I think these two photos illustrate the difference in digital camera sensors over the years. The first photo is from the Nikon D70. The second is from the Fuji X-E3. The D70 was released in 2004 and the X-E3 in 2017, and a lot of development in sensors and processing has happened in that time.
Not to repeat it too many times, but the sensor on the D70 is CCD, and the sensor on the X-E3 is CMOS. Read one of my earlier posts for the differences.
Of course there are many variables in the quality of light and subject matter. The light was very contrasty in the scene among the trees, and some of the highlights are blown out. But for all that, I think the ‘look’ is different. To my eye, the D70 looks like a more ‘toy-like’ version of reality.
It’s not the lenses. The lens on the Fuji is the 27mm f2.8 and the lens on the Nikon is the 35mm f1.8G. Both are good lenses.
The Nikon D70 is a 6 megapixel camera whereas the Fuji has a 24 megapixel sensor.
A ‘megapixel’ is one million pixels. And the sensor on a 24 megapixel camera has 24 million micro-lenses pasted onto a piece of silicon, delivering information to be represented as pixels in a digital image.
If it is the first time you are reading about information such as ’24 million micro-lenses’ then invite you to let that sink in, Look at the green rectangle in the image below. It represents the sensor size on a Fuji X-E3 camera or any camera in DX format.
It is shown here bigger than life size. For the correct size, imagine it was a piece of silicon two thirds the size of a frame of 35mm film. Soldered onto that sensor there are 24 million micro-lenses.
I used to have a Nikon D700, a 12 megapixel camera. But it was a full-frame camera, and the individual photo sites were bigger. The blue line here represents full-frame (FX). And, as I said, the green line represents the smaller format (DX).
The look of the second photo from the X-E3 is reminiscent of the look of the Nikon D700. This photo that I took in May 2010 might show what I mean. More to the point, the D700 has a CMOS sensor. So I don’t know where that takes us in the CCD versus CMOS debate and that supposedly more appealing look of CCD sensors. Hmmmn….
A Raging Debate
Some years ago there was a raging debate in the photographic world about smaller sensors and more pixels versus bigger sensors with a smaller number of bigger pixels.
Everyone (almost everyone) thought that bigger sensors automatically meant better images. And the argument has merit. Put fewer micro-lenses on a bigger piece of silicon and you can set a flatter angle or rake at which the micro-lenses catch the light.
But the evidence from cameras with smaller chips and more megapixels showed that if you stick more megapixels in there, the image looks better. The eye likes more detail, even at the apparent expense of less perfectly acquired detail.