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Sensor Size

  • Does size matter?
    • Image quality
    • High ISO performance
    • Depth of Field
  • Common sizes
    • Tiny (phone cameras)
    • Small (compacts)
    • Bigger (fancy compacts)
    • APS-C (NEX, most DSLRs)
    • Full Frame (high-end DSLRs, Sony A7)
    • Bigger (Medium format, very expensive)

Well, that’s the plan. Let’s make a start…

Does Size Matter?

Yes. For sensors, anyway. I offer no opinion on anything else that heading might make you question.

A bigger sensor will perform better in low light. It will let you increase the ISO without spoiling the image quality as much. It will get better images than a smaller sensor, in some circumstances. On a nice, bright, sunny day, outdoors, the tiny sensor in your phone will do just fine.

If you want to get shallow depth of field, a bigger sensor will do it better. It’s very hard to get that look with a small sensor.

Common Sizes

Tiny Sensors

Phone cameras, with very few exceptions, have tiny sensors. They have to. They’re tiny cameras. The whole phone is smaller than most compact cameras, and the camera part is only a small part of the phone.

Phone cameras can work around some of the problems a bit with computational photography. The results aren’t as good as doing it for real, but they’re better than nothing.

For portraits, or similar photos, where you want that shallow depth of field (you know - face in focus, background nice and blurry) they can work out how distant different parts of the image are, and apply fake blur effects to the background. But it tends to go a bit wrong with hair, and people do often have hair.

For low light, where the high ISO noise is a problem, they can apply noise reduction, sometimes using multiple shots to work out what’s real detail and what’s noise. The result can look a bit artificial, and loses some detail and texture.