Do bigger pixels mean less noise?

Started Jan 6, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Louis_Dobson
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Do bigger pixels mean less noise?
Jan 6, 2012

I made the assertion that they do (which I have always considered non controversial) in a recent thread, and promptly got jumped on by Lee Jay and the pseudonymous Great Bustard, but since I was making a broader point I declined to chase them down the rabbit hole...

Surely it works like this:

Noise is "false" data. The larger the pixel the more "true" data (light) it collects, and the less the noise.

Nikon certainly think that's right. The new D4 has a relatively mean 16MP pixel count, and Nikon are making a big deal over its 7.2 micron(?) pixel size that enables it to go to 208K ISO.

"cropped" sensor cameras, such as APS-C and MFT have smaller sensors, hence smaller pixels, and hence noise turns up earlier. But, of course, the whole system is much smaller. And MFT is even smaller than APS-C. Hence the straight trade off between all these systems: the bigger the system, the lower the light it will work in, and the less the chance you will want to carry it to wherever you are in the first place. People, like Big Ga, who shoot largely one off events in dimly lit British churches (weddings) need the biggest sensor they can get, people, like me, who shoot mainly Algarvian seascapes, want the smallest system capable of producing saleable images in reasonable light. Hence my preference for MFT, which, despite bonkers assertions to the contrary, produces output indistinguishable from a full frame camera unless you lean on the ISO.

But there is another way of looking at this.

If you have more, smaller, pixels, you have more resolution, and hence you can apply a noise reduction system that reduces resolution without losing enough detail to matter.

The upcoming Nikon D800 will not have D4's 16 MP, but 36MP(IIRC).

So, gentlemen, which will produce less noise for the same detail, once the electronics have done their work?

The relevance to MFT? I don't see any detail improvement on large prints after 10MP, so I look slightly askance at the ever increasing pixel count on a system with quite a small sensor. But I suppose if the result is to reduce noise, fair enough.

What's the GH3 pixel count going to be?
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Nikon D4 Nikon D800 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3
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