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Sensor Size Matters – Part 1

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We get a lot of questions about sensor sizes and crop factors.  Most people know the difference between a standard (APS-C) crop sensor and a full-frame sensor. Not many, though, know how much smaller a 2/3” sensor is than a 4/3 sensor, and fewer still the difference between those and a 1/1.8” sensor. Plus Canon and Nikon have thrown new sensor sizes into the mix in the last year and a lot of people aren’t sure exactly where those sensors fit in among the better known ones. Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask if the Fuji X-10 sensor is bigger than the Nikon J1 sensor. Is the Canon GX-1 sensor as big as those or more like a point and shoot?

The problem is even more complicated now that SLR lenses are being used on video cameras and video lenses on SLRs cameras. People want to know things like “is Super 35mm format equivalent to a crop sensor or full-frame?” Other people, trying to sell their 16mm film lenses with adapters for 4/3 cameras fail to mention how much smaller 16mm film was than 4/3 sensors. Not to mention the marketers, always ready to make things as confusing as possible, are doing things like calling a 1/1.7” sensor “large” (it is compared to a cell phone camera chip, I guess).

Anyway, since I haven’t been able to find a single source to answer all these sensor format questions, I thought I’d put it all together here. The table below shows the dimensions, in millimeters, of the various sensor (or film) sizes. Please note that the dimensions may vary slightly from camera to camera. For example, Canon’s APS-C sensor is slightly smaller than Nikon’s, but slightly larger than Sigma’s. The aspect ratio of the sensor (4:3, 3:2, 16:9) will cause some variation, too. For example, the 35mm Cinema, Super 35mm, and APS-C crop sensor formats are nearly the same size (look at the sensor area) but of slightly different rectangular proportions.

Format height width Diag Area Crop Examples
mm mm mm (mm2) factor
Medium Format 44.0 33.0 55.0 1452 0.7 Pentax 645
Full-frame 24.0 36.0 43.4 864 1.0 FF SLRs
Red Epic 14.6 27.7 31.3 404 1.3 Red Epic/Scarlet
35 Cine 13.7 24.4 28 334 1.4 Red One
Super 35mm 13.8 24.6 28.0 339 1.4 Canon C300
APS-C crop** 15.0 22.0 27.3 329 1.5 crop SLRs
1.5″ 14.0 18.7 23.4 262 1.9 Canon G1X
4/3 13.5 18.0 22.4 243 2.0 Four-thirds
Nikon CX 8.8 13.2 15.8 116 2.7 Nikon J1/V1
Super 16 7.4 12.5 14.5 93 3.0 film only
2/3″ 6.6 8.8 11.0 58 4.0 Fuji X-10; camcorders
1/1.7″ 5.6 7.4 9.5 42 4.6 Best P&S
1/1.8″ 5.3 7.2 8.9 38 4.8 Best P&S
1/2″ 4.8 6.4 8.0 31 5.4 camcorders
1/2.5″ 4.3 5.8 7.2 25 6.0 P&S
1/2.7″ 4.0 5.4 6.7 21 6.4 P&S
1/3″ 3.6 4.8 6.0 17 7.2 camcorders

First, About those inch (“) sensors

Commonly used sensor abbreviations make absolutely no sense. (Get it, “sense”, “sensor” – I have to have at least one pun per article. It’s in my contract). Larger sensors are measured in millimeters: full-frame, Super 35mm, APS-C, etc. The 4/3 marketing people probably thought “half as big as full frame” wasn’t a good way to present things, so 4/3 it was. But it’s easy to find how big a 4/3 sensor is in mm.

But then we get into all of these fractional-inch-type-measurements for the smaller sensors. That measurement system originated in ancient times (the 1950s to 1980s) when vacuum tubes were used instead of CCD or CMOS sensors in video and television cameras. The image sensor was, in those days, referred to in terms of the outside diameter of the vacuum tube that contained it.

