Sensor Size and Dynamic Range

Recently, Fujifilm released their version of a medium format mirrorless camera. I very much agree that indeed, the camera is definitely better than any full frame camera. Just the same as Hasselblad and Phase One who has been in the medium format industry for the longest time, bigger sensor is always better.

What makes a bigger sensor better is the ability to collect more light in a surface plane. The more light collected, the more data you get out of a single shot. Do we need all the data collected or how can we take advantage of the available data? It’s quite surprising that not all the data will be displayed.

On my way to Camotes Island, I saw this pack of dolphins swimming gracefully and synchronised towards the boat. Shooting with a full frame sensor and 70-300 lens.

On my way to Camotes Island, I saw this pack of dolphins swimming gracefully and synchronised towards the boat. Shooting with a full frame sensor and 70-300 lens.

Our monitor cannot display all the available data due to limitation and this also applies to print. Even if the monitor can display it, our eyes is not capable of seeing more than 16.8 million colors. A normal 14-bit file can capture 4.39 trillion colors. Then you would wonder where would I use all the extra data that I get when using bigger sensor?The idea of having more data is actually for image processing. Every time you apply saturation, contrast, white balance or just about anything involved in color adjustment, you are pulling the pixels in and out of the boundaries of color. This is where the extra data comes in.

Even if you’re shooting JPEG and have no plans of editing your image, you are still taking advantage of the extra data. Before the JPEG file is presented to you, the image is shot in raw and all the adjustment you set in your picture style will be process to the raw file and the resulting file will be the compress to JPEG file. The raw file will then be deleted.

I notice the difference between sensor size during editing. When comparing how much data I get to bring back or adjust from image captured using cellphone, micro 4/3 and full frame outputs. Given the fact that I shot raw in all cameras, that includes the cellphone, the adjustment sliders are much more responsive to images with more data. Small nudges from the sliders and you get so much adjustments already.

I have to commend the software developers behind the cellphone cameras nowadays. Even with a small sensor, the algorithm design to work on an inferior pixel that can produce amazing result is just spectacular.

I believe that the future of imaging is not only limited to the laws of physics which governs the laws of light being basis in sensor design, but a complementary relationship between software design that compensates to the limitation of hardware. Knowing that assumption will have to be in place when it comes to software design, the thought of reality being assumed is another issue in the case of photography.

Keep on shooting everyone!

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