Saturday, October 14, 2006

Fuji's 12 Megapixel Claims: Fact or Fiction?

I simply can NOT believe the people who fall for the idea that a FujiFilm Super CCD sensor is a "real" 12 megapixel sensor! It's hilarious. The claims of a Fuji S2 or a Fuji S3 "approximating" 8,9,or even as many as 10 megapixels in terms of resolution is a mistaken notion that is not supported well by photoraphs made by the 6MP Fujis (S2 or S3) and the 8.2MP Canons (Canon's 20D,30D,1D-II and 1D-IIN with 2.5 inch LCD) and the newer,higher-rez 10.2 MP models by Sony,Nikon,and Canon. The first claims that a Fuji sensor could "approximate the output of a 9- or 10-megapixel camera"were made before there WERE ANY 8.2 MP or 10.2 MP d-slrs on the market,for an actual,real-world comparison. The claims of the 6 MP Fuji cameras "approximating the resolution of 9- or 10-MP sensors" were made by Fujistas as a compliment to the Fuji Super CCD's performance; however,as soon as Canon made the world's FIRST, actual PRODUCTION 8.2 MP d-slr, that old myth was debunked in head-to-head testing which showed that NO, 6+6 is not equal to 8.2 MP, let alone 9 or 10 MP, and that 6+6 MP is still not as good as 10.2 MP in terms of resolution. And yet the old Fujista-created urban legend that 6 =10 lived on!

Now that there are 12.4 and 12.8 MP d-slrs from Nikon and Canon,the newest myth is that 6+6 from Fuji is now somehow equal to 12.4 or 12.8 megapixel's worth of resolution! If the 6+6 sensor of the Fuji S3 is not even up to the resolution abilities of the 8.2 MP Canon models, how is it then able to compete with the 12 and 13 MP d-slr's from Nikon and Canon? Myths have a way of spreading,and in this internet age, there are people who love to prumulgate myths to bolster their favorite things.

Anybody who makes the claim that an S2 or an S3 resolves anywhere NEAR 12 megapixels is obviously not an owner or regular user of a Nikon D2x,Kodak 14n or Kodak SLR/n, or a full-frame Canon 1Ds series model, or a Canon 5D (which is rougly a 13 megapixel camera). Once you own and use a HIGH-megapixel d-slr, you'll see that resolution of all the 6MP models is below that of the 8.2 MP Canons, and that the 10.2 MP Nikon D80 out-resolves the 8.2MP EOS 20D and EOS 30D by a small but easily-seen margin. Just go and look up the resolution figures AND the pictures--and then you can see,literally see with your eyeballs, that the 20D betters the 6MP Fuji's, and that the 10MP Canons and Nikons out-resolve the 8.0 and 8.2MP Canons, and so on and so on. SIX million photosites is not equal to 8.2 million,nor 10 million,nor 12 million + photosites. It just is not.

Sorry to burst bubbles, but more is more. And less is never equal to more. Like the folks in the Memorex ads of yesteryear, keep in mind that when looking at photographs we can sometimes see what we WISH to see;and at times,with the aid of an impartial observer,we can be shown what REALLY is in front of our eyes, like in those nifty psychology department visual perception experiments where we can see how the SAME RGB color value may appear to be vastly,vastly,vastly brighter,or darker, depending on the context in which that RGB color value is presented. Expectations can taint our perceptions.

Just like with music recorded on tape,we don't expect "reality" when we play the tape,but instead we expect a damned fine representation of reality. And Fuji d-slr cameras DO deliver a damned fine impression of reality. But very careful analysis can show where the delivered 'reality' of the camera shows its shortcomings and limitations.

Tonight there is yet again an exploration of the "Is 6+6 actually equal to 12 megapixels?" question in dPreview's FujiFilm SLR Talk forum. Read it, and then see how Fuji users feel. There's NO WAY that the S2 or S3 approach the resolution ability of the Nikon D2x or the EOS 5D, two of the least-expensive 12MP or higher d-slr's currently on the market. But is resolution everything? NO, it's not.

