How Can We Kill The MegaPixel War?

How Can We Kill The MegaPixel War?

Since the dawn of digital cameras, the megapixel has been the one stat that camera manufacturers and uneducated consumers identified with quality. Sure, back in 2003, the difference between 1.3MP and 3MP was astounding, but in recent years, its became much more arbitrary. With phones like the Nokia Lumia 1020 sporting a 40+MP sensor, is the war back upon us? If so, how can we kill it?

The Nokia Lumia 1020 has gotten a lot of attention since its announcement. People from both sides have came out of the woodwork to express their opinions on this phone/camera combo. As a result, Sony recently teased the public with their latest phone, the i1 Honami, which is harnessing a 20 MegaPixel camera. All accounts seem to show that a mobile version of the freshly dead megapixel war is upon us, so what can we do to swiftly end it?

First, we must talk about far more important features. Magic Lantern recently enabled 14 stops of dynamic range to the Canon 5d Mark III and Canon 7d, a statistic that is going to improve image quality far more than a pixel density count on the sensor will. Essentially, dynamic range is just a figure to determine how much detail is able to be captured in the shadows and highlights in your images (It’s far more complicated than that, but lets not give a science lesson here).  By in large, dynamic range stops is a statistic far more useful than mega pixels ever will be.

Secondly, memory is going to be a far bigger issue than ever. With phone companies slowly ditching expandable memory, consumers are going to run into a very real problem with these large image producing cameras. The test photo released by Nokia last week, is 13 MBs in size. That is less than 700 images on an EMPTY 16gb card before being completely full. Like most people, I have images on my phone from a year and a half ago. Changes like this will force us to change the entire dynamic we have with our smart phone cameras.

Third, is the pixel density of such a camera. While the sensor is still larger than most any other sensor we've seen for a cell phone, it still lacks the size it needs to accommodate that much pixel density. Canon for example, didn't produce a large mega pixel camera with their release of the Canon 5d Mark III because the tech didn't feel ready for them. If a camera with a three times the sensor size of the Nokia Lumia 1020 doesn't feel ready for the 40+ MP range, what makes you think a camera phone will be able to do it with any success whatsoever? The sample photos for the 1020 had a decidedly "finger-painted" quality to them when zoomed at 100%. This was a direct result of over shooting the capable pixel density for a sensor that size.


Finally, we must address the practicality of it. In 2011, HTC released the first 3d phone. It contained a 3d enabled screen, and 5MP dual lens 3D camera on the back. Everyone was buzzing, claiming this was the future, and the concept inevitably flopped because it simply wasn't practical. So far in fact, that even ESPN has recently ended their 3D enabled networks, claiming that the market simply wasn't there. A 41MP sensor on a phone falls under that same discussion. Instagram is going to take that photo, and shrink it to 500px by 500px. Facebook will surely reduce it to around 1300px long edge. So where is the practical purposes of such a camera?

Phones aren't designed to be your best camera. If I want to take a quality photo to use for my portfolio or otherwise, I will always use my DSLR. If I want to take a photo to show friends and family what I'm doing at this very moment, I'll use my cell phone. This is the common separation that companies such as Nokia haven't seemed to figure out. A cell phone camera needs to have personality, not over compressed image sensor highlighting its latest gimmick. By their very nature, they need to be designed to best show a glimpse into our daily lives, and megapixels don't mean a thing in my day to day life, especially when they end up hindering you. By creating phones with features of this nature, you're creating a comparison to much higher end DSLRs and I think we can all agree that we don't want to travel down that road.

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Previous comments

People didn't believe the power of 36mp when the D800 was first announced. But fact of the matter is that the same full frame sized sensor was a giant leap in image quality and dynamic range. So much so that it's made quite a dent in the medium format market. It's not only about the megapixels, but I think there are certain cases where is actually relevant. Sample images from the new 1020 look pretty astounding! I think the 1020 will definitely make a greater dent in the P&S market. Let's wait for some actual hands-on reviews yes?

i'm not seeing the problem here. there is no evidence to suggest that camera phones with higher megapixel counts produce images of lower quality than their 5 or 8 megapixel counterparts.

you say that the lumia 1020 image has a finger-paint quality when viewed at full size, but all camera phone pictures have this quality, especially in low light. the quality you speak of is due to noise-reduction and other post-processing--not pixel density.

you say that large files are a problem while misstating the file size of the lumia 1020 image (it is 13 MB, not 33 MB). moreover, your phone saves a smaller size version of each image, suitable for sharing. and you don't have to keep the larger file if you are worried about space.

the practical purpose of higher megapixels is more choices, more control. isn't this what the photography community always asks for? you can crop in without losing quality. you can make larger prints. those are pretty significant practical uses.

sure, some people will come away thinking that higher megapixels equals better image quality, but that misconception was largely debunked long ago. informed people know better.

until it is proven that high megapixel smartphone cameras significantly reduce image quality or the experience of shooting and sharing, this crusade against them is largely pointless.

