Sensor size is what matters and the trend is for larger, says Aptina
Consumers need to think about sensor size rather than pixel count, says Aptina's Sandor Barna, because larger image sensors are likely to appear in all types of devices. Barna, the Vice President and General Manager of sensor maker Aptina's Consumer Camera Business Unit, spoke to us about the challenges facing compact cameras, the niche that will continue to exist for them, and hints that more large sensor compacts are on their way.
Understanding the effect of sensor size is important for customers, he explains: 'The analogy between film and optical format is pretty striking. In the film days, everyone was focused on the size of the film (35mm, 120, etc.) - grain vs. sensitivity (film speed) was a tradeoff decision you made each time you bought some film. In digital, optical format [sensor size] is analogous to film size - pixel count is like the minimum grain size, with a similar sensitivity trade-off. If we applied the old film logic to digital cameras, the optical format would be on the side of the box, not the number of megapixels.'
The image quality benefits brought by larger sensor sizes can help ensure there continues to be a market for compact cameras, he says (though he acknowledges the industry needs a better way of describing sensor size than the current obscure 'inch-type' naming system.)
|Aptina's Sandor Barna: 'I believe there's a market for a compact with noticeably better image quality.'|
Challenges for compacts
'Smartphones are getting better and your snapshot ability now matches your camera's,' he says. 'Then you think about the constant availability of smartphones and their ability to simply upload to Facebook and you see why compact cameras are declining.' And, he suggests, even the slight sensor size advantage that compacts currently have could soon disappear: 'Some of the less established smartphone makers will try to make a camera with a larger optical format [sensor size]. Mainstream [compact] cameras are susceptible to that because they offer no real advantage.'
But there's still a market for a dedicated camera device, he believes - even for people who don't consider themselves 'photographers.' 'Last time I went on vacation, I wasn't comfortable shooting with my phone, but a current compact wouldn't give me the results I wanted, either - I think there's still a market for people wanting to record planned events - weddings, vacations. I believe there's a market for a compact with noticeably better IQ and features like zoom that smartphones struggle to offer.'
'The places camera makers can differentiate are the areas that you can't introduce those compromises in a phone. Zoom is one of them - smartphone makers don't like the idea of adding this large, moveable, breakable part and their customers won't accept the thicker form factor,' he says: 'there are also system processing constraints in smartphones - the number of processor cycles that can be dedicated to the camera is restricted.'
'So you have to go into spaces that the smartphone can't go,' he says: 'and the main one is optical format [sensor size]'
'But,' he says, 'you have to keep the ease-of-use comparable to that of a smartphone camera - and that's a big challenge. DSLRs aren't for everybody and they're not always convenient. People want a smaller device with that automatic mode they can leave it in. And camera makers need to eliminate the painful process of uploading to a computer, then posting to your favorite website.'
|Some smartphone makers are already experimenting with larger sensors (the sensor in Nokia's Lumia 1020 is around 3.5x larger than the ones used in most smartphones)|
Go big, or go home
This pressure to offer higher image quality doesn't just affect compacts, he says: 'I think the trend is towards larger format - we've seen an increasing push towards full-frame in the DSLR market and I see everything pushing towards larger formats.' But that still leaves room for something between a smartphone and a DSLR, he says: 'As I said before - I think a 1" sensor represents such a big gap that I don't see that smartphones can go there.'
'For Aptina this trend represents an opportunity to expand - not just with 1" sensors but right up to APS-C,' he explains: 'We've had a lot of interest. In terms of 1", we've been working closely with our current customer base and have been having interest beyond the customer currently using them - we expect to see cameras announced at the beginning of next year.'
'Video is another market opportunity - look at the success GoPro has had,' he says: 'even if you're not using it for action, being able to take a 30 second video clip of your children is very powerful.' However, despite this enthusiasm for video, Barna is not convinced that higher-resolution video is what's going to push the market in the short-term: 'I don't think it'll be 4K yet because I don't think 4K is ready yet - until the point at which people have 4K televisions it'll be a special application. It's really useful for cropping at the moment. Once the monitors are common, you'll start to see it. Home distribution of 4K video will be the breakthrough though - Hollywood is already shooting in 4 - but for user-generated content, 1080 is probably all anyone needs in their pocketable device.'
