Addendum 2012-12-23

Generally, the smaller sensors found in compact cameras will produce images that are more than acceptable for casual photographers.

However, the more serious photographers who pay more attention to details and want even higher quality in a picture will be better off with a camera with a larger sensor.
~Easy Basic Photography

I’m still going through my Grand Canyon photos. This one, I really like. On the screen, it looks magnificent. However, it is teaching me a few lessons about sensor size, details, maximum printing sizes, etc.

Anytime that a camera comes out there comes with it the inevitable technical discussions, mainly about sensors. One of the few things that I rarely hear about is the quality of the end result, the print … if that is where you are going.

Of late, I’ve been reading so many articles about sensor size, pixel size, etc, that my eyes are getting crossed, but I’m learning a lot and much dawning of understanding is starting to happen. My story here is not scientific, merely allegorical. The link to one of the better, more understandable articles is provided in the above quote.

I’ve been trying to print the above photo off and on today. At first, I discovered that I had a clogged print head. After I got that squared away, printing began in earnest. I started out small. I printed 6 x 9, or 152mm x 229 mm, for my metric friends … this will be important later as there is a tiny bit of math involved here. I printed it both on matte paper as well as luster. Both came out decently, with the luster having a slight edge because of the higher contrast and deeper blacks.

After I got that the way that I wanted it on matte paper, I decided to print a 12 x 18 of the same print. Wow! What a disappointment that was. It was rather muddy looking and, in some areas, pixelated, basically beyond the point of resolution that the camera had to offer. As you know, manufacturers are always talking about pixels. Well, the Nikon P510 has 16 MP, or about 16 million super-duper tiny pixels crammed onto that tiny piece of real estate of 25 square mm, each not very capable of gathering light or detail.

So, here’s the math of the enlargement.

P510 sensor size 1/2.3 inches, or 5.76 x 4.29 mm, very, very tiny. Just 2/10 of an inch on the LONG side! Here’s what I asked of it: Take your 25 mm square (5.76 x 4.29 = 24.71 mm^2) and become as 12 x 18 print! (305 mm x 457 mm = 139,355 mm^2). Well, that’s asking it to grow by 5,575 times! Not gonna happen, regardless of the number of pixels that it has in it. Just not gonna happen! A more reasonable growth that it can seem to handle is 1,393 to get to 6 x 9 or 152 mm x 229 mm. I’m not sure where the top is, but I think that you MIGHT be able to go to 8 x 10, but I don’t know.

Of great interest, to me, was to find out that the sensor in the P510 is smaller than that of the Kodak Disc camera, which was 11 mm x 8 mm – As a matter of fact, about 1/3 the size!!! I remember how crappy the enlargements were for that one! And the 4/3 system sensors are the same size as 110 film, 17 x 13 mm. Seems like we haven’t really moved on. LOL

So, naturally, I am a little bit disappointed that I won’t be able to print larger sizes of my Grand Canyon photos, but it has taught me a good lesson. If I plan to go somewhere very picturesque … and plan to, or would like to make big enlargements, I need to take my D300 with me. It’s a tad lighter and smaller than the D700, but delivers the goods. If it’s going to be very casual and for web only, the P510 will work just fine.

Funny, I remember these same dilemmas from back in the day between 110, 35 mm, medium format, and view cameras! The image is a scale version of sensor size to print size!

Sensor size and printing - A retraction of sorts