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Canon Unveils 120-Megapixel Camera Sensor

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the that's-a-lotta-bits dept.

Science 289

Barence writes "Canon claims to have developed a digital camera sensor with a staggering 120-megapixel resolution. The APS-H sensor — which is the same type that is used in Canon's professional EOS-1D cameras — boasts a ridiculous resolution of 13,280 x 9,184 pixels. The CMOS sensor is so densely packed with pixels that it can capture full HD video on just one-sixtieth of the total surface area. However, don't hold your breath waiting for this baby to arrive in a camera. Canon unveiled a 50-megapixel sensor in 2007, but that's not made it any further than the labs to date." It's probably not going too far out on a limb to say that the any-day-now rumored announcement of an update to the 1D won't include this chip, but such insane resolution opens up a lot of amazing possibilities, from cropping to cheap telephoto to medium and large format substitution. Maybe I should stop fantasizing about owning a full-frame 1D or 5D and redirect my lust towards 120 megapixels.

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Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (5, Insightful)

Greymist (638677) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358440)

I'm just curious what this would be like in low light settings, cramming that many pixels into such a small space has got to have some effect on sensitivity.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (2, Interesting)

spun (1352) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358728)

I'd bet that you could use that many megapixels to seriously boost dynamic range by averaging several adjacent pixels into one.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (2, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359080)

How would that help dynamic range?

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

spun (1352) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359196)

You may find this article helpful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_dynamic_range_imaging [wikipedia.org]

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (2, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359404)

I'm familiar with HDR, thanks. You'll note that the article you linked to doesn't contain the words "average" or "averaging."

HDR requires that you have the same picture but with multiple, different exposures. You could potentially acquired this in one shot by making adjacent pixels more or less light sensitive (which has to be done in hardware), but averaging identical pixels isn't going to help. Nor does the HDR process involve averaging, even with multiple exposures.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (2, Insightful)

Beardydog (716221) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360238)

This is an actual question directed at you, not an argument, so bear with me... In a frame that captures the full available range in a scene (where a bright sky, for example will have detail), the dark areas will be underexposed and noisy, but not completely black (the way an overexposed sky will appear completely white). Couldn't four adjacent pixels simply be added together to produce an image with four times the range, and one quarter the resolution? So if, for example, three of the underexposed pixels aren't lucky enough to get a single bit of light, and one pixel gets lucky and grabs some, you can treat it like a single pixel that's sensitive to units of light 1/4 as strong (abundant? I don't know how it works) as the actual pixels. You'd probably get extra noise and blurring added, (for pixels that sit on actual boundaries in the captured scene, but are merged together), but in principle, wouldn't you get more range information in such an image?

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

Zeety (1885778) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360366)

I wonder if we could have a have a LCD shutter on each pixel, exposing the element for a % of the total exposure time. That way we don't need to bake it in.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359212)

So. Um.

You'd restore the dynamic range capability of this sensor to the level of lower-resolution (larger pixel) CCDs by... combining pixels? So you're back to lower-resolution imaging.

Are we being "Whooshed!" here? Or are you sincerely saying "Well, we have a 120 megapixel imager, but in order to get good dynamic range we have to process it back to 10 megapixels, just like your crappy cell phone camera."

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359392)

Or are you sincerely saying "Well, we have a 120 megapixel imager, but in order to get good dynamic range we have to process it back to 10 megapixels, just like your crappy cell phone camera."

He's saying we have a 120 megapixel imager with great dynamic range (much, much better than any cell phone camera) and we can process it back to 10 megapixels to get awesome dynamic range.

Considering how big this chip is, even at 120 megapixels there's much more light gathering surface per pixel than in a shitty phone camera.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360296)

I don't think that would really work.

Think of a sensor like a bucket. Let's say it has a capacity for 256 drops. If your scene is lit in such a way that some buckets would overflow while others had just a few drops in them, that's when you have a dynamic range problem. You solve that by either having buckets that can hold more drops (which is why a DSLR has much more range than a cell phone), or by taking multiple exposures (HDR).

But I don't think you can post-process a high resolution image into a lower one with more dynamic range. Think of actual buckets. If you take a very shallow bucket and leave it in a storm for a minute to try to measure the amount of rain, and it overflows, then getting 3 buckets more of the same size isn't going to help you any. You'll just have 4 buckets that will overflow in the same amount of time. Connecting the buckets together won't help you either, as you still can store the same amount of water per square meter as before.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (2, Interesting)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359412)

not *quite* you could still get say, 40 megapixels. A very basic HDR picture is the combination of 3 ranges, so if you took your base picture on one pixel, and the bracket range on the pixels to its left and right, (i'm generalizing here of course, the tech would not be THAT simple) the output is a 40MP picture with a dynamic range 3x what you would get with a standard 40MP camera. the fact that your saying "get good dynamic range" shows that you don't know much about the subject. Normal cameras simply *don't* have dynamic range, they take photos of a very narrow range of light, based on your film shutter speed, etc. basically, a camera that automatically got ANY dynamic range, is an improvement towards being able to capture true to eye/life images.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359452)

I think what he's saying is, "We have this incredibly sensitive sensor array, in good light it can do 13,280 x 9,184 pixels; or, if the light isn't that good we can cut it to 6640 x 4592 and combine pixels to get a more accurate image despite the lack of light." It's like anything else, when conditions aren't ideal you lose stuff. In this case if your light isn't good you can (in theory) go from phenomenally high resolution to merely really high resolution by combining pixels. You're only getting 2.5 times as high a resolution as the best current cameras on the market instead of 5 times, but hopefully the image will be better.

