Sensor Size Doesn’t Matter


Top Veteran
Dec 27, 2010
Kiev, Ukraine
There're situations when even Micro 4/3 camera is too much or simply inappropriate. For example, if I'm heading to a beach, I will take my Samsung WP10 because it's small and protected from elements. If I'm going to a theater or a restaurant with my wife, I will look like a dork waving around my Panasonic G2 and an assortment of lenses. This list is very long, that's why we need many cameras - and each serves its own special purpose.


Hall of Famer
Jul 3, 2010
Dan, you make some interesting points here, and it's pretty clear to me that you're giving a perspective based on how small sensor cameras your his own needs as opposed to how they should fit everyone's needs.

It's interesting to look at how far small sensors have come, and I'd be willing to bet that more R&D dollars are going into improving small sensor technology than are going into improving large sensor technology.

It seems to me that there is plenty of life left for serious compacts of all sensor sizes.

Steve Noel

Oct 5, 2010
Casey County, KY
I'm barely able to own one good camera and after over 50 years of trial and error, I use an e-p1 and won't settle for any less iq, as long as I can help it. Small is great as long as I don't have to give up iq. I don't any sensor smaller than m43 will meet my personal standard.


I wish I wish

Conventional wisdom says that the larger the pixel sensor element size, the cleaner and more noise free the image will be. Therefore, there has been a trend over the last few years to increase the sensor size.

Well sometimes bigger CCDs are worse. Pixel Pitch make a big difference. I would love to have a compact that took really clean files.But I haven't found one yet. I'm not expecting miracles I just something better than my 6 year old Nikon D70.. I'm still waiting but hopeful.


Jul 24, 2010
Postscript: An interesting set of questions for soundimageplus and all the readers is what's your most used compact camera, what's the sensor size, are you happy with the image quality and do you think it's worth the extra price and bulk for a 4/3 or APS-C sensor could offer?

Small sensors are improving faster than larger sensors. They're already good, as good as my beloved 135 film in most situations. Tomorrow they'll be better still.
I'm not sure about that. The GRDIII has been in the market for about +2 years and its sensor performance/imaging processing is still up there with the newest, including LX5 or Oly XZ-1. I'm rather of the impression that small sensor technology plateaued about 2 years ago and don't see improvement there. However, when you compare mft or ft, G1 to GH2 and Oly E3 to Oly E5 respectively, the progress is evident. And probably even more so when looking at aps-c sensors, the new Sony one which is used in their alpha 580, the Pentax K5 and the Nikon 7000 outperforms earlier generation aps-c sensors by quite an impressive margin.


New Member
May 10, 2011
From a physics point of view, there is no reason why we cannot have a pocketable camera with an APS-C sensor. One of the classic 35mm film cameras of the 90s was the Olympus Stylus, which had an excellent fixed focal length lens, very fast auto focus, and fit in a medium-sized pocket.

The limiting factor currently is that today's sensors cannot handle light at sharp angles; they require light to be travelling near perpendicular to the sensor. Film, on the other hand, is almost two-dimensional and can handle the angles of light that putting a lens in front of a full-frame "sensor" in a compact camera will create.

As sensor technology improves, we'll larger sensors in smaller cameras.


I don't believe that the cost of APS-C compacts needs to be high. I believe most of the cost is artificially inflated. You can get entry level apsc dslrs for under $500. Nex 3 at newegg is $500. m43 at $400 or even less.

Compare for $400-$500 for 1/1.7-1/1.63 sensor compacts. Granted, the nex3 isn't as compact, but that's a given with a sensor that large.

So - is cost justified going from large sensor compact to aps-c?
Sure it is - I can only agree it's not if you restrict yourself so sigmas, leica and fuji's. None of which i'd call "super compact".