 

A video camera tube (courtesy Wikepedia Commons)

Why do manufacturers keep using such an archaic measurement? Because it helps them lie to you, of course. If you do the math 1/2.7 equals 0.37 inches, which equals 9.39 mm. But if you look at the chart above you’ll see that a 1/2.7″ sensor actually has a diagonal of 6.7 mm. Why? Because, of course, a thick glass tube used to surround the sensors. So they calculate the sensor size as if the glass tube was still included. Makes perfect sense to a marketing person who wants to make their sensor seem larger than it is. What sounds better: 1/2.7″ or ‘less than 10% the size of a full frame sensor’?

Calculating the Crop Factor from the Sensor Diagonal

It surprises me how many people do not really understand what the “crop factor” is, and technical explanations seem to make it worse for newcomers. But in simplest terms if I set up several cameras with different size sensors at point A, put the same 100mm lens on each of them and took a picture the picture taken with the smaller sensors would seem more magnified than the pictures taken with the larger sensors. The picture taken with the APS-C size sensor would appear magnified 1.5X compared to the full-frame picture. Or put another way, a picture taken with a 150mm lens on the full-frame camera would frame exactly the same area as one taken with a 100mm lens on the APS-C sensor camera. Hence the term “1.5 crop factor”.

OK, that’s pretty easy. But what if you are shooting video with a 50mm lens on an APS-C size camera, and want to frame the shot identically on a camcorder with a 2/3″ sensor? Well you could probably convert back and forth from APS-C to full frame and then to 2/3″ sensor using the handy table I made for you above. But you might have noticed in that table that the diagonal measurement of the sensor size is proportional to the crop factor. For example, 43.3mm (full frame sensor diagonal)  / 22.4mm (4/3 sensor diagonal) = 2, etc.

So, to make that conversion from 4/3 sensor to 2/3″ sensor we can just divide the diagonal measurements of the sensors (27.3mm diagonal for the APS-C sensor, 11mm diagonal for the 2/3 sensor). The result is about 2.5, so we’d need a 20mm lens on our 2/3″ sensor video camera to frame the shot the same way.

Really, really look at the sensor area

The numbers for crop factor and diagonal measurement of the sensors minimizes the actual differences in sensor sizes. If you want to really understand how much larger one sensor is than another, look at the column for the surface area of the sensor. The diagonal measurement and crop factor of a full-frame 35mm sensor is only 1.5 times longer than an APS-C camera, and twice the size of a 4/3 sensor. But the area of the full frame sensor is more than double that of a crop sensor, and almost 4 times that of a 4/3 sensor.

If the resolution of the cameras are the same, larger sensors mean larger pixels resulting in better ISO performance. (You can compare pixel sizes for a 12 Mp Nikon D700 and a 12 Mpix 4/3 camera by just pretending the above sensor size diagram is pixel size – no wonder there’s a difference in high ISO perforamance). Or, instead of bigger pixels on the sensor, the manufacturer may put more pixels, which gives the camera higher resolution. Or some of each. Most full frame cameras have both more pixels and bigger pixels than most 4/3 cameras.

There are other factors involved, of course. Newer sensors have better microlenses and newer cameras better computer chips, both of which can make a big difference in high ISO performance. Underexpose the picture two stops and ISO performance doesn’t matter either – you can’t differentiate black from black. Put a crappy lens in front of the camera and the sensor’s resolution doesn’t matter – the camera can’t photograph what the lens doesn’t resolve. If you’re just putting web-sized jpgs up none of it matters much. If you’re making large prints every bit of it matters a lot.

But the area of the sensors explains why so many video people are abandoning their old camcorders and picking up AG-AF100s, Sony F3s, and video capable SLR cameras in droves. As an example, consider that a few years ago a very good $15,000 camcorder came with 2/3″ sensors (58 square mm in area). Today, about the same amount of money will get you a Sony F3 with a Super 35 sized sensor (339 square mm in area, nearly 6 times larger), or 5 or 6 crop sensor SLRs with roughly the same size sensor.