Even operating at a quarter of its normal capability this sensor is a little better than the best currently on the market, so if it could (again theoretically) produce a more accurate (if lower resolution) image in low light situation, while producing a higher resolution image in normal light situations, that's a pretty good compromise.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

spun (1352) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359826)

I'm saying, you could have your choice, more megapixels or more dynamic range, with the flip of a switch.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359848)

I would rather have a lower megapixel sensor that works awesome in low light and high speed situations than a high mp sensor that sucks. Particularly for the types of situations 95% of the picture taking world would encounter.

A fine example would be comparing my point and shoot cameras:

One, a 3.2mp Canon A400 Circa 2004 built before the pixle wars. You have to look closely on the box to even figure out what mp it boasts and I'm not even sure it is posted on the camera at all. This camera takes OUTSTANDING pictures without fiddling with settings for a low-end point and shoot camera. The large (for a PnS) lense certainly helps.

Next, a Waterproof Pentax Optio WP30 at 7.1mp. Takes decent pictures. The small lense hurts a lot, and makes sensor sensitivity that much more important.

Finally, a Fuji Z33 WP at 10mp. Also a small lense. The pictures are so-so. Definitely not as good as the Pentax and no where near the quality of the Canon.

Granted, this is fairly anecdotal. Comparing one of the top camera brands with so-so brands that also have tiny lenses. but none the less. Why are my Megapixes going up and my quality going down? I'm convinced if my Pentax or Fuji cameras had the same image sensor as the Canon, their low light performance would improve greatly.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

Beardydog (716221) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360428)

I've started taking multiple photos of everything I care about with my 5.0 Mp A610 and stitching them together. Even crushing the stitched image back down to the camera's resolution leaves you with a much better image than than straight shot. It's depressing.

As a side note, for anyone who hasn't stumbled across it: http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK [wikia.com]
I'm not sure if this is the original, or one-and-only, but it's possible to add RAW and other features (brickout : ) to cameras that don't normally support them with a little futzing around.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (0)

spitzak (4019) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360062)

Lots of people trying to correct you but I will add my own:

Averaging several adjacent pixels will increase the dynamic *resolution*. It will not increase the dynamic *range*.

If you have 100 samples between the range 0 and 1 and you average them together, the result is still in the 0 to 1 range.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (2, Informative)

spun (1352) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360304)

Lots of people saying I'm right, too.

Dynamic resolution and dynamic range are the same thing. If you take the value of one pixel, it will be three integers. If you average the value of several adjacent pixels, you will have three reals. There are more real numbers between 0 and 255 than there are integers between 0 and 255, therefore, the range of values has increased. (0,0,0) is still pure black, and (255,255,255) is still white, you can't get any blacker than black or whiter than white, you know. But using reals, you have more values between black and white than you did, and therefore, more dynamic range.

Looked at another way, lets say a pixel is almost zero, or black. Using one pixel integers, it would round down to black, but averaging more than one pixel, one might find it wasn't quite black anymore. We have something between zero and one, i.e. greater dynamic range.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358774)

the pixel density is about that of a modern compact, back of the envelope calulation suggests about the same as 10Mpixels on a 1/2.5" sensor. So i guess low light performance would be comparable to modern compacts.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359048)

Not quite. It's the same PER PIXEL: if you crop a 10MP area out of this thing then it'll be roughly as noisy as a 10MP 1/1.8" sensor. (Did you use crop factor 1.6 or 1.3 in your math? This sensor is APS-H, 1.3x, not the commonly-used 1.6x APS-C.) But if you print at any given output size, the pixels from the higher-resolution sensor will be smaller and thus whatever noise is present at a pixel level will be less intrusive.

For the math geeks: the real thing you should look at is the signal-to-noise ratio at any given spatial frequency (in cycles per image height).

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

bieber (998013) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358784)

Well, its likely application is in controlled commercial use, medical imaging and the like I would imagine, so any near-term use will almost certainly be under controlled lighting conditions.

That being said, give 'em five years and they'll probably have it in a 1D churning out noiseless photos at ISO 51200 or some such nonsense. I used to think my 20D's marginally-usable ISO 3200 was pretty darn impressive, and now we've got insanely high res cameras doing 12800 and still looking decent. The way sensor technology keeps improving, I'm not even going to try predicting how far they may get even in the next couple of years, let alone decades down the road...

Progression of film speed (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358888)

Anyone remember when ISO 32 was "fast"?

I miss Kodak Royal Gold 25. Yes, there are analog films that are "just as good" but they are not "just the same."

