Sony A900: A Closer Look at 24.6MP Resolution and Noiseby Wesley Fink on October 27, 2008 2:00 AM EST
- Posted in
- Digital Camera
Full-Frame and 24.6MP Compared
The A900 is the first Sony to feature a full-frame DSLR. The sensor is approximately the size of a frame of 35mm film, which is 24x36mm, and 24.6MP is the highest resolution currently available in a full-frame camera.
Compared to most digital cameras today where the sensor size is closer to APS-C size, the lenses appearing to be 150% to 200% longer than the specified focal length. Other Sony DSLR cameras, like the A700, feature a 23.5x15.6mm sensor. 24.6MP is also double the sensor resolution of today's prosumer or advanced amateur models, which are generally around 12MP.
In the computer world smaller and smaller traces mean higher density, more transistors, and generally better and faster performance. However, the digital sensor is not a digital device. Instead, it is an analog device that gathers light and turns it into a digital signal. The reverse is true in sensors in that larger sensor size is almost always better, with everything else equal.
As you can see in the chart below, none of the APS-C sensors is even half of the area of a full-frame sensor. With a range of 28.1% to 42.4% of full-frame size, there is clearly a lot more information that can potentially be captured with a full-frame sensor.
|DSLR Sensor Comparison|
|Camera||Effective Sensor Resolution||Sensor Dimensions and Area||% of Full-Frame||Sensor Density (MP/cm2)|
|Sony A700, Nikon D300, Nikon D90||12.3||15x23,5
|Nikon D700/Nikon D3||12.1||24x36
|Canon 1Ds Mark III||21.1||24x36
The last column in the chart is the one that tells the story most accurately, however. Here the resolution of the sensor is divided by the sensor area to yield a sensor density. The lower the density, the larger the individual pixel size, and the more info that pixel can gather - all else being equal. There are a few surprises here, such as the Sony A350 being essentially the same density as the Canon XSi, and the new Canon 50D having the highest density of any current DSLR camera.
The last column does put into perspective the true potential of the full-frame sensor and sheds some light on the true meaning of Sony's 24.6MP A900 sensor. At 2.9MP per cm2 the A900 still exhibits a lower density and theoretically better high ISO performance than any current APS-C DSLR. This is very much at odds with the ridiculous claims many on the web are making about Sony going too high in resolution on the A900. In fact, sensor density on the A900 is lower than the 10MP Canon 40D, which is 3.1.
The point is that any issues the Sony may be found to have with noise are not the result of pixels being "too small". All else being equal the high ISO noise should be at least as good as an 8 to 10MP Canon sensor. Where the Sony does suffer is in comparison to sensor density of other full-frame sensors. In that metric the Sony has twice the pixels per cm2 of a Nikon D3/D700 and Canon 5D, and keeping up in high ISO performance with those cameras would be quite a feat.