It’s also interesting to look at some new mirrorless and fixed-lens camera systems in terms of sensor size. Nikon chose to create the CX sensor size for it’s new J1/V1 cameras. The reason is obvious: there was a large gap between the smallest SLR sensor (4/3) and the largest video (2/3″) and point and shoot (1/1.7″) sensors. The CX sensor fills that gap nicely. The CX sensor should be better than any point and shoot, but not so good that it takes business away from their SLR cameras. (There’s an old saying that if you don’t eat your own lunch, somebody else will. But apparently Nikon doesn’t believe in that.) The Fuji X10 is using the very largest non-SLR sensor, the 2/3″, which until now has only been used in video cameras. Canon, on the other hand, is releasing their G1X with a sensor slightly larger than the 4/3 sensors, although still smaller than their APS-C cameras.

There’s a lot more to a camera than its sensor size, of course. Lenses come to mind. (Yes, Sony, I’m talking to you. Other companies are getting rich selling decent lenses and adapters to shoot on your mirrorless cameras.) It will be interesting, though, to see how the choice of sensor size affects the image quality of these new cameras. Software algorithms, electronics, and better microlenses all make a difference, but small pixels are still small pixels.

But we’ll discuss the effects of sensor and pixel size more in the next article.

Addendum:

Patrick’s comment made me consider that while I unconsciously group sensors into categories, I didn’t really present that in the article. So maybe it will help if I do it here:

Sensor Area mm2 Sensor Type examples
1200+ Medium Format* Leica S2, Hasselblad, etc.
800-900 Full Frame Canon 5DII, Nikon D700, etc.
300-400 Crop Frame APS-C SLRs and mirrorless, Red, Super 35, 35 Cine
200-300 4/3 type Canon G1X, 4/3 cameras
about 100 CX Nikon J1/V1, Super 16 film
40-60 2/3″, 1/1.7″ best camcorders and P&S, Fuji X10
under 40 P&S sensors camcorders, P&S

42 Responses to “Sensor Size Matters – Part 1”

Patrick Manning said:

This makes me want to research the sensor sizes a bit more to get a better understanding, because at this point you’ve succeeded in making my head spin, Roger. 4/3, 2/3″, 1/1.8″ and often with different aspect ratios to boot… Ay yi – yi. Perhaps I should just stick with APS-C and 35mm full frame – I can at least relate to those sizes. Thanks for another thought provoking write up – always enjoy reading them (even when they confuse me).

-Pat

Sourav Chakraborty said:

I am not sure why Nikon and Canon are both focusing towards the APS-C sensors much more than the Full frame ones. Most of the new cameras coming out have cropped sensors- when did you see the last camera using FF sensors released? I agree economy is important, but enthusiasts also should get something to play with.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

I can see your point Patrick. See if maybe the new table in the addendum is better.

Nikhil Ramkarran said:

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to find some sensible breakdown of how the various sensor sizes relate to each other. This is much appreciated (and bookmarked).

Samuel Hurtado said:

my photography tutorial has a section on “Aperture and Sensor Size” with a similar graph (but including more options), and some explanations on how all this affects light gathering, depth of field, etc:
http://www.similaar.com/foto/tuten/310.html

Patrick Manning said:

Roger, my comment was directed more towards the lack of any apparent sense to the sensor sizes. It’s like learning the vernacular of a new occupation or trade – you read the words, you know the words, but until you can relate them to THAT particular use they don’t mean much, and are confusing. Thanks for further clarifying, though – that will likely help to start getting them in order of size in my head.

-Pat

Terry Goyan said:

Great information! I’ve heard of all the different sensor sizes but they never made sense till now. The manufacturers don’t help at all using those pesky fraction designations. Thanks for the clarification Roger.

Tuan said:

A small nit to pick: you list the Pentax 645′s imaging size as 33mm wide x 44mm high. That’s actually the sensor size for the Pentax 645D, which is a bastard-size format somewhere between full-frame and medium-format film. The Pentax 645 – a real, 6×4.5 medium-format film camera – has an imaging size of 41.5mm wide x 56mm high, yielding an exposed film area of 2324mm^2.

