Almost everyone will agree that when we get new cameras each year, we want to have better image quality, better performance, improved features, and reasonable prices. But when it comes to agreeing on the right mix, there isn't as much agreement. Some people think more megapixels are better, others think that all they do is make the pictures noisier and result in aggressive or inefficient in-camera noise reduction, some even think that it's not the tiny pixels to blame, but the tiny sensors. A lot of people will agree that if image quality (IQ) is improved with more megapixels then that is not a problem. The problem people have with more megapixels is when the IQ is not improved, or it is similar to previous models, or even worse. Furthremore, the sequential technological improvements are sometimes taken back by the increase in pixels that need to be processed and digested by the camera. And of course noise and noise-reduction side-effects and artifacts (you may have heard the term "Monet" bandied around).
But who is really the guilty party here? Who is making decisions that do not result in the best possible IQ? Marketing!. In the sticker marketing wars of big electronics superstores, the bigger the number, the better. More horsepower, more megapixels, more gigabytes, more gigahertz, bigger screen size, more, more, more, more, more! So instead of IQ driving the develompent of new cameras and sensors, it is the marketing wars that do it.
This of course has been going on for a while, so when the first 10 megapixel camera came out, we knew it was only a matter of months before a 12 (or more) megapixel model would come out. We hoped that manufacturers would hold back but hope is not enough! :) And sure enough, just like clockwork, they started coming out o the "woods".
Sony of course makes their own sensors, and they usually give themselves the first batch of new sensors. And so they did this time around with the Cybershot W200. Kodak and Casio, two companies known for not being shy about jumping ahead in megapixels came out with their own 12mp models, presumably using a sensor from someone else (Sharp?). Kodak came out with the Z1275, a 12mp/5x mid-range camera, while Casio went with the sleeker-looking EX-Z1200SR with. Not to be outdone, Panasonic "slotted in" the FX100 between the traditional 1/2.5"-based FX-series and the 1/1.6"-based LX-series, offering a 28-100mm range with MegaOIS. Not wanting to be left behind Samsung joined the party with the NV20.
And then came Fuji, perhaps our last best hope for a low-noise sensor. Critical acclaim they received for their 6mp 1/1.7" sensor, but this time Fuji did not want to be left behind megapixel-wise. So jump they did to a 12mp 1/1.6" SuperCCD sensor in the F50fd. Added they did sensor-shift stabilization which is a good thing, but what will happen to their noise advantange now that the pixels are so tiny?
What's even more interesting is that these are the top megapixel models using the largest mass-market sensors, yet the cameras themselves are fairly mid-range in features. Sure some of them have bling-bling features and style, but that's about it. Not a whole lot of advanced features. And don't even bother asking for RAW!
So where do we go from here? The question a few months ago was "who will introduce 12 megapixel cameras?". The question has now become "will anyone not introduce 12 megapixel cameras?".
To answer that question, we will use our long-winded Fauxtokina 2007 speculation as basis. So who doesn't have a 12 megapixel compact camera right now?
Are we done now? NOPE! How about the ones with 12mp sensors already? Are they done?