Here is the thing. I don't think Nokia or any other phone company for that matter can market a phone that has 12EV DR to the majority of their consumers, but 41MP that you can. Most of my friends have no clue what that is, because most of them don't know. But MP they know and that sells. But I think eventually the MP war will be over like what happened with CPU's AMD vs Intel GHz wars, few years back we realized that you don't need 5GHz CPUs, but a CPU that runs more efficiently, uses less power, etc. So hopefully in the near future we'll see Sensors with Greater DR, Great ISO/low light and so on.

A cell phone is not going to replace my SLR. A cell phone doesn't have interchangeable lenses. I will take photos with my cell phone when I don't have my SLR with me and I hate that damned hunting for focus! Just give me a focus ring to turn!

Yea, the megapixel war and the camera manufacturers updating cameras every 3 to 6 months is one reason I haven't gone DSLR. This constant upgrade of DSLR cameras models Detroit's "Planned Obsolescence" of the 60's and 70's. The planned obsolescence is the primary reason why I haven't bought a DSLR. My 30+ year old Canon A-1 still works fine and I recently added a Canon F-1N.

I had a different experience. My digital camera is from 2005 (aps/c sensor, it's not necessary to say the brand) and it produce great image quality (I produce the photographs), I just update the raw converter and my camera doesn't suffer of obsolescence. I had another camera from 2006, a superzoom with a tiny sensor, the pictures are wonderful and I gave it to my brother who enjoys photography without spend a lot in film and processing.
Instead my experience with a Canon EF (I say the brand because they are not selling film cameras anymore so it is not advertisement) from my dad. I used it two weeks and the shutter is stuck, and I am very careful with machines. That's is so frustrating because I bought batteries, rear caps, accessories to have an operational camera. Actually outside US film is terrible, I have to buy film online from Japan, Hong Kong or USA, and to process there is no reliable lab, ah, and besides the labs just process negatives. The problem of the shutter is one common with these old SLR, I don't say my case is universal but I say that the obsolescence is more a question of the customer, digital cameras are built to last enough. Instead the film cameras every time are more a luxury item (buy film, process every shot, buy specialized and expensive batteries, use a every day more expensive technical service, buy a scanner or a macro lens to scan, etcetera)
PostData: The worst part were that I take the same photographs with the SLR and my cell phone, but, due to bad processing, the photos from SLR gone wrong and ended very bad, but the photos from my old 2mpx camera in the phone had more live. Funny and sad, cause the SLR have more potential but without a good film and a good lab is just a toy.

My camera model was technically from 2004- but I didn't purchase until 2007- even today I find the camera's outcomes more than satisfactory (with the exception that I can't really push beyond A2 with it- it's 8MP- I guess I could buy some upscaling up-sampling software, but considering it was only once that I wanted and tried going larger than that it didn't seem worth it. Meanwhile my college peers : hmm well their DSLR's barely last them 2 years without them Needing to upgrade...not sure why as far as I can see their camera's worked fine...Though I think you're doing fine still using your camera from 2005 :( mine has eventually died on me though to be fair it's had a lot of use. I'm hoping my next camera lasts just as long....

As for film- have you not considered doing the developing yourself if it's black and white? Pretty easy to do and if you don't want to make your own dark room for developing the individual prints- film scanner's do the job really well I have an Optic Plustek- and it's scans tend to match what I have printed so yeah xD
The only thing I found annoying other than finding film was finding the actual developers etc- though since Jessops is now back in business I guess it'll be easier again :)

Thx for the suggestions :) Actually I purchase my camera en January, aps-c sensor at 250 dollars. I have college friends with DSLRs too (same size sensor than my camera although newer technology, but kit lenses so I have advantage, a fixed lens is always far better than a kit lens) and surely I find they have more pleasure in buy the newer model than improve their photographs. I think it is not obsolescence but an unconscious social trending. If my camera die I don't feel it much in terms of money, the quality of photographs I've taken worth the cost and I could buy another barely used in 250 dollars. A good film SLR 135mm is 100-200 dollars...