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359064)

What's improving is in part processing technology. At some point you run into the brick wall of Planck's constant: the fluctuations in a counting experiment counting N photons can be no less than sqrt(N) due to shot noise.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

john83 (923470) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358870)

It's an interesting question. Pixels return an intensity value proportional to the mean intensity over their surface, so I'd imagine you could average groups of 2x2 or 3x3 (etc.) pixels to trade resolution for sensitivity. Alternatively, you could up the gain on each pixel, which as Greymist points out would reduce your signal to noise ratio.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

crgrace (220738) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359086)

Alternatively, you could up the gain on each pixel, which as Greymist points out would reduce your signal to noise ratio.

Actually, increasing the pixel gain *improves* the SNR. This is because the noise limitation of these sensors is virtually always the readout electronics. Therefore, adding as much gain as possible before the signal hits the readout chain will lower the overall noise of the system. This is analogous to using a low noise amplifier (LNA) in front of an RF receiver.

There are, of course, limitations. Pixels generally have a voltage gain of less than one (that is, the gain from the photodiode to the pixel output) so there isn't much you can do there.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

crgrace (220738) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358950)

I'm just curious what this would be like in low light settings, cramming that many pixels into such a small space has got to have some effect on sensitivity.

Pixel size, per se, has no impact on the light sensitivity of the pixel. That depends only on the read noise of the sensor and its associated electronics. A small pixel, however, does limit the depth of the potential well, so it would have more of an impact on in bright settings. What I'm saying is it would reduce the dynamic range of the sensor, but not have any direct effect on its performance in low light.

To get back the bright performance, pixels can be ganged together to make superpixels, but, of course, this trades a bit of resolution.

Re:Noise/Light Sensitivity/Optics (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360358)

You can crank up the sensitivity all the way and then run a low pass filter to get rid of all the noise ;)

Hey sopssa/odies/SquarePixel (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33358450)

Hey sopssa/odies/SquarePixel, how does it feel to be Ballmer's #1 cock jockey?

Need some sharper glass... or better physics (5, Interesting)

BWJones (18351) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358462)

Canon had better come up with some sharper lenses with a sensor like this. I shoot shoot [utah.edu] with APS-H sensors on the Canon 1D and many of the lenses that Canon, Nikon and Sigma among others make are not nearly sharp enough to deal with many more pixels than are on say... the Canon 1Ds. Zeiss makes some sharp glass, but with the pixel density Canon is talking about with this new sensor, I'd worry about noise in low light conditions like those on my last embed [utah.edu] on the USS Toledo (world's first embed in a strategic nuclear submarine). Any sort of low light, high ISO images will be truly challenging environments for such small pixel imaging sites.

It might be a great technology demonstrator or even a specific use CMOS chip for longer exposures, but I doubt it will have any applications in consumer or professional cameras unless some additional technology (or physics) comes into play.

Also, one would have to come up with some new strategies for moving all of that data around. As it is, on the latest Canon 1D Mk IV, they are pushing 16.1 MP around at about 10 fps. With this new sensor, just the readout would prevent this sensor from being used in any but the most specialized of applications.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1, Informative)

jvillain (546827) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358600)

Cannon makes some awesome lenses. You just can't buy them in the toy department at Best Buy. The problem with high density sensors is that the denser they get the higher the noise level becomes. I think that is one of the reasons that Cannon isn't tripping over them selves to ramp up the Megapixal count that fast.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (3, Insightful)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358742)

Plus, sooner or later the general public is going to realize that megapixels aren't everything. A the output of a 6 megapixel Nikon D40 will amaze your non-photographer friends, while the 14Megapixel Samsung compact you just bought at walmart will most definately not.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359674)

I agree. I use a D70 for my hobby photography, and I would feel comfortable with it even today in many professional settings. That camera is 7 years old now.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360460)

Yes, pair that up with a 'nifty 50mm' and you've just blown away nearly every point and shoot out there. If you don't mind manual focusing (the D40 doesn't have it's own focus motor) then you can get the 50mm lens for $200. The AF one iirc, is right around $400 or less.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (2, Interesting)

BWJones (18351) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358794)

Canon does makes some great glass and I shoot exclusively with Canon glass. However, Nikon, Zeiss and Leica among others also produce some pretty sweet lenses. Eventually, everybody is going to have to deal with issues related to the optics being able to actually resolve the imaging sites. At some point (and we are close), the glass will not be able to resolve anything more than the sensor can read out and you'd have wasted pixels. Kinda like the issue with Apple's Retina Display on the iPhone 4 that I wrote about here [utah.edu] . Any more pixels would be wasted given the resolving power of the human eye.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359168)

Random question: My father shoots Canon, and has gotten sort of frustrated with the ADHD problem of the autofocus. Using two different lenses (70-200/2.8, 100-400) and two different bodies (350D, 500D), he's noticed that the AF is easily distracted by foreground clutter, and will also inexplicably refuse to confirm an AF lock (and thus shoot) in some situations you'd think are easy, like a bird on the end of a twig with a background distant enough to be a blur. Have you experienced anything like this? (This is in single-shot center-point AF mode.)

I have an old Olympus SLR, and if you can see even a tiny piece of a bird visible through the foreground brush, it'll lock right in and shoot, perfectly in focus.