What's sad is that so many loyal dyed-in-the-wool Fujistas seem to think that 6 million regular pixels' worth of information,and then 1,2,or maybe 2.5 million highlight pixels are used and that "somehow" one can upsample 6 million pixels worth of photosites and create 12 million photosites' worth of information content. Since the smaller R-pixels are sensitive ONLY to the very,very brightest tones, the S3 cannot possibly be using all 6 million of its smaller, much less-sensitive R-pixels to record anything except really BRIGHT lighting values. The S-pixels are sensitive to the lower light values, and those work in the normal,expected fashion of pixels everywhere. But Fuji's small, slow-to-respond R-pixels are sensitive only to BRIGHT light values....the BRIGHTEST light values of some scenes....they are not used,nor are they needed in low-key,dull,or low-ratio lighting situations. That is why the S3 Pro has an AUTO-DR feature,in which the camera decides if it NEEDS to use any highlight pixels,or some, or all of them; sometimes, there's no need foreither of the Wide DR settings the S3 ofers.

It's gotten to the point where somehow, the artifacting, the off-kilter and overly-optimistic ISO values, the built-in noise reduction, and the six megapixel resolution abilities of the Super CCD sensor in the S3 Pro are all somehow being elevated to the level of a 12 MP camera in the minds,and in the internet posts, of the diehard Fuji loyalists. Jeeeze....have these people ever really LOOKED, or SEEN, what a D2x file shot with pro glass looks like? How about the EOS 5D's files? Take a look at the infamous " tree crop" in the following dPreview comparison of the EOS 30D against the EOS 5D. You'll see that the smaller 8.2 MP Canon file has a LOT less detail than the 12.8 MP EOS 5D image shows....just go to the following URL, scroll down,and look at the tree crop and you'll see that the 5D is one of the first cameras Phil has ever tested which actually begins to show the true detail in the label

Fuji's 6MP S2 and S3 produce nice prints. But when the prints get larger, or the files need to be cropped, the 6MP SuperCCD files lose out to higher-MP files. Fuji SuperCCD sensors resolve well enough for making prints,especially small prints. But when one really looks _closely_ at Fuji prints, one can see that there is often an _impression_ of detail, a _sense_ of detail, a _feeling_ of vibrancy, and a subjective impression of fairly high resolution. But when one gets down and LOOKS,and I mean really LOOKS closely, an honest viewer will note that underneath the initial feeling or impression of detail being presented to the eye, is that there is an actual LACK of real detail at the very finest levels. The very smallest details in scenes shot at more than a few meters distant are where the 12+ MP cameras show their added,TRUE resolution abilities. The "first glance" resolution seen in a Fuji SuperCCD capture is high, but after close,critical examination the SuperCCD's file's degree of fine,fine detail resolution is simply not as high as say, that from a D2x or a 5D. Instead, the SuperCCD's use a unique pixel orientation concept to accentuate the FEELING of high resolution.

The Fuji SuperCCD system resolves diagonals very,very poorly at times,and many times angled strands of hair, angled building lines, or high-frequency detail like windowscreens or city buildings with many window frames or gridwork,etc all have _noticeable_ stair-stepping on diagonal surfaces,both natural and man-made. Also the SuperCCD imagers, all of them in the S1 and S2 and S3, have been somewhat prone to showing moire effects. Yet still, the _impression_ of high detail resolution in 6MP Fuji SuperCCD images from the S2 and S3 is very,very good; both cameras deliver what some people consider to be "eight megapixels' worth" of resolution. What Fujistas are experiencing is Fuji's rather high acutance. There is high acutance to Fuji images--they SEEM as if they have a lot of resolution of detail in them, but what they actually have is high acutance, or high acuity. A high-acutance Fuji d-slr image is really NOT a high-resolution image, but instead an image that has has high acuity, and wonderful color, and a nice depth and richness of tones. High resolution is not the same as high acutance. Fuji SuperCCD sensors are not really high-resolution sensors any longer; they've fallen far down the resolution path now that Canon has hit 16.7 and 12.8 MP and Nikon has reached 12.4 MP in the D2X series. Color,dynamic range,tone curve,acutance--those things are not what image resolution is about,despite what's said in that thread referenced above. High resolution is not the same thing as high acutance. Still, high acutance gives the IMPRESSION of a lot more resolution,and so,there's something to be said for a high acutance image. Fuji's got a wee bit of experience in imaging...