About film I take mostly landscapes so colors are important to me, but if it is more convenient why not :) Ansel Adams work in B&W. I considered it develop myself. But that's time and I hope can do that in vacations. In UK u have a paradise of opportunities, in Peru film photography is certainly a hard hobby lol. Besides every time I want to repair the SLR I notice I can buy with the money a filter from ebay to my digital camera, now I added a marumi polarizer, a haida 10 stops ND, an 84.5 professional reverse grad. Every item less expensive that use the SLR...

how can one educate the silly writers on this site that the 41MP sensor in the Lumia 1020 is used to create a downsampled 5mp image that's better than what any other phone can manage?
you can get a 38mp image from it if you really want to, but that's not the point.
didn't we say the same thing to the other guy a few days ago? Do you people not read each other's articles?

Wow, fstoppers is really mad with this phone, this is like the third post about it? Guys chill out! No one is saying that phones are taking DSLRs or anything like that, you cannot deny that this are fantastic achievements that move the whole photography world a tiny bit forward...

The "Everyone Chill" post was harsh and inaccurate as well. The author got boned big time in the comments. Yet, again we have a similar article here by a different writer.

Still no mention of the Over-Sampling, zoom before and after the shot, OIS for low light.

Thinking about that is ironic, they are complaining about consumers being suckered into a focus on megapixels while being ignorant to other qualities of a camera, and they themselves are concentrating on only megapixels and in turn ignoring the cameras other characteristics.

What gives Fstoppers? How come your articles on this thing don't even mention the OIS, zoom solution, and over-sampling?

I think the FStoppers are really "over-sampling" their coverage of the yet-to-be-released phone. Perhaps they should zoom-out and take a look at how this phone is being marketed to normal Joe's and not just FStoppers. Give us a break. "IF" I were to buy this phone, I'd set the resolution at or near 12 MP which is exactly where my Nikon D300 is at.

I feel like this is really just an attack because the author's of this site LOVE their Androids and don't like the fact that a renowned and respected company is doing something fairly innovative in terms of imaging but it doesn't run Android. However; they are just hiding behind cover articles on Megapixels and "Chill out" articles.

Zach Sutton's picture

If that is what the Lumia 1020 is used and designed for, how come Nokia has only released the 38mp images from it, and thrown its downsampling technology to the wind at this point. You keep saying that they're using the large sensor technology to push this new concept, yet Nokia still has not shown off those capabilities to their fullest yet...

They have released them because people can have the high res images and downsample themselves. This way they can see the sensor's total output and typical usage output.

You're somehow under the impression that this is something Nokia came up with yesterday. They have been pushing this exact same concept for over a year now with the Nokia Pureview 808 and has shown off the capabilities of this concept very well. The camera in that phone has silenced many a critic.

This is also not a new concept. Like I posted int he other guy's article, this is pretty much the same as PhaseOne's Sensor+ and Fuji's EXR.

This is just like the CPS article. Too little research done before posting a silly rant. You guys really need to stop this habit.

Bruno Inácio's picture


nowadays, research is not a priority on FStoppers. Some writers are quite good, but some others I think they didn't speak each other and in the final of an article they understand that somebody already post something about that! Some months ago almost all the days there was something really interesting here, nowadays it's just, presets, Wedding and Re-posts.. There is ton of interesting things that I would love to read or help to create but... EX: Capture One on Fashion industry, everybody uses, and loves it. Why Fstoppers don't talk about that? Phase One don't pay, they didn't use on Weddings? :/


They've put out the down sampled images already. They have 2 versions of the same image on their website. You've gotta look for it though. I can't remember which tech site linked to it.

Spy Black's picture

The megapixel war is not going away anytime soon, in any camera format.