Olympus doesn't make the lens I want (a 300 f/4), so I've thought about switching to Canon. But the AF scares me a bit.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359580)

I would say to get an EF lens mount for your Olympus SLR and buy the lens you want, but this will only work if your SLR electronically controls the aperture AND your lens mount translates the signals correctly, and I don't know enough to say if this combination even exists. I lean towards guessing no.

Or you can just go with a mount if you don't mind having the aperture wide open. Or find a similar lens from another company.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

T-Bone-T (1048702) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360046)

I've not experienced this but some of the bigger telephoto lenses have the option to ignore foreground objects. If you focus on something, it won't try to refocus on something much closer. If I was your dad, I'd turn off autofocus to get a good focus and then turn it back on.

Parent should be +1, Funny (2, Interesting)

falzer (224563) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358818)

You spell it Cannon and you're telling someone who shoots with a 1D and has likely used Zeiss lenses that they can't buy awesome Canon lenses in the toy department at Best Buy.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359114)

Canon does make some awesome lenses, but even some of their L-lenses look somewhat lacking when used on their high-resolution sensors.

My father has a 70-200 f/2.8L. It actually shows pretty low contrast and a "hazy" look until you stop it down to f/4 or more, especially at the long end. The new 70-200 mk2 is much better.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (2, Informative)

RemyBR (1158435) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359976)

Your father's lens is probably in need of calibration. I use one of those and it shows none of this even when wide open. Or there's a change he got a bad copy, in which case calibration would still help, but not much.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360400)

It's actually something that came up in DPReview's tests: see http://www.dpreview.com/lensreviews/canon_70-200_2p8_is_usm_c16/page4.asp [dpreview.com] . (Note that this is the IS version of the lens; the non-IS version has a less-sophisticated optical formula, I believe).

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360268)

Considering that GP is discussing the EOS xD line, Zeiss lenses, and so on, I really doubt he's shopping for lenses at Best Buy.

However despite what you're saying, there are some hidden gems in Canon's cheaper lens offerings. I bought an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS may exhibit a bit of CA (easily corrected in post) as a throwaway lens (one just to use for an event and then replace it with better glass later) but I was surprised to find that is is wonderfully sharp and there are folks claim it compares favorably to wider L-series zoom lenses for contrast and sharpness. Likewise, the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM is often referred to as a "hidden L" lens (I like mine but I wish I had an EF-70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM + 2x teleconverter instead). There are some decent lens options you can find even at Best Buy, if you do your research. No, you won't get a weather-sealed ruggedized, constant f/2.8 or f/1.2 lens at Best Buy, but if you can get by with a slow lens that isn't weatherproof or ruggedized you can find lenses that are perfectly suited for your child's birthday parties and soccer games.

Canon makes optically wonderful lenses in both their L series and lower end lines, but the L-series lens isn't just for optical quality, but use where you need a ruggedized lens, and many are even weather sealed. Likewise they make quite a few cheaper zooms and primes that are wonderfully sharp. They may be slower (higher f-number/smaller aperture) but may boast sharp focus with great contrast.

But GP is right. Even the current 7D's pixel density (18MP on an APS-C size sensor) out-resolves a lot of older lens models. Try putting the 100-300mm USM on the 7D sometime; you won't get a sharp image. The 70-300mm IS USM, known for being extremely good optically, still looks a little soft on such a high pixel density. Canon has to start thinking about improving their lens offerings before they consider pushing the megapixel envelope any more. Besides, once you get to 12MP, for most uses, how is higher resolution a benefit? All you're going to do is eat up storage and spend more time downscaling images, and post will take longer.

Pixel densities of Canon's current pro DSLR offerings (source: dpreview):

EOS 1D mk IV APS-H 3.1 MP/cm pixel density 16.1 MP
EOS 1Ds mk III FF 2.4 MP/cm pixel density 21.1 MP
EOS 5D mk II FF 2.4 MP/cm pixel density 21 MP
EOS 7D APS-C 5.4 MP/cm pixel density 18 MP
EOS 50D APS-C 4.5 MP/cm pixel density 15.1 MP

With the higher pixel densities, focus sharpness and image stabilization become far more important. Imagine the effect of camera shake on a 120MP sensor? How about a lens that an 18MP APS-C outresolves? 18MP and 21MP are already enough - at least for me. I'd like to see sharper lenses please!

Frigging slashdot: "Filter error: Please use fewer 'junk' characters." Sorry about the lack of formatting on the table I typed up. With characters separating the columns slashdot was bitching about "junk characters" so I had to undo all the time I spent formatting the table. Stupid slashcode.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358610)

I'm sure the folks over at SDSS [sdss.org] (Sloan Digital Sky Survey) would be happy to make use of a sensor like this.

Post-processing is your friend (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358990)

I'd rather have a "raw" image of 120 megapixels with 16 bits per pixel that I could post-process than a 30 megapixel with 64 bits per pixel.

