Start Saying Goodbye to 20/24mp

It happened within a minute of Apple's iPhone 14 streaming event ending: the emails started coming in with some variant of the line "why do I need a lower end ILC any more? I'll just get an iPhone 14."

Okay, a clarification: they mean iPhone 14 Pro. That's the model with the new 48mp main camera (24mm f/1.78 lens equivalent), including sensor-wide focus pixels and a second generation of Apple's OIS. Apple's also claiming a quartet of prime lenses in the iPhone 14 Pro: 13mm f/2.2, 24mm f/1.78, 48mm f/1.78, and 77mm f/2.8 equivalent, all optically stabilized. Heck the iPhone even has a zoomable flash now. 

Updated Of course those pixels are 1.22 microns. The Apple iPhone 14 sensor (and most other high megapixel smartphone sensors) is what is known as Quad Bayer, which means that instead of RGRG and GBGB, the pixel arrangement is instead RRGG and GGBB. What this does is provide less color crosstalk at the small photosite sizes while still imparting some additional detail when a proper demosaic is used. But essentially you can also think of it as a binned 2.44 microns and 12mp+ worth of data.

By comparison, a Z9's 45mp image sensor is 4.33 microns. Before you start trying to do math and hurt yourself, let me do it for you: ~6 square microns for each color's capture area (iPhone) versus 18.7 square microns for each photosite capture area (Z9). The bottom line is that the ~3:1 difference that many will begin spreading disinformation about isn't exactly correct, as you can't directly compared Quad Bayer with Bayer. 

The high end interchangeable cameras (ILC) probably don't have a lot to worry about. With an iPhone 14 Pro you're collecting about 1/13th the photons per photosite as a Z9 with the 24mm f/1.8 lens. Those pesky random photons have been the bane of our digital photography existence since the late 1980's. If we want anything in our cameras, it's not more pixels, it's more photons. 

Still, 48mp at 24mm f/1.78 stabilized used in Apple ProRAW mode will probably look pretty good in a lot of situations with the right post processing, particularly with Apple's Deep Fusion image algorithms working behind the scenes.

So as a walk-around camera the pocketable 7.27 to 8.47 ounce (206 to 240g) iPhone 14 Pro has a lot going for it. Personally, I like the decision to widen the lens to 24mm, too. The old 26/28mm optics were just a little tight for me, and the wider angle camera on the iPhones to date has proven to be a little more limiting in quality. 

48mp in your shirt pocket, even with small photosites, definitely makes for some reasonable expectations in terms of imagery. Binned to 12mp, we're talking about about 6 square microns, which should provide a solid 4K-sized image with reasonably low noise levels. 

Meanwhile, while Apple was pulling the iPhone 14 Pro out of their sleeve with all the excitement of a bored magician, you might have noticed some other things going on in the camera market. Hasselblad went to 100mp. Fujifilm is launching 40mp APS-C this week. We already have 40mp+ ILC from Canon, Leica, Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony, and in many cases, multiples. 

As I've been trying to explain in my "what X needs" articles over on, I don't expect Nikon to be going down in pixel count. Just the opposite. The Z6 III needs to go up to 33mp, and any Z8 needs to go well beyond 45mp. 

We have sort of a marketing war going on because of the tyranny of numbers, and 20/24mp is starting to look weak.

Apple now says 48. Samsung says 50 or 108.

While the camera buyer knows that we still have a photon-collection advantage (among other things), I'm encountering more and more that are thinking that a smartphone 48mp+ is closer to the 24mp cameras than it really is. That's partly because they didn't fully understand how much difference there might have been in the first place. You know: ILC started at 2.4mp and slowly worked up through 12mp where they became really good, so maybe phones are doing the same thing, right?

Maybe. Depends upon how you look at it, I suppose, and what your output expectations might be. Which for a lot of people is more murky water to wade through. 

So what ends up happening is that that 48mp number starts to sound pretty darned good to people. It's even probably good enough to me for some more casual work. And as that locks into people's brains, suddenly the math of comparing to 24 doesn't work for them any more. Which means it becomes more difficult for the camera makers to sell 24mp cameras, particularly crop sensor ones that are less expensive. 

I stated it first back in 2007: the coming erosion of the market by smartphones was going to narrow and narrow and narrow the opportunities for the camera makers. That's happened only a wee bit faster than I anticipated, but it's ongoing and relentless. 

Which is why I say that a Z8 has to be 67mp+. Why the top pro ILC models have to be 45mp (8K) or higher. Why the Sony A7 had to move up to 33mp and the Nikon Z6 and Panasonic S5 will have to, as well. 


Bonus: If you want to see how to turn a liability into an asset, take a close look at Apple's insanely brilliant Dynamic Island. Whoever came up with that little UX touch needs a promotion, stat. Instead of trying to hide the front camera notch, Apple has come up with a way to use the small blacked out portion of the screen to direct attention to notifications and background tasks. If any camera maker understood how to pull off such a trick in our viewfinders, it'd have the YouTube influencers gushing in ways they've never gushed before. 

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