Recently in an effort to try to uncover the truth about different image quality made by different Mobile Phone Cameras, I started to learn about camera’s different image sensor types and image sensor sizes. And the naked truth is that in the world of Digital Cameras, Sensor Size indeed matters.
So, what is actually an Image Sensor, how does it work, and why does size matter?
An Image Sensor in today’s Digital Camera (this includes the big DSLR, Digital Pocket Camera and your Mobile Phones Camera) is like what film was to the old 35mm Camera (remember those?!).
Known as a solid-state device, it’s a silicon chip of a certain size containing millions of photosensitive diodes called photosites (or sensels) that record light or photons, transforming them into an electric signal displaying color, tone, highlight, and shadow. A digital image file is created from this process, which stores the recorded light data as a set of numbers corresponding to the color and brightness of each pixel.
You can imagine from the description above that, just like film was an important part of analog photography, so is image sensor to the digital photography. In fact, without it we would’ve not had any photo at all. The image sensor is an intrinsic part of the photographic equipment.
And also just like the old film, the bigger it is the better quality of image we could get from the image sensor. Because with a larger sensor you can ‘catch’ more ‘light’ than a smaller one. This in turn would translate to more detail, better low light performance, much reduced noise and greater dynamic range.
In term of advancement in the sensor hardware itself, we have come a long way since the day of the first creation of CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) back in 1969. Today’s cameras normally use CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor) sensor. One of the biggest manufacture of these sensors are Sony, though many are not aware of its role. Sony is in fact a major player in the digital camera market. Apart from producing its own range of compact system camera, Sony also supply image sensor even to its competitors, which not only include digital cameras but also mobile phones.
One example of Sony’s advancement in the field of Image Sensor can be found in its own range of compact system camera. Let’s take the latest Sony NEX 5T. It’s considered as a compact camera (as opposed to the bigger DSLR), but it sports a 16.1 Mpx APS-C sensor inside its body. The size of this sensor is practically similar to the one that can be found in a traditional DSLR camera. This means that the NEX 5T will take a better quality picture compare to its peers (i.e. other compact cameras). Bigger image sensor means better image quality.
(Image Source: Sony Website)
The following Infographic was put together to show how size can matter when it comes to nature, humans, animals and technology.