A final comparison point – a 6×7 format MF camera has 67mm x 56mm worth of area to play with – 3752mm^2.

Thank you for the article, though; always elucidating!

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Tuan,

You’re exactly right, of course. But the Pentax 645D, Mamiya Aptus, and Hasselblad H40 all use that 33 X 40mm size, with the Leica S2 just a bit smaller. My thinking was SLR shooters may step up to those, at least on occasion, but less likely to use the 54 X 40 format of the more expensive digital backs. But I totally forgot a lot of people still shoot medium format film.

Roger

Walter Freeman said:

Excellent writeup. I shoot 4/3 (the old “standard SLR”) system, and there is always a great deal of confusion on the dpreview forums about the effect of the smaller sensors.

A useful thing for you to show to educate people, if you’re up to it, would be to get some lenses and show the following samples, taken from the same tripod position:

50mm lens at f/2 on FX, APS-C, and 4/3: different angles of view, everything else the same

50mm lens at f/2 on FX, 35mm lens at f/2 on APS-C, 25mm lens at f/2 on Four Thirds: same angle of view, shallower DOF on the big formats

50mm lens at f/4 on FX, 35mm lens at f/2.8 on APS-C, 25mm lens at f/2 on Four Thirds: everything (roughly) the same

Matt said:

I wrote an article on depth of field and how it’s affected by sensor size (indirectly, through the focal lengths of the lenses). I drew out the sensor sizes in a PDF, and it can be found here: http://www.uscoles.com/sensorsandlenses.pdf

David said:

> It surprises me how many people do not really understand what the “crop factor” is, and technical explanations seem to make it worse for newcomers.

This is partly because the concept of focal length, an inherent property of a particular lens design independent of the sensor size, is also misunderstood. Statements like this don’t help:

> … a picture taken with a 150mm lens on the full-frame camera would appear identical to one taken with a 100mm lens on the APS-C sensor camera. Hence the term “1.5 crop factor”.

No it wouldn’t. The angle of view would be the same, but the DOF for the 100mm would be significantly wider.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

David, you are correct. I was referring only to angle of view. I’m saving depth of field for Part II.

Siegfried said:

Dear Roger,
thanks for the sum up on the sensor sizes, I’ve got to tag it for my pony-note.

But how come you said that P-word? I though it had been being under taboo from the early days – I was hardly able to find you saying that once or twice when drilling your whole blog. Don’t you need to strike it out and go with… Mamiya instead?

Cheers,
Zig (P-shooter bagged with some limited glass, sorry)

David said:

That may well be, but better to say “… will have the same angle of view” or to add a DOF proviso than to broaden the assertion in such a way to make it both wrong and confusing.

michael said:

Comparing the sensor size of the new Canon Canon G1X with the 1.6 crop factor of the Canon APS-C sensor, is there really that much difference? It looks very much like the only difference is the width of the sensor and not the height. Wouldn’t object shot from the same distance with the same focal length appear the same size if displayed at the same magnification?

John said:

Thanks for an enlightening article. I don’t think I’ve missed anything; I fully understand about crop factors, the old video tube naming and the regular full frame, APS-C and four thirds.
But I don’t understand how the naming of the “1.5in.”(Canon G1X) & “2/3in.” (Fuji X-10) sensors is derived? There appears no relation between the name and the diagonal or surface area; what do the names refer to…. can someone enlighten me? Thanks.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

John,

It’s basically the same “fraction of an inch” thing for the other sensors. Basically the “inch” designation means the diameter becomes about 150% of the real diameter (because you’re pretending there is a glass tube around the sensor). A 2/3″ sensor as an 11mm diameter. 150% of that is 16.5mm (0.63 inches). Round up just a bit (since they’re already marking it up 150%, what’s a bit of round up?) and you have 0.66 inches or 2/3″ of an inch.

