Pixel Rain: Why More is Not Always Better With Megapixels


In an article on TechHive about the new HTC One, HTC’s director of special projects Symon Whitehorn uses an analogy that we’ve never heard before. In a bid to explain why the 4 million ultrapixels on the HTC One’s sensor are better than 8 million regular pixels on the HTC One X’s, he likened pixels to buckets, and photons to rain.

The old analogy that the industry uses is called pixel rain, so you can imagine photons coming down as rain—with photon rain being collected in buckets with the buckets being the pixel. Now you could put a lot of little cups out and try to collect the same amount of rain and you wind up getting noise between the cups as opposed to it all falling into one big bucket.

Because each ultrapixel allegedly captures over 300 percent more light than a regular pixel, the HTC One is, if we follow the analogy, using much bigger buckets. The analogy can only go so far, but it’s a good way to explain to your friends why bigger, not more, is better where pixels are concerned.

HTC One debuts UltraPixel technology, but is the phone’s camera all it’s cracked up to be? [TechHive via John Nack on Adobe]

Image credits:Photo illustration based on Rain ot ocean beach by Broken Inaglory

  • Duke Shin

    …and people wonder why their compact’s puny sensors produce noisy messes in low light. Especially the ones with a fuckhueg megapixel count.

  • jchc

    Case in point, the Canon 5D is the greatest still camera I’ve used and should return to production with an upgraded sensor…new sensor but same amount of MP (12) would be killer.

  • Allen Arrick

    I believe there’s an equilibrium point. I mean, you can’t have 1 pixel, so there’s obviously some “ideal” pixel density ratio that provides the best image resolution with the lowest noise. I believe it’s somewhere between 8 and 12 megapixels on a APS-C sensor, and 12-16 on a full frame.

  • kodiak xyza

    seriously? this analogy has never being used?
    I am not sure if this was snark…
    hopefully, no attribution to Mr. Whitehorn as being first to that simple analogy,

    which has been around for quite a while now.

  • Chris Popely

    Long live the D3S, eh?

  • Alberto Erdozain

    What a joy if the industry would hear ya´ mate; I would consider also a “new-old” Nikon D3/D700.

  • Mike

    Sure, your ultrapickles may be claimed as better than 8MP on other devices.
    But why are your ultrapickles ON PAR with my 3.2MP DiMGE Z10, of almost 10 years ago?!

  • chubbs

    This is ridiculous. There are so many arguments and counter arguments to this megapixels debate that I don’t bloody care anymore. I’d rather just know my camera and deal with its strengths and weaknesses. Not spend my time deciphering this marketing BS.

  • A_Lwin

    I agree, the Nikon D800 is a good example of why more/less pixel argument is outdated. Before it came out many people were complaining about the 36MP, afterwards a lot of people are embracing it.

  • slvrscoobie

    maybe even a slightly higher count (18?) but with better lenlets and noise suppression of todays cameras. ISO 256,000 would be nearly noiseless! I was hoping for more of this out of the 1DX but it kinda missed the mark.

  • 9inchnail

    The analogy is kind of wrong. Yes, if you try to capture water with little cups, you will have noise (drops) between them because cups are round, Pixels are square so there are no spaces between them. If you had square cups and would cover the floor with them, you’d capture every drop.

  • hfc

    1) Pixels are anything but square
    2) Even ideally square pixels have issues with light loss when you consider the fact that light needs to pass through multiple lenses (and microlenses) before hitting the photosensor.

  • Renato Murakami

    Truth of the matter is: You just can’t summarize the quality of images coming out of a camera to something like pixel density, pixel count, light capturing capability of sensor or whatever. It doesn’t matter if the sensor captures 300 per cent more light if it does crap processing on it. It doesn’t matter if your camera has a huge sensor if you can’t control it. Even small stuff like color calibration could render your top tech camera to crap. A crappy software on top of quality gear can make your photos look worse than some crap sensor that has some nice noise reduction in it (to a certain point of course).
    And then, it’s all about what type of photography the user gets to. In some cases, the sensor could take 1000+ times more light, it wouldn’t matter if some other camera has a better stabilization system – a blurred pic could always be worse than a non-blurred one, even if it had less resolution.
    I stopped paying attention to all the marketing bulshit and all the attempts of summarizing the unsummarizable. Let’s see what really matters: Image comparisons.
    The way I know my current cellphone (can’t really call it smart) cam is better for me than others is from results. I’ve seen how it fares out against other smartphones in similar situations.
    If we’re evaluating gear, it’s the sum of several factors that will really make it better than others – and this is specially true to smartphone cams since a good part of it will be automated and out of the user’s control.

  • Greg Planchuelo

    I would just love to have a Full Frame camera with 12-15mpx. Fantastic pixel size, more than enough resolution… ahh…

  • kodiak xyza

    in the parlance of the “seminal” comparison given:
    « it also matters how clean your bucket is,
    so that you can see how clean your rain is*. »

    while it is nice to describe the issue with simple concepts,
    there is also the gains in low-noise amplifier and other aspects of pixels.
    just like other things, size is not everything.

    *I am hoping to trademark that.

  • Cs

    There is the 1D series for you mate… Just what you described above.

  • Samuel

    To continue the weird rain analogy doesn’t the lens function as a funnel to get the rain into aforementioned small cups?

    Also this is a really really stupid question but i figure someone here will be able to tell me why we can’t do away with pixels and just have one 35mm pixel that captures it all ?

  • Huxley

    That analogy Is wrong. The more buckets you have in a given area, the smaller they will have to be, thereby minimizing the space between the round buckets, and collecting more rain. This gives you a better calculation on the total rain in that given area.

    So they make it sound like 1 bucket covers the entire area of interest best; if not one, then you want as many as possible…