Thursday, November 13, 2008

Megapixels Don't Matter. We Get It. Let's Move On.

Cute headline on Russ Juskalian's Circuits story today -- "Pixels Are Like Cupcakes. Let Me Explain." -- but how many more times does the Times plan to tell us that megapixels don't matter when buying a camera?

Hard to figure out when it first surfaced, but beginning around three years ago, Times technology columnist David Pogue started muttering that megapixels shouldn't be the deciding factor when it comes to buying a camera. The mutters grew into a groundswell -- and by 2007, it had evolved into a rant. As of today, it qualifies as a Times obsession.

Pogue's recent columns contradicted his own earlier stated view. On November 23, 2003, in a column headlined "More Megapixels for the Money," Pogue reviewed the latest cameras according to their megapixels as though that were the official standard of quality.

But on February 24, 2005, Pogue changed his position somewhat. In a "State of the Art" column called "Megapixel Race at Milestone 8," Pogue raised this pertinent question:

On life's final exam, the section intended to gauge your maturity and wisdom will probably look like this. "Mark each statement true or false: More money always makes you happier. A larger strawberry always tastes better. More megahertz always means a faster computer."

Too easy? All right, then, answer this: Why are so many people convinced that more megapixels means a better digital camera?

That column began a debunking process that has reached epic levels. (Please note that The Nytpicker can't tell a megapixel from a gigahertz, and will not be passing judgment on Pogue's position.)

On November 21, 2006, in a pre-Christmas-shopping post called "The Truth About Digital Cameras," Pogue ran a blind test to see whether the average consumer could tell the difference between pictures taken with cameras that had different amounts of megapixels. Here's his report on the result:

I’m telling you, there was NO DIFFERENCE.

This post is going to get a lot of people riled up, I know, because in THEORY, you should be able to see a difference. But you can’t.

On Febuary 8, 2007, Pogue wrote the definitive megapixel takedown, "Breaking The Myth of Megapixels," which categorically called camera makers dishonest for even mentioning megapixels:

It’s a big fat lie. The camera companies and camera stores all know it, but they continue to exploit our misunderstanding. Advertisements declare a camera’s megapixel rating as though it’s a letter grade, implying that a 7-megapixel model is necessarily better than a 5-megapixel model.

But even after that megapixel obituary, Pogue couldn't let it go. As recently as last month, in a post called "Tech Tips for the Basic Computer User," Pogue slipped in yet another megapixel reference, even though it didn't even relate to the topic of computers:

The number of megapixels does not determine a camera’s picture quality; that’s a marketing myth. The sensor size is far more important. (Use Google to find it. For example, search for “sensor size Nikon D90.”)

The mention of sensors surfaced again in Juskalian's "cupcakes" explainer piece this morning. Like Pogue, he argues in their favor. And, like Pogue, he does almost nothing to explain sensors except to say that bigger is better. How do we measure sensor size? Inches? Millimeters? What's an optimum sensor size? And what happens next year when all the cameras change, anyway?

We all love David Pogue. He's a master debunker of bogus technology, and passionate booster of progress. But if he wants us to forever forget about megapixels and move on to sensors as our means of measurement, he's got some explaining to do. "Use Google" just won't cut it, Dave.

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