Canon’s marketing department really stretched with the 1.5″ designation, IMHO. Instead of naming the sensor size, like Nikon did, and saying “larger than 4/3″, which would be really obvious to everyone, they pulled out the ancient “inch” designation. The 1.5″ sensor has a diameter of 23.4mm. Take 150% of that and convert to inches and you have 1.4 inches. Do the standard camera company round up and you have 1.5 inches.

This isn’t even the hugest marketing department lie camera companies use (I reserve that for a Tamron blurb they’ve since pulled that said “vibration control helps prevent blurry photographs in fast action sports photography”). And rounding up is camera company standard behavior (you don’t think your 24-70 lens really reaches 24mm and 70mm, do you?).

Plus it works. I just saw on one forum where someone was claiming the G1X sensor was larger than APS-C because 1.5″ equals 38mm. So maybe Canon knew exactly what they were doing.

Chuck Trotter said:

Hi Roger, so here is a really basic question. What advantage (other than greater print size) would you gain using a medium format sensor versus a full frame sensor if they are rated for essentially the same amount of megapixels?

Thanks
Chuck

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Chuck,

If they were rated the same megapixels you (in theory) would get greater dynamic range and ISO performance. But the SLR makers are well ahead of the medium format back makers in terms of ISO performance so that may not happen as much as it theoretically should. You also get an narrower depth of field at given aperture.

On the other hand, MF lenses, lack of an AA filter, and the reality (MF backs generally do have more pixels) let MF pick up more detail. Most of them, though, really don’t shoot over ISO 800.

My lack of skill prevents me from making the most of the advantages of MF, but I do take one out every so often and it really is a very different look. With all the pre-release Canon drama going on right now I think this weekend I’ll tape some Canon badges over a Hasselblad and go out shooting to see if I can freak everyone out.

Shawn Lam said:

Another great article, Roger.

2 points though:

1 – I believe the Super35mm sensor on the Canon C300 and Sony FS100 have a 1.5x crop factor, not a 1.4x crop factor.

2- For video use, it is not enough to only consider the dimensions, area of the sensor, or the diagonal. You need to consider the effective area of the sensor that is being used, when you factor the aspect ratio of the recording. The reason is that HD video has a widescreen aspect ratio and a 4/3 sensor, like that on the Panasonic AF100, has a similar aspect ratio to a standard definition 4:3 television.

Sony claims that the Panasonic 4/3 sensor only uses 17.3mm x 9.6mm of the 4/3 sensor for HD video, which gives it a 166mm2 area.

This is much less than the 243mm2 in your chart for the 4/3 sensor or 314 mm2 that Sony claims the FS100 has (they list 23.6mm x 13.3mm with a diagonal of 27.1mm for their Super35mm sensor).

Still, this is much higher than the resolution of a puny 1/3″ or 1/2″ sensor that most video camera operators had on their last video camera, but effective sensor size for video needs to be factored when comparing one sensor to another for video.

Patrick Manning said:

“With all the pre-release Canon drama going on right now I think this weekend I’ll tape some Canon badges over a Hasselblad and go out shooting to see if I can freak everyone out.”

THAT would likely get the rumor mill working overtime.

-Pat

Carl said:

Roger, that’s great! Yes, you could tape a badge that says “EOS 1Dx-S”, and another badge below that says “1:1 sensor”, and you would probably have to use a taser to keep people off you!

To top it off, you could put a badge on one of the white lenses that says “55-110mm f/2L, 5 stop IS”…and wear a t-shirt that says “STEP BACK! Camera Cognoscenti here. Don’t you wish you were me? Have patience my child, and be mindful”…hahaha!

This is one of your best articles yet, and I look forward to the next in the sensor series!

I have a question…maybe I just don’t feel like doing the “math”…but…What do you suppose the dimensions are, of the sensor in my little Nikon Coolpix P7000 in millimeters? I had thought the sensor is close to the size of the Nikon 1 series, but I must be off. HOW DIFFERENT in size are the actual pixel photo sites, in microns, compared to the new Nikon 1 series? Nikon certainly achieve tremendously better noise ratio with the 1 series…according to DXOmark.com. I’m sure the newer, more, and “better” processing plays its role also.

