Camera Sensor Sizes, by Mark Allen
I spoke with a new member this evening at the camera club who was somewhat confused about camera sensor sizes. They had been told to get a camera with as many Mega Pixels (MP) as possible. As a result they were considering getting a new compact with a 16MP sensor.
Size does matter, but not the Mega Pixels! Almost every new camera will offer more than 10MP, which is more than enough – but image quality is quite simply better the larger the physical size of the sensor. Mobile phones have really tiny sensors. It does’t matter if they offer 4 or 8MP, the sensor is really, really small. In good light they are more than capable of producing great images. But when the light is low they struggle.
A cheap (<£100) compact has a much larger sensor, compared to a mobile phone camera. As a result they will offer better image quality. Their design allows for punchy, sharp images. Some compacts, like the Sony NEX, have a APS-C size sensor – the same size as most DSLR’s. (And larger than the four thirds DSLR’s).
A DSLR has an even bigger sensor, compared to a compact, and the same rule applies. The bigger the physical size of the sensor the better. Almost all modern DSLR cameras have a APS-C size sensor. This is more than enough for almost all situations.
Some (more expensive) DSLR’s have what is often called a ‘full frame’ sensor – Canon 5D MK1 and MK2, Nikon D3, D700, etc. These cameras, in good light, produce (arguably) the same quality as a APS-C sensor. But in poor light they are much, much better.
So the bottom line is this: if you are interested in image quality, don’t go for the latest whizz bang 16MP compact with a small sensor. Instead go for a DSLR (or one of the compacts) with a APS-C size sensor.
To find out more about sensor sizes, please see:
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