Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Over men and megapixels in the iPhone 3GS

Right after the WWDC keynote yesterday I fell into a monumental moron, posting about how he was disappointed and hated what he heard and how he'd heard it all before. Cool! He was especially pissed about the 3 megapixel camera that Apple put onto the new announced 3Gs. Some dudes are so full of shit, aint' they? Ok, let's go ahead and prove this mathematically! I mean it!

There's a legend that goes like this: When they asked President George Washington how long should a man's legs be, he responded "as long as necessary to touch the ground". Let's "parallel think" this for a minute. How many pixels should a camera have? Answer, as many as the resulting picture looks 'analog' smooth and not 'digital' and pixelized.

When you look at a picture you shot on a VGA monitor, because, poor you, that's all you've got, an old fashioned VGA tube, then the number of pixels you'd need to fill-up that screen is a mere 640x480, that is 307K pixels, or 0.3MP. The picture would still look cool at that resolution on your VGA screen.

If you decided to print the same VGA 640x480 picture on paper though, then you could only get acceptable viewing quality for prints no larger than 3x4 inches... which is still ok for passport shots but not too brilliant to expose in a family album... In other words, even a VGA 0.3 MP camera could still fit some purpose (VGA slideshows and small prints). If all you wanna do is just this, why should you waste more dough in higher megapixel gear, at all?

So, first question to ask yourself is: What do I wanna do with my shots? I'll tell you what most people like you actually do: Either show-off them pictures on a brand new full HDTV they just brought home, or print them into some "normal" paperprints. This is the most usual practice millions of people worldwide normally do with pictures taken with most common digital cameras, right? Well, let's look at what you'd need for those two purposes:

For HDTV: you need to "populate" 1920x1080 available pixels that's give-'n-take 2 megapixels. In other words, an old 3G (current type) iPhone will give you enough pixels to fill that space but, maybe, in the wrong aspect ratio (1600x1200). Pity! You'll be able to fill the height of your monitor just fine but not the width. Anyway, it's still ok. The 3Gs will eventually have one more megapixel (3MP in total announced), enough to fill the entire HDTV space and have some spare pixels for you to throw away. It's actually got a million pixels more than the HDTV needs to fill up. You may need to crop them shots in Photoshop though before you display them, to make sure your TV monitor is filled-up properly in the proper aspect ratio. Morale of the story: the new iPhone 3Gs is just fine to get you orgasmic after all, at the look of your brand new full def HDTV as it shows off your candid iPhone 3Gs snapshots, innit?

Lets examine normal paperprints now: Define a normal print first. That's a print that you can easily handle. Most universal practice for billions of people worldwide are the 4x6 inch paperprints (10x15 cm). If you went higher than that, you get to the next commonly used 5x7 inch (about 13x18 cm). Those ones are pretty big for normal people and their albums and less frequently used, for sure. Finally, if you like real big, you may go to a classic A4 format (210x297mm). But this format is huge for common use purposes. I got a few of those in my boxes and, although they look nice, there are too big to handle. So, scrap them from the commonly used print formats. Too big, almost mini posters. Anything above this format qualifies as impractical and quite specific.

Next point. How many dots per inch must you have available in pixel density terms so that your prints coming out of your inkjet look as good as it gets? The magic answer is: Minimum 150, preferably 200. Professional graphic designers use about 240 for mainstream magazine prints (trust me, I know, my sibling earns his living in that trade and he mostly designs art magazines and stuff for musea, like Beaux Arts in Brussels, and art galleries... who would know better then, eh?). OK, let's do the math.

If you print a 4x6" print at 200 dots/inch you'd need shots at a 800x1200 pixels size (at least, that's what Photoshop sez...). That's exactly short of one million pixels, right? In other words, the classic iPhone 3G would give you quality 4x6 inch prints at 200 dots/inch hands down! And these are the iPhones we use today, not the new ones with the improved camera, right? In fact, a classic 3G iPhone's 2 MP camera would do just fine even for 6x8" prints ! ! ! (which is basically way bigger than the other common format of 5x7" that we discussed earlier).

In other words, the "lousy" 2 Mpx cameras available on today's 25 million+ iPhones out there are still good enough to cover 99.5% of the needs for snapshot prints of the common man. Even more so, the new 3GS would do much better and get to print quite well even on impossible A4 formats, and more. At 150 dots per inch print density, that's still not too bad for prints, they may even get closer to printing A3 posters...