New Member
May 5, 2011
I've been using a Canon G9 for a few years,as my only "big" camera, with probably about 2k pieces of fine art documented. I've sold off all of my DSLR and SLR equipment, except for a few pieces of flash gear that will work with the G9. At base ISO, on a tripod, nobody could tell from a top of the line Nikon or Canon, or as the Luminous Landscape pointed out with the G10,from a Phase 1 MF digital back. As to the camera's limitations for action shooting, etc., I work the camera, not let it work me, the same I did with film; you work within the limitations of the medium. As to detail, I, coming from a painters view, don't want everything in detail; this is a 2D image, a replication of reality; it only needs to capture the mood and feel, not every detail, not every blade of grass. It's also one of the reasons I'm not carrying a camera with me much; I have my 3Gs iPhone, only 3.2 MP, but I really like some of the stuff it has captured, and it is usually attached to me. As to large vs small sensor, don't denigrate either choice,; I think they are both very valid; I've just chosen to get off the merry-go-round, stop the kool-aid, and work with the equipment I like. (My favorite camera for quite a few years, a meterless Pentax Hv1, because it was so small, but that was when I spent time in wet darkrooms, pheww.) Any way, I like small, and am willing to accept the compromises inherant in that decision, but I don't print large, so the image quality is great for what I do.


Jul 16, 2010
Dan, an interesting point of view, I agree with it entirely. In fact, if we focus more on the image and less on the camera (or technical specs for that matter), small sensor (pocket-able) compacts become fantastic picture making tools!


Jul 10, 2010
Huntsville, AL
I've bit my tongue on many an argument over at mu-43 where members like to justify their choice of a smaller camera by dumping on larger SLRs, so it's quite funny to hear the m4/3 cameras referred to as large and bulky, LOL.
When I see this, it really depends on why the individual had the dSLR in the first place. I never owned a dSLR. Played with many in the store, and didn't find them very intuitive to begin with. Live View was where I wanted to stay. I think if I did have a dSLR setup and really wanted to invest into mFT, I'd be fleabaying equipment too.


My recent experiences agree with this

I recently bough an Olympus XZ-1 after years of using Nikon DSLRs exclusively.
Even though the Oly has a small sensor, the output is spectacular.

An advantage of the XZ-1 is that it has a 28-112mm equivalent lens with a max aperture of f/1.8-2.5!
Nikon doesn't make a zoom lens that fast!

So yes, you give something up with compacts, but you also gain a lot.


Twitter: <a href="!/ZDP189">@Z
Apr 18, 2011
When I see this, it really depends on why the individual had the dSLR in the first place. I never owned a dSLR. Played with many in the store, and didn't find them very intuitive to begin with. Live View was where I wanted to stay. I think if I did have a dSLR setup and really wanted to invest into mFT, I'd be fleabaying equipment too.
Today I've been playing with a Fujifilm Finepix F11. If I had known about that, maybe I'd not have switched to DSLRs. The EOS 400D was a major step up from my IXUS 65, but I think the F11 was closer to the 400D than the IXUS.

Gian Franco Costa

New Member
Jul 14, 2011
Panasonic M4/3 compared to Sony R1

Hi, stumbled upon this post and saw that you have a Panasonic G2 and a Sony R1. Im a Sony R1 user(use it for all my photo work) and am looking into getting a Panasonic M4/3 so I'm interested in your opinion/expirience if you could answer a couple of doubts I have. Is there a notorious difference at mid to high ISO between the R1 and the G2, say ISO 400 to 1600 to justify as a upgrade? Is the image quality/file better on these ISO on the G2? (asuming a quality lens on the G2)

As general info Im probably getting a Panasonic G (still deciding between G2/GH1/GH2, stills photo qualility priority and AF speed) with the 20mm f1.7 at first, any suggestion is apreciated. Also I usually shot JPG with the R1, some settings lowered (sharpening) for procesing on LR3.


Jul 7, 2010
betwixt and between
Welcome to Serious Compacts, Gian Franco Costa!

As this is an older thread, I've lost track of who it is that has both the G2 and the Sony R1, but if you don't get some helpful answers here, I'd like to suggest that you post again either in the Micro Four Thirds forum, or in the Open Gear forum. You're certainly welcome to create a new thread asking for information comparing these two cameras.

Glad to have you here.:)


Top Veteran
May 11, 2011
Seattle, Washington USA
Bruce J. Pritchard
I have a NEX5 w/kit lenses and Nikon lens adaptor, Fuji X100, have gotten some spectacular pics from them but it's hit or miss. Pulled out an almost decade old Nikon D70s yesterday and realized that the 6MP sensor dinosaur takes better, more consistent pictures period. How can I get my "state of the art" line up to instill the same confidence I get with the Nikon? I guess a good camera is still a good camera years later!
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I guess a good camera is still a good camera years later! [/QUOTE

True. I have just compared some Prom shots from 5 years ago with my Nikon D70s and recently with a GF1 which has twice the megapixels. The shots taken on the D70s were a little sharper with better bokeh, noise was slightly worse with the D70s though at ISO 1000.