Aptina designs and produces sensors for a range of products, from smartphones (for which it's just introduced the Clarity+ technology), to consumer cameras such as the Nikon 1 and action cameras, such as the GoPro.
|Fangorn Forest by cand1d|
|Yosemite Falls with Moonbow by Jonathan Shapiro|
from Best Landscape of the Week 4
Sony addresses a variety of bugs and stability issues with firmware updates for a range of E-mount lenses and an adapter.
Fujifilm has released firmware updates for its camera models X-T2, X-Pro2, GFX 50s, X-T20, X100F and X-T1 and updates to three of its software products.
A 22 year-old Romanian photographer uses his DJI Phantom 4 drone to capture unique perspectives of the city where he now lives.
What's it like to ride the waves with champion surfer Kelly Slater? This VR video from Teton Gravity Research gives you a taste.
DPReview editors Rishi Sanyal and Carey Rose hosted a Facebook Live discussion to share their impressions about the Sony a9 so far. Watch the video
When Nikon released the full-frame D3 in 2007, it changed the professional photography industry. In this week's Throwback Thursday, Barney remembers a legend. Read more
The new stuff should have better red hues, improved sensitivity and finer grain - but don't worry - will still shift blues to green, greens to purple and yellows to pink.
Ricoh has introduced a new rugged compact camera with a 16MP CMOS sensor, 28-140mm lens, 2.7" LCD and built-in LED macro lights. Read more
This compact drone can shoot HD video using a 2-axis stabilized 12MP camera. Read more
The new Prynt Pocket can print a photo directly from their iPhone simply by inserting the phone into the printer, then snapping a photo. Each print will cost about 50 cents. Read more
Updates for Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom CC bring support for the Sony A9 and Panasonic ZS70/TZ90, along with bug fixes.
The Triggertrap remote camera control system is no longer sold due to the company folding, but now users will be able to build their own. Read more
The Magic Format Converter comes with internal optics that expand the image circle of full-frame DSLR lenses for use on the Fuji medium format camera. Read more
The usually Apple-exclusive MacPhun software developer has announced that it will introduce PC versions of two of its most popular applications. Both Aurora HDR and Luminar should be available for the Windows operating system by the autumn of this year. Read more
Sony's newest G Master telephoto zoom, announced alongside the a9, is the first of the company's FE lenses to reach 400mm natively. We had one in California and photographed horses, portraits, and landscapes - check out how it did. Read more
Garmin has entered the 360-camera market with the VIRB, which captures 5.7K video at 30p as well as 15MP stills. Read more
German media reports that the founders of the company behind the Panono 360-degree ball camera have filed for bankruptcy at a court in Berlin. Read more
With a claimed 800 new custom parts, Microsoft's updated Surface Pro comes with the latest Kaby Lake processors, better battery life, a new hinge, plus the Surface Pen is updated as well. Read more
DW Photo is attempting to resurrect the Hy6 medium format camera, though the legal tangles of its development may stop it being branded Rolleiflex.
The Kodak EKTRA, the company's 'camera first' smartphone, is now available to purchase in the United States. Read more
Apple and Nokia have settled their years-old patent dispute. Apple will make an undisclosed payment to Nokia and sign a licensing agreement related to digital health products with the Finnish company.
David Gibson, one of Britain's best known street shooters, shares all.
Photographers from the SKYGLOW project travelled 150k miles and took 3 million photos in increasingly rare locations: those without light pollution.
The world's fastest 200mm was produced for 16 years. In that time, only 8000 were made.
Photokina, the biennial photo industry trade show in Cologne, Germany, has announced that it will become an annual event beginning in 2018, and expand its focus to additional areas of imaging technology. Read more
No mic socket? No problem. In this video, Daniel Peters at Photo Gear News shows you how to make a lapel microphone using just a smartphone and a pair of earbuds.
How does the iPhone 7 Plus stack up against the Arri Alexa cinema camera? Watch this short video to find out.
Canon Australia's video series "The Lab" is designed to make photographers experiment and think outside the box. In the latest video a group of photographers create images based on their sense of taste.
The GH5 is expected to get a firmware update this summer to support 400Mbps internal recording. NewsShooter explores what memory cards you'll need to make it work.
Microsoft's new Surface Pro offers Intel's latest processor generation and improved battery life.