Episode 175: Enough with the Pixels and Pixel Dumping

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Enough with the Pixels

So this week I got my copy of the new B&H catalog and on the rear cover is an ad for Canon’s new Cinema camera that is capable of 4.5K video. Every time I see this kind of stuff I think to myself, enough with the fake perceived new pixel resolution. The thing that irritates me the most is consumers being suckered into buying these products.

Why am I so annoyed, well because unless you read the articles about it over the last couple of years, most neuroscientists agree that these resolutions are undetectable by the human eye.

“There’s going to be some density beyond which you can’t do any better because of the limits of your eye,” said Don Hood, a professor of ophthalmology at Columbia University, in a phone interview with NBC News.

“A person’s field of vision covers about 200 degrees, a little more than a semicircle. At arm’s length their index finger’s fingernail will appear to be about the width of one of those degrees. Imagine that fingernail covered in 120 alternating black and white stripes — being able to discern those stripes at that distance is just about the theoretical limit of the human eye.”

In reality, though, hardly anyone has such superb vision. In fact, most people would be unable to discern pixels or lines twice that size. And whether a phone or tablet display meets that standard depends on how far it it is from the viewer. In a living room, a viewer’s 40- to 60-inch TV is positioned at a fixed distance, probably seven to nine feet away. Unless pixel-hungry TV fans buy a far larger set, or push their couches much closer, any increases in resolution simply won’t be perceived.

Most experts agree that 3D was a more meaningful invention than 4K because at least 3D can be seen by the human eye. 

So if piling on more pixels isn’t the next big thing — despite what TV makers and retailers will try to tell shoppers over and over again — what is? Experts said there are plenty of ways displays could improve.

Neuroscientists point to newly developed “quantum dot” technology for displays that is already leading to far better color representation on some devices. Advancements in dynamic range, leading to displays capable of showing light and shadow in movies and games the way we see them in real life.

When you’re in a scene where there’s indoor stuff, outdoor stuff, glossy materials reflecting other lights … that dynamic range is huge,. Consumer-grade displays don’t get that stuff right.

Some of the great masters, the painters, they knew things about light and shadow. They kind of knew instinctively how the retina works. In other words, perhaps the secret to a better TV is hidden in the smile of the Mona Lisa. Now my friend Ken Rockwell of KennRockwell.com has an article on his site called Pixel Dumping. – Why most pixels are thrown away


While camera makers like to keep hobbyists terrified that they don’t have enough pixels, very few people realize that most of the pixels for which we pay are simply thrown away!

No matter how many pixels your camera might have, you can’t see them all at the same time since there is no electronic way to display them!

If you do photography on your computer, you need a 5k iMac, which actually can display 15 megapixels. A 4K UHD TV only has 8 megapixels, and everything else is downhill from there!

Even a 30″ Apple Cinema Display has barely four megapixels, and projectors have much less than that.

The Cinema Displays aren’t available anymore; the current 27″ Thunderbolt display has less than 3.7 megapixels — less than a digital camera had over ten years ago!

No matter how many megapixels you have, most of them are simply thrown away since you’re limited to the screen’s resolution.

A laptop typically has only a one megapixel display, so there’s no way it can display more pixels than it has.

Operating systems of computers, tablets and phones simply throw away the extra pixels. They can only show as many pixels as they have on their screens.

If you’re a mathematician, of course you realize that there are various clever ways, like bilinear interpolation or bicubic convolution, to reduce the pixel count, but they’re still doing the same thing. The technical name for simply throwing away extra pixels is called nearest-neighbor resampling, while bilinear interpolation and bicubic convolution do the same thing, but more smoothly and elegantly.

What this all means is that we never can see all the pixels we have at one time. Yes, we can zoom-in at 100% or more to see all of them in a small region, but we can’t see more than our display or projector supports at one time. If we zoom-in, we only see a fraction of the image.

If you print big, you might be able to see them. A typical photo print engine runs at about 300 DPI and actually resolves about 150 DPI on paper.

If you have a 50 MP (9,000 x 5,555 pixel image) and print it at 60 x 40 inches, you’ll get all 50 MP. 40×60 is over 3 x 5 feet or 1 x 1.5 meters; when was the last time you printed anywhere near that size?

The only high resolution displays today are Apple’s Retina displays.

Unless you have a 5k iMac, every other display has only a few megapixels at best.

This has been going on since the 1990s or before, and do know that you’ll probably never see all the pixels you have — so don’t worry about pixel counts. You can find more of Ken’s great content at www.kenrockwell.com

So, keep all of this in mind, not only when you buy TVs and other displays, but also when buying newer cameras. If you think your customers will prefer the new 4.5K or 5K video, you are wasting your time, better to stick with what actually works, rather than having clients upset because you shot their wedding in 5K and they cannot see a quality difference.


Also be sure to join the Liam Photography Podcast Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/liamphotographypodcast/ You can reach the show by call or text @ 470-294-8191 to leave a comment or request a topic or guest for the show. Additionally you can email the show @ liam@liamphotographypodcast.com and find the show notes at http://www.liamphotographypodcast.com.

You can find my work @ https://www.liamphotography.net on and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @liamphotoatl. If you like abandoned buildings and history, you can find my project @ http://www.forgottenpiecesofgeorgia.com. and http://www.forgottenpiecesofpennsylvania.com.

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