Learning about the Mega Pixel myth, the hard way

I can’t remember the first camera I operated but I think it was a Kodak disposable. The first piece of equipment I chose was a Panasonic Mini Dv camcorder that took 1.3 megapixel stills. I started getting excited when my cell phone options began to include image taking capabilities and I made sure I got the iPod Touch 4th gen (the first with a camera) when it came out so I could start capturing pictures and video. The iPod stills weren’t that bad until I found out they didn’t even qualify as one megapixel.

I didn’t pay much attention into what effect a megapixel has on an image until I knew my equipment was deficient. I planned on nabbing an iPhone 4 because I heard that it packed a pretty decent 5 megapixel camera. I was all set and ready to go. It turns out my pictures still seemed somewhat dissatisfying to me. I began looking into a point and shoot pocket sized camera and wondered why anyone would buy one when smart phones could do the same thing. The same thing crossed my mind when I saw Costco stocking super zooms and DSLRs. I didn’t the slight increase in image quality was worth carrying all those lenses and that meaty body. My assumptions were obviously all wrong.

The Mega-Pixel Myth…..ever heard of it? It basically states that anything above 5 megapixels yields photo print quality and the human eye will not easily distinguish the resolution differences. So all those camera ads touting the newest camera punching an extra 2 megapixels actually adds no discernible difference in quality.

Life is about options and the iPhone didn’t give me much. It’s in phone camera app gave me a focus lock, HDR, and that’s pretty much it. Even third party apps that added exposure locks lacked any serious control over basic settings that most pocketable point and shoots came standard with.

My phone did offer zoom though. I thought that was great until I actually used it and wondered why it turned out such shitty images. Turns out the iPhone and other forms of digital zooms relied on a processor to guesstimate what the image would look like closer. Many dedicated pocket cameras and all those Costco super zooms had optical zooms that didn’t require guessing because the actual lenses where at play here not some program.

The biggest problem I had was where I was taking these photographs. Outdoors I could usually produce some decent shots but indoors or at night time these images would become saturated in graininess. DSLRs had the large sensors that are roughly the size of a stamp versus the ibuprofen sized sensors found in pocket friendly cameras. These large sensors were more receptive to low light conditions. They also had many setting options like aperture (controlling how much light passes through the lens), shutter speed (which also affects light entering the sensor once the shutter button is pressed), and ISO sensitivity. I could also select what kind of lighting situation Im under, change white balance (no more orange tinged indoor shots) and the biggest selling point of a DSLR, the type of lenses I could use. Telephoto, 50mm, wide angle, and macro are just a few of the many available lenses that suit all sorts of situations while providing a nice shallow depth of field. These lenses more than megapixels are what produce sharper images.

So I went out and bought a used Sony a300 knowing all of the above and happily new I was going to be able to capture beautiful photos. Then I got caught up in one article after another and started getting bother that my first DSLR only had 10.2 megapixels. I had pixel envy at the newer Canons and Nikons that sport 16, 18 and 20 plus MP. I took my time and pounced when I saw a deal on a brand spanking new Sony a57 sporting a whopping 16.1 megapixels. I popped on my favorite Minolta 50mm f1.7 lens and snapped some pics. I opened Aperture on my Mac and was surprised that I wasn’t blown away. I took my old a300 and took the same shot with the same lens and settings and remembered, the Mega Pixel Myth. See for yourself.

Composition and creativity do more for a photograph than the density capabilities of a camera. Check out the cheap camera challenges of pro photographers at Digital Rev. At the end of the day, I was part right in getting excited over my iPhone. It’s a device that I need to have and Chase Jarvis made famous the saying “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” With the amount of money I’ve spent though, I’m making sure I take my a57 everywhere, including bed. Good night.