I also notice Sony somehow achieves better noise performance with the NEX 7, than with their A77 (again, according to DXOmark)…but perhaps this could be sample variation, or some other phenomenon related to the transparent mirror?

Sony seems to be setting the benchmark for Canon, or whoever else wants to make a 24 MP crop sensor next. I also have to wonder if Sony may someday, invent their own “foveon” type sensor, and just revolutionize everything…since Sigma’s pace and ability are lacking. Even Fuji’s unique arrangement of the color pixel matrix, is at least trying to break new ground.

Regarding the Canon G1x, I still feel its lens doesn’t zoom enough (as in the previous G series)…4x isn’t as versatile on a camera like this, as 6x or a bit more would be.

As I’ve said before, the one I am looking forward to is the D800. I am heavily considering selling my Canon and going Nikon…although I want to keep two of my Canon L lenses. Would be nice if there would be some way to set aperture on them, while mounted on the Nikon body, but I suppose that is too much to ask.

Carl said:

Regarding medium format, I assume the main advantage of the sensor is color depth (rather than ultimate noise ratio). Again, I refer to that other website that does tests (don’t want to appear I am advertising for them!) The Phase One IQ180 Digital Back is currently ranked #1 for sensors, with the color bit depth being one of the highest rated there, at 26.5 bits.

Of course, if a photo print is going to be made from a file that is only 16 bits, or especially just 8 bits…that’s like viewing the Mona Lisa through a dirty beer bottle…it seems to me. Ultimate dynamic range is different from perceived dynamic range, obviously. But it does seem the color depth of the best digital sensors may far exceed the ability of modern printers…I could be wrong.

And medium format digital, apparently isn’t even the dynamic range champ, at least according to the tests published on the previously mentioned website. The Pentax K5 supposedly has more EV than everything, including medium format, Nikon D3s, D3x, etc. The K5′s overall score is listed quite a bit lower than those, though. Not sure what sort of magic is going on with it.

Then there’s the medium format lenses, and the proportion of the ultimate resolution of the lens, relative to the size of the pixel sites. The proportion is much larger on medium format, so the lens will never be the “weak” link in the chain…by design. And yet there are those lenses which mount on large “view cameras”, which are rated very high in sharpness (60 or 80 lpm?). Of course the focal lengths available, are limited to mainly portrait use.

Walter Freeman said:

Regarding sensor sizes of compacts, we can do a little math:

I used to have a Panasonic FZ50, with a 1/1.8″-type sensor — this is probably the same size, or close to it, used in the Nikon P7000.

Its lens was 35-420mm “35mm-equivalent”, but I remember the long end was actually 88.8mm. Dividing, we get a crop factor of 4.73.

Most interesting to me, taking half of that number and squaring it, I calculate that the sensor on my E-510 (Four Thirds format) has 5.6 times more area, so ISO 100 on the Panasonic ought to have, at least approximately, the same noise levels as ISO 560 on the Olympus. This is pretty much borne out by the unscientific testing method of “look at a bunch of pictures I’ve taken”.

Walter Freeman said:

The K5 does indeed look like a great little camera — weatherproof, in-body IS, good sensor (even though the practice of applying RAW NR at high ISO is a little distasteful). Now if Pentax only made some lenses I cared about, I’d buy one :)

Carl said:

Walter, interesting points, thank you! I neglected to notice (before I posted the above) that the aforementioned website actually does tell the size of the P7000 sensor in millimeters, as well as the size of the pixels in microns (so I look stupid now!). Both the 1 series’ sensor, and its pixels, are quite a bit larger (3.38 microns vs. 2.07). Its noise performance is about 100% better, or more. Of course its sensor is a CMOS, rather than a CCD (as in the Coolpix series), so that’s an advantage as well.

Pentax’s lens lineup looks interesting, but it’s still limited. What would be good, is if all the camera companies used a universal mount!

