Why sensor size matters

Gadgetwise gets this right http://gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/what-sensor-size-means-why-it-matters/?partner=rss&emc=rss

When you’re buying digital cameras it’s wise to check sensor size in addition to the megapixels. When camera makers squeeze large file sizes (10-12 megapixels) out of small sensors it often creates noise.  The Nikon D3 I use has a sensor that’s roughly the size of a 35 mm piece of film. Point and shoot cameras often use a sensor that’s not much bigger than a fingernail but unless it has a detachable lens there is no way to see the sensor (short of sacrificing the camera for a peek).

Prior to the D3, I used a NIkon D2x which has a sensor about half the size of the D3. Both cameras generate a 12 megapixel image file but the one from the D3 has a lot less noise. There are two places I notice this. Depending on subject matter ISO ratings of 800-1600 generate completely acceptable files and at 3200 it’s almost like the D3 can see in the dark. At 200 ISO (the D3’s lowest setting) the amount of latitude gets  amazingly close to HDR (high dynamic range). This opens up lots of possibilities for managing light within one image file. 

This has a huge affect on shooting technique and has had some unexpected results on how I approach assignments. I will touch on this in a future post.



~ by keithphilpott on March 23, 2009.

2 Responses to “Why sensor size matters”

  1. I think the D3X also uses a better noise suppression in the digital processing and has a newer sensor. Technologies progress.
    I agree though, that sensor size does affect noise (in CMOS that is 1/sqrt(area) to be precise, but that does not account for the huge step alone).
    I am usually o.k. with noise, since I am not shooting fast action (I just use low ISO and a tripod). I am more worried about <a href=”http://www.aguntherphotography.com/tutorial/diffraction-limits-of-resolution.html”<diffraction on sensors with tiny pixel sites.

    • Photoscout–

      Great point and an outstanding, in-depth look (on your site) at this topic, I’m reposting your link here http://www.aguntherphotography.com/tutorial/diffraction-limits-of-resolution.html
      I encourage all to visit if you’re interested wrapping your head around this further.
      Re: the D3x. I started shooting with one earlier this year and although I have not done a side-by-side comparison, my sense is that the D3 still offers a little more headroom. For low light and situations where I know there will be a lot file manipulation I still feel more comfortable with the D3. It’s very likely this will change over the next year as I get a chance to shoot in different light with the D3x. The resolution is nothing short of eye-popping, though.

      Again, thanks for your comment.

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