Sony Alpha a300 on the left vs. Sony Alpha SLT-a57 on the right
Sony a300 10.1 megapixels
Sony a57, 16.1 megapixels
Sony a300 10.1 megapixels

Sony’s So-So Future at play

4th generation PlayStation dubbed "Orbis" is underway

Don’t let my disarming dimple and broad shoulders fool you. I am a trekkie. Wow that felt odd to type. Odder than my first AA meeting having to utter “I’m an alcoholic.” Even so, I am one and a huge fan of the holodeck. I NEED THAT THING! I remember watching episodes of the Next Generation with my dad imagining the gaming potential of such a device, donning a gi and lobbing hadoukens. I’m day dreaming right now, putting on a nanosuit, kicking an abandoned car off a cliff in full cloak mode. Now obviously we’re not there yet, but we can measure the estimated jump from current to next gen and determine if they will be viable platforms.

My first machine was the Commodore 64 and that was quickly replaced with the Master System, Sega’s own 8-bit rival to the NES. My video game life at the time was this, arcades for the latest cutting edge game and hope the home version is half as capable. The Master System turned into the Genesis turned into the 32x/Sega CD (don’t you dare laugh, don’t you dare) which turned into the Saturn and the Dreamcast. I finally, bit the bullet and went with the Playstation 2 and the PS3. By the time I reached Sony’s current system, consoles became the premiere destination for games, not the arcades. What this box was capable of doing graphically was unheard of and unseen before. It also became much more that a gaming system.

Over the previous generation of consoles, the current ones became a media box. Go on  Amazon right now and see their front page offering of Instant Prime Videos on the PS3. Netflix, Blu-Ray, YouTube, and Facebook are all available on your living room screen. Unless the same innovative leap can be made for the next generation then its too soon to release one and it will be too late for Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft in the gaming world.

From what i’ve heard the proposed next consoles have one positive and two negative bullet points. The good part, the graphics will blow your effing mind. Full 4K 3D support. The cost, it will not support your old library of games (i blame the success of HD remixes like the God of War Collection) and games will be locked into a single user account effectively killing the used game market. I rarely bought a game new and part of my justification for spending $40 to $60 on a game was that I’d be able to recoup at least half later. I’d then use that on a newer game. It was the circle of life. Hakuna Matata. No worries.

Let’s discuss that one positive. Sony’s rumored 4th Playstation the “Orbis” has claims of a Radeon 7700 equivalent GPU that will work in tandem with an integrated GPU/CPU hybrid. That’s great but living space is finite, which means screen size is limited in most homes to a 60 inch widescreen on the high end. I interpret that as a viewing distance pretty much set at 7.5 to 15 feet. Current 1080p sets at viewing distances 3 feet and further mean that the human eye cannot discern individual pixels and with the average living room approximately 250 square feet, I don’t see the future of 4K resolutions taking off the way Retina had become a household term. The display prior to them needed the added pixel density because viewing distances tended to be inches away from the eye. Speaking of Retina, the prevalence of iOS has changed the gaming landscape.

More than ever we’re convenience based consumers with short attention-spans. Hey you, focus! How else to explain the popularity of Netbooks, the iPad, Macbook Air, iPhone and Ultrabooks. These are not the pinnacle of the technical, graphical hardware heap. These are the perfect platforms for trendy, ten minutes at a time gameplay when and where you want to play. With the way we play games changing and devices like the Roku, Apple TV, and television adapters for smartphones and tablets, the media capabilities of become even less of a selling point. For some perspective, I sold my XBox 360 and Playstation 3 once I had a Macbook Pro with Windows 7 installed on BootCamp. Now when I want to game I use my iPad as a controller while the game streams through Apple TV. I personally feel confident I won’t ever buy a traditional gaming system ever again. That’s a little worrisome for an avid gamer to admit.

Really, the current generation of consoles remain surprisingly strong as is. The Wii was proof that the interface becomes more important than hardware capabilities (see: Apple). Now, Nintendo’s motion control was limited and eventually lost support from developers but lesson learned. We’ll see what the Wii U has in store for us at the next E3. Regardless, Nintendo’s Wii was risky, innovative and this new crop of systems must make a similar leap. Tweaking the graphics won’t cut it.

Finally, the Orbis sounds like a gum. A breath freshener. I know that paired with Sony’s new handled, the Playstation Vita, we get the latin phrase “orbis vitae.” Or the circle of life. Lest we forget that part of that circle includes death. Death of a video game empire, perhaps. Hakuna Mata.