Beginning of end of megapixel marathon

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Analysts have warned handset manufacturers that an ever increasing megapixel count could lead to a drop in picture quality on cameraphones.

Ovum analyst Adam Leach said: “It’s pretty much known in the industry that pixel count doesn’t mean quality.

“That said, consumers have seen an evolution in pixels at the same time as camera quality and capability have increased, so it’s easy for them to compare phones on the amount of pixels.

“The image quality from these phones is good and I can’t see the need to go any further; it wouldn’t make sense to continue this megapixel race.

“LG and Samsung like to be first, but the sensors in the cameras are so small, quality is going to start to deteriorate.”

Camera maker Kodak, which has recently been working with partners including Motorola to produce cameraphones, is wary of the megapixel race and believes there are better things to concentrate on.

“We’re going to give the consumer a cameraphone that’s as good or better than any device out there,” said Kodak Mobile general manager Brian Marks.

“For example, we’ve included a lot of algorithmic software to get the most out of a camera.

“Our research shows 80 per cent of pictures taken using phones are in low light. With megapixels, a higher number doesn’t necessarily mean better pictures.

“With a 5-megapixel camera, compared with an eight, the sensors are bigger so more light can be captured and better pictures can be produced in low light, despite a lower pixel count.

“But a large amount of pixels isn’t always a bad thing – if you don’t have an optical zoom, due to the real estate constraints of a phone, a high number is important for zooming.”

Although it may not make much of an impact on picture quality, megapixels have been recognised as the easiest way of persuading a customer a product is top-end.

According to Samsung, its i8510, the first 8-megapixel phone to market in Europe, is out-selling the company’s forecasts by a third.

The consensus appears to be as long as consumers associate megapixels with quality, manufacturers will continue to push that technology.

The megapixel has become a powerful marketing tool and is now one of the first specs quoted when a new phone is released.

Full article in Mobile News issue 423 (September 22, 2008)

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