If one owns an 8.2 MP EOS 20D, one can see that the 6MP sensors from either Nikon or FujiFilm do not resolve even 8.2 MP worth of detail. Or, as Phil Askey points out, the 6MP Fuji SuperCCD sensors resolve more than other SIX MP cameras (like the original Digital Rebel and Nikon D70), but LESS than the EOS 20D, which is 8.2 MP. ISO levels affect resolution ability, and the Fuji SuperCCD sensors do a damned fine job with 6MP images at all ISO settings, but take up the file storage space of a 12MP camera's files (Fuji SLR's need more storage space,unfortunately). The problem is that the _impression_ of detail is good enough for many types of photography,such as portraiture, small-scale landscapes, and close-range shooting covering small physical areas--but when it comes to product photography,large landscapes, and high-fidelity work such as copying artwork or small product illustration, one needs REAL detail....the ACTUAL resolving OF fine,fine detail. That's why Nikon makes a 12.4 MP D2Xs,and why Canon makes two camera which hit the streets with 16.7 million photosites and 12.8 million photosites worth of resolution capability. I guess one could liken the Fuji 6+6 MP idea to MP3 music compression--PLENTY good enough for MOST uses, but still, with some sacrifices made.

But,to get to the title: is it real, or is it Memorex? Of course, photography is not reality,but merely a way to represent reality.

The idea underlying the Memorex ads was that, "Of course it's not 'real',but music recorded on Memorex tape will bring you a damned good representation of reality." FujiFilm's d-slr's have borne the name FinePix because with FujiFilm cameras, the camera is really about the pictures it makes. The pictures. The files. The photographs. The prints. The web images. The "pics".The Pix. The "Fine PIXs". Numerical superiority in terms of sensor resolving power is not as important as camera operation,camera suitability for the task, and of course, the pictures. How do the pictures come out? How easy is the camera to use? Is the camera well-suited to your photographic needs? As far as I am concerned, 6 to 8 megapixels is ample pixel count for MOST things. For most tasks, I've found that the EOS 20D's 8.2 million pixels bring me ample resolution with good lenses, and 8.2 MP offers me a nice compromise between image size (roughly 3,500 pixels on the long axis of each frame),resolving abilities, and write times/buffer flush times/card storage/computer storage/computer processor demands/archiving space requirements.

The D2x at 12.2 (effective) megapixels is a pain in the ass,storage-wise,compared to the 20D's 8.2 megapixel file size. The quality of the 20D's 8.2 MP CMOS sensor captures is quite nice when compared to the D2x's 12.2 MP Sony-made CMOS sensor's captures. I think the resolution of the images a d-slr makes is not nearly as important as how well the camera shoots and how well the PICTURES look for each task. FujiFilm d-slrs have always made nice pictures. Nobody is disputing that. But c'mon, let's get realistic on what resolution means. More is always more. Less is never equal to more. How the PICTURES look,or how the music sounds,will never be just like reality, but we do expect a damned good interpretation of reality. With a FujiFilm d-slr, oftentimes the photos turn out looking better than the reality that was apparent at the scene. And that's why it doesn't matter that FujiFilm's S5 Pro is gonna' be a 6+6 MP camera. It's about the pictures. Resolution? Fuji's 6+6 does not equal Nikon's 12.2 MP in resolution. But how will the S5's pictures look? I'd wager they will stack up well to those made with any competing Canon,Nikon,Pentax,or Sony. I'd bet my left nut that the FujiFilm S5 Pro will make absolutely BEAUTIFUL images. Seriously. The files will be lovely. The prints will be sweet. It will be a fine,fine image-maker. I can just feel it in my bones.

The problem however,as I see it, is that the "sales appeal" of the S5 Pro is going to remain low,unless Fuji can get some TOP-notch marketing people at work on the S5's advertising campaign,and pronto! Based on what's happened in the past, that ain't gonna' happen. FujiFilm is badly executing its d-slr strategy,and is reeling from vast changes in the film and photofinishing sides of the imaging industry. FujiFilm has no discernable direction,no clear message,and the potential buyers of the S5 have,as Seth Godin might say, no "STORY TO TELL THEMSELVES". FujiFilm is not handling the 2006/2007 d-slr marketplace very well,and FujiFilm will take some very bad lumps over the next year or more, yet still Fuji's S5 Pro will be the best-ever d-slr to wear the Fuji nameplate. And that is saying something. People can and will whine about the S5 Pro's 6+6 MP sensor, but the pictures will still be lovely. And the AF module will finally be DECENT. And the viewfinder will look GOOD! It'll be a D200 with Fuji guts! That will be a GOOD THING!

1 comment:

Fogmeister (Arti) said...

The S3 clearly resolves the same amount of actual detail that a D200 resolves. In fact, the Canon 5D just edges out the S3 superb sensor for detail.

The S3 is one radical camera, and excellent fog camera to boot.