Megapixel 'War' is a war of marketing - not a war of technical sanity - in the pro market you see that the industry even downgraded their latest models from 21Mpix to 18Mpix increased sensor size from 1,3 Crop to FullFrame and added better signal noise ratio, high iso capabilities and some dynamic range. they did what technically was sound. But consumer ist just marketing. comparing numbers - mine has more megapixels than my neighbours one...that's it. and this is why i don't care...
But keep in mind: Just a few years ago 8...10Mpix was just sooo whooow for DSLR, writers wrote no one will ever need more, lenses can't render that precise and so on...nowadays i use lenses of the 90s on a 21Mpix camera, it renders beautifully, even zoomed in, and i love the details - but do i need it for a good photograph? NO WAY!

You want to end Megapixel-War? Just remember: It's megapixel-war and nobody cares/joins in! -> Let's care much more about content than technique. People talk so much about resolution, isos dynamic rangen, vignetting and stuff...for me it's like an archictect talking and thinking about construction machines all day without thinking about what to build, or a painter who talks about
brushes all day long....think content!

I think you've worded what I was thinking far better than me ^^ the exact point I was attempting to make lol

David Justice's picture

Well, I think when you look at it this way, sure, it is dumb. BUT, it's actually amazing. Have you ever tried to zoom with a smartphone? It's terrible. Any sort of zoom is awful. The 41mp camera lets you zoom in for a clear image. That's what it's for. That's what Nokia tried doing with the 1020.

Congratulations to fstoppers for the nice traffic this produced. I bet the author knew that Nokia didn't want a megapixel war. The MP count is just a consequence of providing zoom to a smartphone without the bulk of glass/lens.

How many people do you know that own a Nokia phone? Exactly.

More than you'd think. But I also work in software development. All the geeks (30+) in the office use Windows Phone. Just sayin'.

I'm all for lower megapixels in smart phones and other devices, and higher megapixels in professional cameras. That way the guy who posts his fishing trip snaps to Facebook won't suddenly become a candidate to shoot his cousin's wedding.

I don't get the mega-pixel war to begin with- surely what the person behind the camera are more important than the sensor, which I think I proved in college course ironically recently- I came top of my year and well my camera a) was the oldest b) had the least megapixels c) wasn't full-frame - 35mm d) and used lenses which weren't necessarily top of the range and yet out of the members in class my images came out top- though x_x seems I made enemies with the queen b whom was trouting her 5D MII like it made her a goddess (let's just say I accidentally wounded that person's ego purely by getting better grades...). The interesting fact behind this scenario is that the person with the pro camera had to get me to teach them how to use it at the beginning of the year, well how to change to mode off auto to manual and adjusting the shutter and aperture for her (which was odd as I have near to no exp with canon's, why she asked I'll never know)>- tho her situation was the same as the majority- seems most of them lived on auto everything- which is far as I was aware running about crazily papping everyone was not part of the course ~_~

But anyway as I was saying- comments about equipment etc seems futile if the person behind the thing has no clue how to work it and get the most out of it- that and when you consider some of the greatest photographer's such a Julia Margaret Cameron used equipment that today would be laughed at for being noddy (and personally to me her photos look like they could have been taken today). If anything knowing what visually works and what settings work best for the camera you have is far more important- kind of doubting anyone uses the megapixels 100% these days unless they create images which are to be printed on to billboards for a living...

I think the best thing about phones with large sensors is their versatility. If i'm out, i can take a great photo with my phone (13mp S4). It has great dynamic range and wonderful sharpness - nothing compared to my DSLR but workable for ME. When i send that image, it downsizes to MMS, so Jaron, don't worry about your sext messages if the sender has a phone made in the last 5 years. When i upload it to Facebook or instagram, it downsizes but the base image remains the same. When i download that file (usually not more than a couple megs tops) I can make a beautiful print for my parents or family of the photo that i took of them on the spot. The REAL issue here is how many MP can you pack in and still be effective. There's a point at which there's too many cooks in the kitchen and image quality or performance suffers. Packing 41 MP into a chip to fit in a cellphone - you're gonna get more issues than benefits. I think a Cellphone chip right now is, tops, capable of 20 MP but that's pushing it. It's not total megapixels, it's megapixels on the size of the chip. There's a happy medium

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

How about not make it a war anymore, and focus on creating better photos?

I see this as a boon for the ATT's and Verizon's of the world. Larger image files means more cost to consumer, when they use the network to post it to FB or email Grandma. And don't even get me started about the 'optics' in these camera/phone combos.

David Liang's picture

How did you come up with 700 images on a 16gb card? 700 x 13 = 9.1gb

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