Consumers not given the real picture in megapixel war?

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One of the big wars being fought by smartphone manufacturers is the megapixel count of cameras.

RAM has become a specification to fight for and companies are now cramming in more megapixels to try and grab the attention of consumers. And this trick is working too. Grand advertising of smartphone cameras with high megapixels count means that the unsuspecting buyer will fall for the trick.

The common perception is that more megapixels will result in better quality photographs. Unfortunately, it is not that simple, and a quality photograph depends on several factors.

It is important to understand why we need a lot of megapixels. If a picture shot on a smartphone is going to be printed on a huge poster, a high megapixel camera ensures that the photo does not become grainy and distorted after printing. But for use on webpages or sharing on social media, a figure of 12 megapixels will do just fine.

Megapixels help in getting a quality picture, but only to an extent. The most important part of a camera is the sensor. The sensor is the part that records the information (or light) coming in through the lens and needs to be of high quality in order to capture a good image. So, if the smartphone camera is 48 megapixels but the sensor is of moderate quality, the results are not going to be as good as a 48 megapixel camera with a quality sensor from, say, Sony or Samsung.

There is more to the sensor than mere quality. A digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera that has just about 12 megapixels will shoot far better pictures than a 48 megapixel smartphone camera. The reason is the size of the sensor. A full-frame DSLR sensor is 36 x 24 mm, while a smartphone camera sensor is about as large as the fingertip. With this size difference, there is no way that a smartphone can achieve the quality of a DSLR. If manufacturers wanted to put in a larger sensor, the size of the phone would also increase, and this is not something that they would want to do.

As large sensors cannot be accommodated in small smartphone enclosures, companies use a technique called pixel binning to try and improve picture quality. Simply put, information collected from four pixels is combined to make one large pixel. So, if a company claims a figure of 48 megapixels, it is really only a 12 megapixel camera.

Pixel binning is used to improve low-light photography.

So, when a manufacturer puts down 48 megapixels on the specification sheet, the consumer is misled. Most consumers would not bother to go into the nitty-gritties of smartphone camera technology. This is only helping companies sell more and benefit from this megapixel war.

Also, manufacturers use what is called software interpolation to boost megapixels and achieve quality.

Even when a high-resolution picture is shot on a good quality smartphone camera, a lot of information is lost because social media sites often compress images while uploading. So, the quality of the picture on the smartphone will be better than the one uploaded on social media.

Ultimately, the technique companies use to boost the megapixel count or improve picture quality is irrelevant. The point is that the consumer is not getting to know the real picture.


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