Last week while I was considering a newer digital camera (My Rebel XT is nearing it’s exposure rating), I was bouncing around Gizmodo and came across an article that changed the whole nature of my search: “Why More Megapixels Isn’t Always Better“.

I was just going to glance at it to reinforce what I already knew, which is that while a 10MP point-and-shoot and a Rebel XTi or Nikon D60 have the same resolution, the control and lens quality of the digital SLR (single-lens reflex) is far superior. But Giz slapped me and sternly said, “No!”

The sensor is where most of the megapixel machismo comes from. When you squeeze the shutter button, the sensor (like film in old-school cameras) is exposed to light for however long you have the exposure time set for. The most common metaphor to talk about how a sensor works is that it’s like an array of buckets (the pixels) that collect light, and the amount collected is turned into an electrical charge, which is converted into data…

Obviously, there’s a world of difference between the image quality you’re going to get out each of those [a pocket camera and a DSLR] . Most of it comes down to the size of the sensor and the pixels. You can fit a much bigger sensor inside of a DSLR than you can inside of a mobile phone, which not only means you can fit more pixels on the sensor, you can fit much bigger ones—imagine bigger buckets to catch the light.

The real difference isn’t (all) in the lens and in the control you have over it. It’s in the sensor. Those cheap pocket cameras, even the expensive ones, have pixels that are much smaller and lower quality than those of DSLRs. They collect less light, which means less detail.

But even among the high quality “prosumer” cameras that I was looking at, one rule is generally true: “So, on a given sensor size, a lower megapixel count with bigger pixels will produce cleaner images.” Which means the 12MP monster I was looking at wouldn’t actually give me a better picture, because the sensors were the same size.

I hate to admit this, but last night I watched the next-to-last episode of the Bachelor with my wife. I tried everything I could to not pay attention but I got sucked in. And everything I saw just made me sad.

You know the premise – 25 girls, one guy, good luck. In this episode they have the 23 who’ve been sent home come in to be interviewed. One of them was memorable, but probably not the way she wanted to be.

She was sent packing because Jason, the bachelor, thought she was unable or unwilling to be deep and open with him, and she couldn’t understand it. While defending herself she talked about the environment in the girls’ house and how uncomfortable it was to be away from her Blackberry, her social engagements and her busy schedule.

“We couldn’t leave the house. I’m never in my apartment; I’m always on the go.”

It struck me later that the way we fill our days is similar to the way Canon or Nikon fills a camera’s sensor. Some people throw in everything that will fit: long hours, late nights, lots of acquaintances, networking, study, entertainment, etc. They squeeze every moment out of their days. Others only give time to a few high priority things, and some or all of them may be on the list above, but they cherry-pick them.

Just like with the cameras, the first group gets a shallow, distorted picture, while the second has clarity and depth.

How are you filling your days? Are you “always on the go” to social events, or meetings, or even (gasp!) church groups? Are your interactions and time investments brief and shallow, or do they have the kind of depth that bears fruit through clarity in your relationship with Jesus, with the people around you, and your understanding of yourself? If not, it may be time to ditch a few pixels to get a better picture.

If you’ll allow me to mix my metaphors, we need bigger buckets.


  1. As a pro photographer, I took issue with some of the things Giz was talking about.

    While most of the article is correct, I felt like they got the spirit of somethings wrong.

    Glass does matter, the amount of work that goes into a high end SLR lens is lightyears ahead of what they will do for a point and shoot lens that costs $200.

    And lastly, how they throw around the quality of a picture, it’s the technical part of that is true.

    However, no matter what camera you have, taking good photos, as in composition, lighting and etc, the photographer matters far more.

    Too many times I see gearheads worry about that instead of shooting good photos.

  2. I’m only an amateur, and one who doesn’t have the money to invest in good glass, so I’m only moderately aware of the real difference that lenses can make. How would similar lenses affect a 1/1.8″ sensor versus a 23mm x 15mm of the same resolution?

    I think the big key for me was that “on a given sensor size, a lower megapixel count with bigger pixels will produce cleaner images.” That was the point that connected the dots for me.

    Thanks for adding some expertise to the thread!

  3. As a photographer myself, I want to take our understanding a step further. It isn’t that the lower density sensors have “bigger pixels”. Instead, the photosites are larger or perhaps spaced further apart.

    Additionally, there is a lot more to sensors than… sensors. Compare the Nikon D3X and Sony A900 and you’ll see that the processing, in addition to the capture, has a large impact.

    All this to say, I think you could have found a better illustration. It seems kind of forced, and especially since you just throw in Jesus’ name toward the very end of the article. It seems like you ultimately wanted to talk about the quality, and not the quantity of relationships and involvements. And so you addressed this in a roundabout way by building your argument off of quantity (megapixels). But you do not help your argument at all when you admit that some people may be involved in everything in the list, and have clarity and depth.

    Ditch a few megapixels to get a bigger picture? There are some pretty poor low-resolution sensors out there. Alternatively you could have written about discipline, to expand our “sensors”. Some people make good use of every minute of their life (or area of their sensor). Whatever your main point, it would have been great to have it developed more.

  4. Garrett,

    You’re right, “bigger pixels” may not be the best way to describe it, but it seemed an apt way to describe it for a non-tech audience. I certainly could have included descriptions of image processing, pixel patterns, sensor-types, and the noise caused by heat on those densely packed sensors. And I think they would have added to the later analogy.

    I did want to talk about quality of cameras, as well as quality of life. I wasn’t ever looking for an illustration, this was an honest train of thought. And since I began my analogy with a non-Christian example, I felt it necessary to say that this is not strictly a Christian principle. Non-believers choose to minimize distraction and activity to focus on the things that are important to them, which in many cases are on the original list. But they don’t give time to all of them.

    The reason I “just [threw] in Jesus’ name toward the very end” is because this began as an observation on life, not as a bible study or Christian living parable. But as a Christian speaking to a Christian audience, I know that something that is (or should be) at the top of our priorities list is our relationship with Him.

    There are definitely some poor low-res sensors, but the real basis for my observation was the comparison of two equal-size sensors. We all have the same size sensor – 24-hours, 7 days, 52 weeks – however you break it up, we’re working with the same days, weeks, and years. I know there’s an analogy there involving enlarging our sensors – and you may be able to share it with us – but I don’t have that perspective.

    Thanks for the thoughts, I’ll be sharper next week!

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