I can post-process the former into the latter but not vice-versa.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359026)

The problem with modern digital cameras is that they are diffraction limited, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffraction-limited_system [wikipedia.org] , by the laws of physics, or very nearly so, given current day lens technology. There is no way you will get a higher actual resolution without going to lenses, which are significantly larger in diameter than what we are used to in dSLRs. So adding more pixels in the area of the sensor of the latest Canon 1D models is completely pointless, which is why we haven't seen an update yet featuring higher resolution.

In other words: Keep dreaming. These new detectors are just marketing gimmicks, or intended for specialist scientific applications, like astronomy.

Definitely need better physics (4, Informative)

delta407 (518868) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359042)

A more substantial problem is that diffraction limits the effective resolution of an optical system to well above the size of each of these pixels. This is a problem with current sensors at narrow apertures; lenses exhibit a measurable loss of sharpness, typically f/11 and up, because the airy disks expand as the aperture contracts. With hugely dense sensors like this, though... plugging some numbers into a website that explains the whole situation [cambridgeincolour.com] suggests that you'd need to shoot with apertures than f/1.8 to get circles of confusion smaller than the size of a single pixel.

That's right--even "fast" f/2.8 lenses are limited by physics to never being able to project detail onto individual pixels. You could potentially add a deconvolution stage in software to recover additional sharpness, but not in hardware.

Another thing. Do the math: the pixels are 2.1 micrometers square. Compare to trichromatic human vision, which detects red light peaking at 564 nanometers, 0.564 micrometers. The size of a pixel is within a factor of four of the wavelengths they measure. Staggering.

Glass isn't the problem. We need new laws of nature, since we're near the edges of the ones we have now.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359066)

Canon Unveils 120-Megapixel Camera Sensor

Yeah that's great but the consumer market is waaay to caught up in megapixels this and that. When I bought my last digital body I did some extensive reading over at DPReview http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/ [dpreview.com] and I found little difference between two verions of the same model. Sure they're cramming in HD video and face recognition etc but if you can't make significant improvements in quality what's the point (ok sell camera's to uneducated consumers I know)? Case in point Canon xti and xsi, the reviewer found that the older model (xti) even preformed better in some situations than the newer (xsi). The newer model has more pixels and some nice bells and whistles but can you take a substantially better picture to justify the price. I think not. In fact as I was shopping I found a lot of places where they were the same price. That whole industry needs to clean up their act. Sorry for the diatribe but stuff like that really burns me up. Shoehornjob

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

shadowfaxcrx (1736978) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359936)

It's not like that's unique to the photography industry. They're pushing terabyte drives now. I defy the normal computer user (hint: if you're reading this, you are not a normal computer user) to fill a terabyte. Ain't gonna happen.

Back in the 486/pentium days several makers were shipping machines with 2 cd-rom drives. Why? I still don't know. But 2 is better than 1!

The Bugatti Veyron has 1000 horsepower, and can do 253mph while using over a gallon of fuel per minute. No one who buys that car will ever be able to get anywhere close to its performance envelope without getting arrested or killed, but they're still selling it.

CCD specs are the photographic version of penis measurement. More is better, even if it makes no difference to the outcome of the activity.

Re:Need some sharper glass... or better physics (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360262)

I shoot shoot with APS-H sensors on the Canon 1D and many of the lenses that Canon, Nikon and Sigma among others make are not nearly sharp enough to deal with many more pixels than are on say... the Canon 1Ds.

If you always shoot wide open, I can see why you would say that. But if I stop down, even the kit lens on my 10MP Canon XTi outresolves the sensor.

Still Cool (4, Interesting)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358564)

45 MP photo to zoom into:

Dubai [gigapan.org]

Re:Still Cool (1)

Greymist (638677) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358780)

Quick correction, that's gigapixel, not megapixel. Some quick math says you'd need 375 images taken with the new sensor to make that image.

Re:Still Cool (2, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359102)

Bleh. Flash. Yuck. They should have used JPEG for that 45 GP photo.

Programmable robotic legs multiple lens (1)

h00manist (800926) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358632)

I have a feeling that GPS and software integration to create auto-3d model photos are going more important than the resolution.

Suggestion... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33358670)

Maybe I should stop fantasizing about owning a full-frame 1D or 5D and redirect my lust towards 120 megapixels.

Maybe you should stop fantasizing about owning a full-frame 1D or 5D and get a life?

Re:Suggestion... (1, Troll)

adonoman (624929) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358760)

Yeah, no kidding - everyone knows that the Nikon D3X is WAAAYYY better than any crappy Canon.

Re:Suggestion... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33358842)

Are you joking? Think of the porn, man! I can see that girl's crabs so clearl--eek.

150 megapixel (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33358758)

Good film under ideal conditions can handle 2500 line pairs per inch. The mathematical purist who was more obsessed with numbers than practical applications would want a sensor that can handle 10,000 dots per inch for copying film, and an image sensor of 5,000 dots per inch for shooting, with optics, electronics, and other hardware (and software!) to match.

5,000 dpi on a standard 35mm 3:2 aspect ratio means 37.5 megapixels.

For what it's worth, 10,000 dpi would be 4x that amount, or 150 megapixels.