(UPDATE: Take a look at the table above in detail - click on it for sharper view. It shows you the safe zones for good prints. The rows are in camera MPs and the columns are paperprint dimensions in inches. The colored cells show you the resulting print resolution in dots per inch. Anything cooler than green - blue to purple - is safe for prints. Green is for half blind and orange is for monkeys... The formula used is WxHxD2(squared). You square the print Density in dots per inch and multiply the result by Width times Height. This gives you the required camera pixels that you need to have to get a print at given dimensions and dot density... which result you then divide by a million rounded to get the needed camera MPs. Try this out, folks, for kicks. Apparently, the authors of this table thought that any print with density above 100 dots/inch is still cool. That's a bit of an overkill, I reckon. /UPDATE)

So, why are all those fake geeks, posting microblogs about 'not enough' MPs, are so full of shit? Are they so presumptuous and only need to print A2 posters of their marvels? I'll tell ya! It's because they simply carry half a brain in their scull and couldn't tell a good snapshot even if it hit 'em in the face, that's why, pardon my French!

But, still, why the fuss then about megapixel marathons going on, leading to messed-up perceptions among ignorant public and braindead geek look-alikes? Why do all manufacturers known to man boost new offerings with more and more MPs ? (for some amateur and prosumer models it's not uncommon to see 10 and 12 megapixels today. Simply ridiculous) IMHO manufacturers managed to lock themselves real good into that dead-end marketing trap. In the prehistoric times (last century) when digital cameras were only offering fractions of one megapixel, at best, and prints looked bad, small and jagged, everybody used to discount digital photography with the common anathema "see? it's gonna be long before digital prints get even close to the quality level of negative prints". Under those conditions new models kept on launching under the assumption that higher pixelcount is way better. Well, it was then, to an extent. As I said, it all depends on what you plan to do with your shots. If you wish to print monster prints on your living room wallpaper, or wanna print huge highway billboards, then fine... you need some serious shit in MP terms! But, for Joe the plumber? C'm on! 3 Mpx is more than what his wee tiny brain will ever be able to look at, let alone enjoy...

Lemme tell 'ya somethin' else, though. The capturing elements in digital cameras, that have all those megapixels (honeycomb) spread all over, have not substantially grown in terms of their total surface (say, square mm) over time, at least not at the same rate as their corresponding megapixels. What that means is that the available surface per megapixel, that wee tiny piece of light sensitive circuitry that captures photons to convert them into electric voltages proportional to the luminance for each of the three captured colors (sounds like techie shit, not?), tends to shrink, right? More pixels over a given constant surface of a capturing element means less available surface per pixel, right? C'm on, dude, you don't need a PhD to grasp that!

Ok, less capturing surface per pixel, right? Is that a problem? Yes, sir! It's a nightmare! The smaller the capturing surface of a pixel, the worse the noise to signal ratio and the messier the look of the resulting shots, especially under low light conditions, mostly experienced in the dynamic range of dark and shadow parts. Looks really ugly. To the point it gets tears in your eyes thinking about those 100 dollar bills you counted on the table to pay each and every one of those MP motherfuckers. And you cry, bitter tears visibly running down your face, how come my brand new 7 megapixel sweet gear shoots pictures that look like shit? You rather stayed with the old box, correct? Right on the money... Of course manufacturers tend to 'try to' solve some of these issues with software and keep on boasting about their famous image processing "engines", but the fact of the matter is, you'd be a certified moron if you went for anything above 3 to 5 megapixels in any simple point an' shoot digital camera for your daily snapshots.

Now, how many MPs should your iPhone have, then? Well, it's a bloody phone after all, init? I guess with 3 MP it'd do just fine! I've got the first Nikon D1 in my assembly of dedicated DSLRs with 2.7 megapixels (!!) and it shoots way better pictures on A4 prints than my latest 10.1 Megapixel Canon 40D with a 2.8 70-200 lens. Why is that? Surface per pixel and noise to signal ratio is your anwer! And some good glass, of course... Same thing when I compare my 2MP iPhone with my 5MP Nokia N95. iPhone wins hands down. Yeah, right, I got 3 million pixels more on the Nokia but when I blow them up in Photoshop to check quality, I feel suicidal...

QED. The 'geek' that complained about the 3 MPs of the upcoming iPhone 3Gs is a monumental moron with a Homer Simpson size brain. Who pretends that he knows this shit well. Retarded cretin.

Don't let them fool you folks. I really know this world. With 4 SLRs, 6 DSLRs, 30+ lenses, 5 point and shoots, and three to four phone cameras, not to forget a classic Hasselblad and a 4x5 inch Toyo field camera, in the last 30 years alone, I seen it all... yep... don't let 'em fool you, ever...

1 comment:

roland said...

I like the way you think and I have to agree about what you said..