Interestingly, I notice today Pentax has announced a “hybrid” compact interchangable lens body, the K-01. It will use the K-mount lenses. That really piques my interest, since the sensor is likely the K-5′s, or even a slight improvement on it. No price given, but it might be a lower cost alternative. The “hybrid” compact arena is getting really crowded now.

I agree that applying NR to a RAW file is distasteful. I will have to look into that regarding the K-5 (just out of curiousity). Without trying to ruffle too many feathers, I have noticed that practice a bit with Nikon (but not on my little Coolpix). It’s only a guess, but it does look like their RAW NEF processing nearly always adds a bit of softening, as compared to Canon’s…at least in comparisons I have seen between the D3s and the 1D4 (even at low ISO). But as with many comparisons, not necessarily “all things were equal” there. Certainly the 1D4 could have/should have had at least a bit less noise than it did.

Both are 3 years old now, so I hope both companies can improve noise performance for 2012, without losing much detail, and preferably even an improvement on detail. Canon has chosen to use much larger pixels than the 1D4, along with throwing hugely more processing power at the problem. For the D4, Nikon has chosen to go a bit smaller with pixel size, than all of their previous semi-pro and pro series (save for the D3x).

For the D800, I am hoping it achieves noise performance at least “90%” as good as the D3x, if not even matching or exceeding it (that would really be something, considering the much smaller pixels). The few crop samples I have seen so far, look decent, but it’s nothing to rely on until it gets really tested.

Canon claims the 1Dx has industry leading noise performance, but its possible the D4 will still beat it. Since their pixels are much closer in size, it will be a much more direct comparison between the two.

Carl said:

One other point about the little Coolpix P7000…the image stabilization (I believe it occurs in the lens to a degree, if not fully)…really works SUPERBLY. It must be at least 4 stops! It’s been a great little camera, purchased at a big discount in Nov 2011. Others have had issues with this model, but so far so good here, with a bit over 1000 cycles on the shutter for me. One person in a review I read, had put over 1000 cycles the first week they owned it, and broke it. You can’t expect a “Coolpix” camera to be as rugged as a pro model. It looks like the 7100 replacement model, can’t shoot at all at ISO 12,800. The 7000 can, although at reduced resolution, and only a jpeg…but I say in a camera like this, it’s a great idea, and it does work just fine. The noise is minimal, so the lower-rez shots at this high ISO are at least still usable to a degree. Given the tiny sensor and pixels (puny compared to their new 1 series!), it seems like decent performance. But at low ISO in RAW, it’s certainly more grainy than I am used to with my Canon APS-C, or even my Sigma DP2 (with its quirks).

Walter Freeman said:

I really hope Pentax can get their stuff in order. The K5, RAW noise reduction or not, looks like a brilliant little camera. I’d shoot one in a heartbeat if they made the glass I wanted (and if their AF is up to snuff, have no idea about that.)

Carl said:

Walter, what “glass” do you want?

Esa Tuunanen said:

Roger Cicala: “Plus it works. I just saw on one forum where someone was claiming the G1X sensor was larger than APS-C because 1.5″ equals 38mm. So maybe Canon knew exactly what they were doing.”
Yep, average consumer is just like dung fly, except there are less dung flies in cow’s pile than people in shop selling latest “Second coming of Jesus” hype product. (and dung flies accept only fresh stuff while consumers are happy with museum age crap)

Actually 2/3″ sensor was used in many digicams. You just have to look ten years into past to time when digicams were tools of enthusiasts and before they become average consumer’s toy.
5MP Sony made sensor was used in four Minolta Dimages (7, 7i, 7Hi, A1) and in two Sony’s “grenade launchers” (F707/F717) and 8MP sensor of 2004 was used by every major brand’s camera, depicted in nice family portrait in this page:
http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/konicaminoltaa2/page3.asp
KonicaMinolta A2 would actually give about perfect basic body design for DSLR challenging EVF based high end mirrorless body instead of current P&S/retro fashion toys. Even its ~920k dot EVF was almost half decade ahead of time. (at time when ~230k dot LCD was the greatest thing since sliced bread according marketroids)