Size doesn't matter (2, Interesting)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358762)

I have to go with Ken Rockwell on this one: Megapixels don't matter [kenrockwell.com] . Unless you're blowing your 35mm shots up to poster size, pixel density over about 8 megapixels is useless overkill.

Resolution matters for serious cropping (2, Insightful)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358858)

I'd love to be able to take many of my old family and vacation photos and take a small piece and blow it up to 4x6 or even 8x12 size without noticeable-to-the-casual-observer loss of detail.

Imagine taking crowd-scene photos of a sporting event then when your friend said he was there and points his face out in the crowd, you can print him out an 8x12 of him and his friends.

Re:Resolution matters for serious cropping (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358966)

Imagine taking crowd-scene photos of a sporting event then when your friend said he was there and points his face out in the crowd, you can print him out an 8x12 of him and his friends.

Even if your sensor could (theoretically) do that, your (hand holdable) lens couldn't.

Not today.... (0)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359070)

I have faith in the future of technology....

I wouldn't at all be surprised if image stabilization becomes cheap enough to put in hand-helds.

Eventually, image sensors will be small enough that the lenses will contain very little optics and it will be easy to make them cheap and sharp.

With "liquid lenses" that are electronically reshaped on-demand and in real-time, we might see the day where every shot is technically dead-on sharp, almost to the limits of the laws of physics. Such a day may not be in my lifetime but it will happen if there is a market demand for it.

Re:Not today.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359126)

Image stabilization already is in hand-helds.

Re:Not today.... (1)

fbjon (692006) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360154)

The trouble is with the limits of physics, rather than with the engineering...

Re:Resolution matters for serious cropping (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360310)

Even if your sensor could (theoretically) do that, your (hand holdable) lens couldn't.

With or without optical image stabilization?

Re:Resolution matters for serious cropping (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359186)

The loss of detail in those photos is because of optical defects, camera shake, and focus errors, not a limitation of the recording medium.

Re:Size doesn't matter (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33358936)

If your name is Decker, and you want to see who is in the reflection of a curved mirror in photo, you're gonna need a lot of resolution.

Re:Size doesn't matter (4, Insightful)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359328)

That article is OLD and he is not saying that Megapixels don't matter. He is saying that to see a difference you need to quadruple the megapixels and also that other things matter a lot like light sensitivity, pixel to space ratio, ISO performance and the like. He then goes on to say you would need a 25 megapixel camera to meet 35mm uality and that such a camera is not feasable. Well I have to give him a Bill Gates because it is moronic to say anything is not technically feasable because in 10 years you look like a fool.

To get to the POINT, I own a Canon 5D Mark II which is a 21 Megapixel sensor. I have shot plenty of 35mm film and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that this sensor blows 35mm film out of the fucking water! You can see the images I take here. http://shezphoto.zenfolio.com/ [zenfolio.com] and www.shezphoto.com Those are not even full res (although you can buy some of them full resolution). I have blown up the images to 24" x 36" and all the detail remains intact. I'm sure I could go larger but I just haven't.

Re:Size doesn't matter (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359842)

It all depends on how you intend to display the pictures. For most consumer applications the megapixel battle is over. If the pictures are only going to be seen on a screen or printed to something small like 4x5s, any modern camera will suffice. With an 8MP camera I can get acceptable prints up to 8x10 with just the slightest pixelation visible under close scrutiny. I recently had to shoot a picture for a book cover that I wanted to wrap from both extremes front to back across 15.5". This results in a tolerable ~200dpi using an 8MP camera whereas 300dpi would be preferred. I had to be careful with framing the shots because I didn't have the luxury of cropping or rotating them afterward.

Re:Size doesn't matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33360348)

Anything Rockwell says is half true at best. He's a landscape photographer, so he doesn't do the kind of aggressive cropping you'll see in wildlife and bird photography - indeed, he tends to completely skip over the fact that other types of photographer even exist. Even for landscapes, certain types of print (such as cropping a wide shot to a panoramic format) demand more raw pixels than others. Around 6-8 megapixels is fine if you're printing uncropped images to be viewed at "standard" distances. For everything else, more pixels are nice to have.

Having said all that, this sensor isn't going to be in digital cameras any time soon. If it's released at all, you'll see it in astronomy or medical applications first. More likely, it's just a proof-of-concept thing.

here's a possibility I've often thought about (1)

Gnaythan1 (214245) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358786)

Hook this sensor up to a round lens and capture full 360 degree video all the time, and use software to un-distort the image so you have a fixed tiny camera, that you can pan and zoom all the way around with.

Re:here's a possibility I've often thought about (2, Informative)

ZenShadow (101870) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358986)

Been there, done that, believe it was patented by iPIX. Not sure who holds it now since they're gone AFAIK...

Seriously, they used this to do those 3D virtual tours.

Uses (5, Insightful)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358798)

I'm sure the professionals would love such a critter, but as a person who likes to just take personal stills, to me the megapixel war is over. At this point in time I have a hard time getting excited over anything more than 10-12MP. They print just fine to photo sizes that I'd be interested in, and the truth is that MOST of my photos I keep digitally anyways where anything that has more pixels than my monitor is a waste (particularly with the ballooning size of these photos).