I have Micro 4/3rds because of portability and good quality. I don't expect it to beat bigger sensor cameras. Don't forget though that Lens quality is as important as megapixels and sensor size.
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Nov 10, 2010
Los Angeles
I wonder if having too many pixels leads us to subjectively rate image quality as worse, compared to lower MP cameras from the past.

I sometimes have the same feeling thinking about my old Canon D30 (not 30D) and original Canon Digital Rebel photos- I feel like I got a lot of beautiful tack sharp images with better hit rate. The D30 in particular was only 3MP, but did great 8 x 10's (strictly non-professional). You'd think with a 12MP modern camera you could use those extra MP to crop, but unless you have some amazing glass and perfectly nailed focus, cropping a 12MP image to 3MP would generally yield an inferior image.
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Aug 13, 2011
Northern NH, USA
I think sensor size is less important than people think it is. Yes, you get increased tonal range, but that is one of the few benefits.

Any good compact with a 1/1.17 sensor will be able to take photos of approximately the same quality at web/screen resolution. One of the, if not the biggest increase I see with bigger sensors is better noise control at higher ISO. To compare, a samsung TL500 is rated at $450 new (can be had for <$300), a Nikon d3100 is rated at ~$800 new, but can be had for ~$625. The samsung keeps noise well controlled up to iso 800, and images are usable at iso 1600. At iso 3200 (the maximum) images are generally considered unusable. Meanwhile, the d3100 can take excellent pictures with minimal noise up to iso 6400. If you compare images at say, iso 400 of the same subject at the same time in natural light, you will see roughly equal quality, with maybe a little bit of clipping on blacks and whites in the TL500 from the sensor. However, for the masses the tl500 will take an equal picture to the d3100. Of course I'm asuming the d3100 is using a kit lens (18-55mm) and the samsung has its amazing 24-72mm f/1.8 lens. To put that into perspective, assuming each lens was bought for a dSLR, the nikon comes with a ~$200 lens, where the samsung's would cost in the vicinity of $4000. Now you're thinking, that's absurd! lenses are not that expensive for this kind of thing! Well, they kind of are. You see, a 24-72mm f/1.8-f/2.4 lens doesn't exist at dSLR size, mainly because to hit a reasonable pricepoint with that low of an aperture is not possible. The closest thing I could find is a Canon 15-85mm f/3.5. Now, 15-85 is a much greater range, so deduct some points there, but f/3.5. Reaching into f/2.4 territory would cost you about $2,200 for a telephoto lens like this. Apertures as low as f/1.8 is only done in prime lenses, although it's usually f/1.4. Perhaps it's more fair to look at this nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, which is $1800.

In short, reaching down into f/1 range with telephoto is insanely expensive, mainly because keeping lenses sharp at that low an aperture with telephoto capabilities is neigh on impossible.

tl;dr it's complicated, but a fantastic lens can make your sensor size matter a bit less.

disclaimer: I own none of the equipment used here, and I should really have used B&H or some other specialist, but linking to amazon is just very easy to do for me.
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Top Veteran
Jul 11, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
I have a lot of cameras, with many sensor sizes and types. While I really like the images produced by the Ricoh GRD III, the GXR 28mm module produces images that are much more 'rich' in colour and look, even though the resolution is not so different. Pixel size is the likely culprit. And strangely, the Sigma DP1 produces files that are just as rich, perhaps even moreso, than the GXR 28mm module.

Most small sensor images look 'flat' to me, especially when compared with large sensor images of similar resolution. I want as much dynamic range as I can get out of an image, as I like the increased sense of richness that this brings. Not that fond of noise or blown highlights, either. Under the right conditions a small sensor camera like the Canon G10 or Ricoh GRD III can produce images that are very close to those from a DSLR. But outside of those conditions, the difference becomes much greater.

Small sensor cameras obviously trump current large sensor cameras for size and convenience. A Canon S95 will go in a pocket where even a Pana GF3 won't, and offers a much bigger focal length range. For ages I carried a Canon 30D, but started to use a Canon G10 more simply because it was smaller, gave me wide angle shooting, and was almost as good as the 30D at base ISO in good light. But I also often paired that with the Sigma DP1, as the Foveon sensor was better than the Canon's in a variety of ways. I always come back to large sensor cameras, but use small sensor cameras when I want or need to.
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