David said:

Another great article. I think it’s worth emphasising a couple of points. First, the Canon APS-C crop factor is 1.6, while Nikon and Sony are 1.5. I know you mention Canon’s are a bit smaller, but it’s not spelled out clearly in the table. (I think the double asterisk was meant to point to a note somewhere but it’s been left out)

Secondly, it’s worth explaining why diagonals are used to calculate crop factors and make other comparisons. I’ll explain it like this. The image projected from the back of a lens is generally circular. If you measure the diameter of this circle, then that is the diagonal of the biggest sensor you could put behind the lens to capture the image without vignetting. So by comparing diagonals, you are kind of comparing the diameters of the image circles that match those sensors. As Michael points out above, you can have two sensors with the same vertical dimension but different aspect ratios and hence different diagonals (e.g. G1X and 7D/60D/600D).

DaveB said:

Above, it is written, “….Put a crappy lens in front of the camera and the sensor’s resolution doesn’t matter.”

Has anyone taken the same body and tested with 3 different lens, but same focal length, to show the differences between crappy, average and great with images?

I’d like to see a site that says, “Brand X is a crappy lens, and here’s why.”

Richie said:

36 x 24 = 864 (Nikon FX)
24 x 16 = 384 (Nikon DX)

864 / 384 = 2.25

16MP (D7000) x 2.25 = 36MP (D800)

So the D800 sensor might just be two D7000 sensors glued together!?

Richie said:

Just to be clear, the above comment was made in jest, but it’s interesting how the pixel size between the two sensors appears to be identical.

Brian said:

The diagonal measurement for the 4/3 is listed above as “22.4″ but the pythagorean theorem (for 13.5 x 18) yields 22.5. Is this just a typo? Or is this a real measurement, implying some sort of non-planar surface?

Tom said:

In terms of swabbing out lenses between formats I think an important issue is: How big it is the area of illumination. In other words if one were to put a super 16 on a 4/3 camera how much light fall off would once see in the corners. I have been looking for and have not been able to find a table listing the area of illumination at the focal plain for various designed for various film and sensory sizes. Does anyone on this for him have any suggestions?

Nicholas Bodley said:

The camera tube you show is a vidicon, much smaller and much less costly than image orthicons, which were the best. Pretty sure that the first vidicons were one inch in diameter (glass, or photosensor?). When smaller ones were developed (such as ⅔ or ½ inch, iirc), that started the designations by fractions of an inch. (Of course, vidicon lenses were made for specific sizes of tubes.)
The current fractional-inch designations for digicam sensors must have developed from the vidicon scheme, although vidicon fractional sizes used integers only for numerator and denominator.

Walt French said:

Perhaps smartphone users are less critical about their photos, but clear articles like this one would be even more helpful in including examples of some representative models.

Actually, when I look at the 21:1 ratio between the areas of my APS-C and the iPhone sensors, it’s quite amazing that the iPhone is as good as it is. The newer technologies you mention must be contributing a LOT. As this also shows up in RAW files, I suspect it’s not the limitations of the older in-camera chips.

Amol Kolhe said:

Traditionally (when most cameras used mostly identical technologies), sensor size was all that mattered.

But with new innovations from various companies happening in sensors & the electronics involved, it is becoming more apparent that size is not all that matters. What really matters is the quality of the image that comes out of it.

For example, Fuji with its aps-c mirrorless cameras is able to achieve image quality and iso performance that rivals full frame. Similarly with their 2/3 sensor, they are able to get low light performance that is comparable to results from larger sensors.

Olympus with their OM-D has shown us that micro four third sensor can produce images almost as good as aps-c.

While the fundamental difference of physics remains the same that larger sensor will gather more light, but we’re seeing lot of innovation that is bending the rules a little. But in the end its more choices for consumers, which is awesome.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_sensor_format

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