I'm far more interested in seeing higher quality photos within our current megapixel options than seeing that particular number go up and up - afterall, there's a HUGE difference between your typical DSLR at 10MP and a $100 point and shoot at 10MP. That metric doesn't define the quality of the image.

Re:Uses (1)

that IT girl (864406) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358912)

Yes--I am troubled that some industries (not just cameras, and consumers are just as guilty) are forgetting the old "quality over quantity" thing.

Higher quality photos... (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358932)

Require more discriminating photographers who take the time to learn what makes what most people would call a "good" photo, plus equipment that makes it easy for them to take those photos without blowing their budget.

Automatic modes that "do the right thing" with most scenes go a long way, but that's still no substitute for good composition and knowing that if you wait 5 minutes for better lighting or for the car that's blocking your subject to move out of the way you'll get a better photo.

Problem with this.... (1)

Obliterous (466068) | more than 4 years ago | (#33358994)

at that resolution the pixel sensors are closer together than the wavelengths of visible light, and each photon will be triggering multiple pixels, thus reducing the apparent resolution.

Re:Problem with this.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359180)

Let's see. Red-Orange light from a HeNe laser is 632nm. 120,000,000^.5 ~= 10954x10954, so if the sensor is less than 6.9mm square, it might have a problem with that color. Since the sensor is probably the size of 35mm film or larger, this isn't a problem

However, I don't think one photon *can* trigger multiple pixels, since light is quantized, the best you can do is 1 to 1, with most pixel sensors requiring several photons to trigger.

Re:Problem with this.... (1)

Schnoogs (1087081) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360458)

TELL US MORE MR. SCIENCE!!!!

oh fuck....I bet you Canon, a billion dollar company that has been working with cameras for decades, never thought of this!!!!

If only they had come here first and read one of your insightful posts!!! I'm sure none of their scientists with PhD's know a fraction about optics as you do!!!!

What a fucking idiot.

If all (1)

Mathness (145187) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359076)

If all you care about is resolution (in a SLR camera) this is great. But if you also care about stuff like low noise, dynamic range or a diffraction that isn't limited to f/4, you are much better off with at least a medium format camera.

Sci Fi Cliche (1)

mauriceh (3721) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359094)

Hmm, with that resolution we could do the science fiction standard nonsense:

"Select quadrant in top right corner. Enhance.
Select the reflection on the subjects glasses. Zoom 50X and enhance.
See the face of the murderer.."

Remember Blade Runner?
http://criticalcommons.org/Members/ironman28/clips/bladeRunner3DphotoH264.mov/view [criticalcommons.org]

Re:Sci Fi Cliche (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359178)

hehe no I think RD did it best

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUFkb0d1kbU [youtube.com]

Remember Blade Runner? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359222)

Yes.

But I'm beginning to wonder if it is just a Tyrell implant.

Re:Sci Fi Cliche (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359920)

Why go back that far? Every CSI show has a bit where the IT person takes a security cam photo (in real life, a bank robber's face occupies 6 pixels) and blows it up to read a license plate number across the street.

Re:Sci Fi Cliche (1)

mauriceh (3721) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360000)

The Blade Runner was both the oldest example I could remember, AND it was the most far fetched version.

The real application is surveillance cams (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359116)

The real application for ultra-high resolution is surveillance cams. Something interesting might happen somewhere in a wide field of view, and when it does, detail is useful.

It matters for me... (2, Interesting)

PhantomHarlock (189617) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359216)

From a professional photographer's standpoint, I DO appreciate more resolution, because I do make things that end up on posters and billboards. Also, the primary advantage in most cases is the ability to crop and still have a decent resolution image.

As another poster mentioned, the main problem at this point is with the glass. Sharp glass that remains the same size to accommodate a denser, not larger sensor is a tough proposition, and the new frontier of technology. Things like liquid lenses may overcome this in the future, who knows.

Right now, with my 21MP 5D Mk. II, I can use modern Canon "L" zoom lenses too my heart's content and have an image that is sharp from corner to corner, especially now that you can easily correct for chromatic aberration in RAW processing software. (to give you an idea of how far this has come, when I was doing 3D animation 10 years ago, we would commonly add back in chromatic aberration to 3D generated images to give them a sense of realism.)

For the sort of resolution discussed here, if you wanted relatively sharp pixels at 1:1 (spatial, or perceived resolution, actual sharpness delineation from one pixel to the next) you would probably want to stick with prime (non-zoom) lenses with fewer glass elements, and it would probably OK.

Other posters are correct in that this kind of resolution is currently unnecessary for consumer and casual use. But for me, large blow ups and two-page spreads are a frequent thing, and I apprecicate all the pixels I've got. :)

535mb images? (1)

pointbeing (701902) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359250)

Did a bit of math here and at 36-bit color a raw image would be a bit more than 535mb.

I don't think the technology is available yet to process an image that large into a jpeg or copy a raw image to a storage device quickly enough to use this in most camera applications - and definitely not in your point and shoot ;-)

Re:535mb images? (1)

LordKronos (470910) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360360)

Currently used sensors don't capture RGB for every pixel***. Each pixel is one color, and then processing is done to interpolate the other colors from adjacent pixels of those colors. Go look up "bayer filter" for more details.

