you shooting through a lense made of coke bottle glass?

Chris Helton's picture

hahaha BEST part about this WHOLE article.... the last line. Want to know more about this watch, want to read actual info and not an angry rant, click here (links you to Petapixel). Not sure why I even bother looking at fstoppers any more.

I'm actually having a hard time wrapping my head around this. On one hand, a high megapixel count resampled down to 1/4th, 1/9th, 1/16th (etc) size increases the effective exposure range via Poisson distribution (This is the "hack" that the D800 uses to get 14.4 EV when resampled down to 8MP in the DxO tests). On the other hand, with larger pixels you still have the same amount of photons hitting the same area, but with less wiring, creating less crosstalk and capacitance issues and whatnot, thus reducing the base noise level. Obviously these two are fundamentally opposed, but I don't know what "force" is stronger. All I know is that one of these is a hardware problem, and hardware keeps getting better. And yes, this means that the megapixel race will never end. This is a good thing.

And then there's the issue of debayering. Colour resolution is increased at no cost that I can think of (other than what was outlined above). This is pretty similar to the Foveon/multilayer sensors in terms of what it achieves, albeit somewhat less innovative.

To be honest, I think the biggest objection here should not be that 41MP is pointless because 41 is a large number, but because a wristwatch currently has no way to meaningfully utilize those 41MP because of lack of processing power, poor resampling algorithms (digital zoom, lol), and bad storage formats (I'm looking at you, 8-bit 70% jpeg).