So really, rather than storing 36 bits per pixel, you'd only be dealing with 12 bits. Actually, most likely more than that. Current Canon SLRs capture 14 bit per pixel. But the point is you don't need 36 bits. Lets just say 16 bits, which gives you 240 MB for a 120 MP sensor.

On top of that, there is also compression. When stored in raw file format, there is lossless compression on the data, so it would come in somewhat less than that. My 12 MP Canon XSi is 14 bit per pixel, so you'd expect the raw files to be over 21 MB, but they typically end up being 12-18 MB. Then there's JPEG, which would only store 8 bits per pixel, and compress much more (though lossy), so you'd expect well under 100MB (probably more like 50 MB)

*** There are some sensors that do this, but they were only used in a few less popular camera models, all of which (to my knowledge) are discontinued.

The future is now (2, Interesting)

freelunch (258011) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359278)

boasts a ridiculous resolution of 13,280 x 9,184 pixels

My 6x7 cm film images are already 11,023 x 9,448 when scanned at 4000 dpi.
And there are no artifacts from Bayer interpolation.

30x36" prints, and even larger, are spectacular. But you need good lenses, a good tripod, and good technique; otherwise you won't resolve the detail.

And with 20x30" prints only $9 at Costco (on profiled printers), I *am* enlarging my prints to poster size, thankyouverymuch.

I look forward to digital catching up.

Light Field Camera (2, Insightful)

cowtamer (311087) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359308)

I'm sure it'll be perfect for this application:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plenoptic_camera [wikipedia.org] (a type of camera that can let you re-focus (and to a certain extent re-position) images after taking the shot. The problem is that it requires a LOT of resolution to produce acceptable images).

http://graphics.stanford.edu/papers/lfcamera/ [stanford.edu]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H7yx31yslM&NR=1 [youtube.com] (demo video from paper above)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3cyntPC2NU [youtube.com]

Here's one built with a 250 MP Flatbet scanner:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4O5fPoacF3Q&feature=related [youtube.com]

50 megapixel cameras (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359414)

Canon unveiled a 50-megapixel sensor in 2007, but that's not made it any further than the labs to date."

True, but you CAN buy cameras with that sort of resolution from other manufacturers, such as Hasselblad. In fact, Hasselblad has 60 megapixel models available, too.

Not cheap telephoto (1)

jridley (9305) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359502)

About 21 megapixels on a full frame SLR is already pushing the resolution limit of reasonably priced lenses (IE, L series glass). You might get a bit more than that, say 30 megapixels. Beyond that you're exceeding the Dawe's limit of the optics, and you're just not going to get any more detail this way than by just interpolating the digital 30 megapixel image.

Sorry, still somewhat lame (1)

Tri0de (182282) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359662)

I used to use an 8"x10" camera, with 25 ASA film.
As much as I really like digital, and I do, there is simply no way an 8x10" ('contact')print from a mere 120 megapixel file is going to be even close.
I'll get stoked when we're talking 100+ gigapixels.

Dynamic Range, (4, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359724)

I wish they would spend more time on improving the dynamic range than to just play the megapixel count wars.

Instead of total pixel count, get one set of pixels to shoot at the equivalent of 100 speed, and the adjacent set of pixels to shoot at 200 speed etc etc. Then process the pixels to get details in dark regions and to scale the brightness. I would like a dynamic range (brightness ratio of the brightest to dimmest pixel) to be a million or more, not the present 1000. Human eye has a dynamic range of about 1 million (only in the fovea, not in the peripheral vision).

120 Megapixels might be ok for a point and shoot (1)

edremy (36408) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359770)

but serious camera users need at least 3.2 gigpixels [lsst.org] to fully exploit a decent lens [lsst.org] .

I admit, portability suffers a bit at this point, but aren't your pictures worth it?

Re:120 Megapixels might be ok for a point and shoo (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360156)

The only problem with that setup is that it takes pictures of what it wants to. ;)

I'll have to stick with the next best thing [sinica.edu.tw] , which I at least get to point at things. :)

Enhance! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33359812)

Zoom in there. Enhance. Sharpen it. Enhance.

Great combo! (1)

Ossifer (703813) | more than 4 years ago | (#33359894)

I hope they package this behind a nice 3mm plastic fixed focus lens!

In other news... (1)

MasterOfGoingFaster (922862) | more than 4 years ago | (#33360172)

In other news, Ford has set a new land speed record by attaching a Mustang to a solid-fuel rocket from the space shuttle. Funeral services for the driver/pilot will be held next week.

A sensor beyond 20 MP is of limited use - it out-resolves nearly all commercially available lenses. This is when professionals move up to medium format cameras and lenses to achieve a larger image area. Diffraction and noise are just of the few problems that have not been resolved with small dense sensors.

pixel size (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33360302)

The pixel size actually isn't that small. The numbers in the article work out to a 2.2um pixel pitch which is fairly common for low end webcams. Of course, low end webcams have smaller overall area and much lower image quality.

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