The arrival of the first digital cameras changed the rules of the game. Until that time the film cameras had experienced a relatively slow and cemented development, especially in the fine adjustment of their mechanical elements and in the improvement of the film itself. Of course, the last generations of those cameras had electronic components that did experience a remarkable development, anticipating what would come later from the hand of digital cameras.
The paradigm shift began to take shape in 1975. That year, a Californian microcomputer company, launched Cyclops, a camera unanimously considered the first completely digital. It had a MOS sensor of only 32 x 32 pixels (equivalent to 0.001 megapixels) and could be connected to any microcomputer that had an S-100 bus, which, curiously, was born as part of the Altair 8800, which is usually considered the first commercial personal computer.
A more peaceful technological development than the one we are used to
The Best Bridge Camera did not begin to become popular until the end of the twentieth century, but its birth gave electronics a much greater prominence than it had in the last generations of film cameras. This change led to digital cameras being driven at a faster pace of development and innovation than historically experienced by film cameras. The unbridled race to increase the megapixels that was in force until very recently, and that still oozes from time to time, illustrates this trend.
Even so, digital cameras do not evolve, even today, at the same rate as other electronic devices, such as smartphones or televisions, among other possible examples. This degree of development, although it is more leisurely than that to which other consumer electronics products are accustomed to us, is not much less despicable, which as consumers forces us to catch up once we have made the decision to get hold of A new digital camera. At least if we want to get one that is as “resistant to the future” as possible.
The objective of this article is precisely to identify those elements of the digital cameras that are evolving to know as accurately as possible what the market currently offers us. And also so that we can intuit what will come in the future. It seems to us the best way to help you choose with more guarantees, and, above all, to help you find the camera that best suits your needs. Of course, as long as you want to go one step further than what the camera integrated in your smartphone offers you.
The compact cameras have a very “gray” present and a very “black” future
The battle with smartphones is lost. In fact, traditional compact cameras lost it a long time ago; just at the moment in which a good part of the users began to do without them and to take our photographs using the camera of our mobile phone. And the picture does not seem at all to change in the future. This obvious trend has caused the majority of camera manufacturers to turn to the development of models with higher performance and with the ambition to get there where a priori the cameras of our phones are not comfortable.
Interchangeable optics, large zooms, high quality stabilization, wide flexibility … These are the assets that today’s cameras use so that we think about them and take away for a moment the view of our smartphones. And in this field it is evident that they are the bridge-type models, which are compact with fixed optics, wide focal range and performance on horseback between the basic compact and the advanced digital cameras; the CSC (compact system cameras) or without a mirror and the DSLRs that can best defend against the onslaught of mobile phones.
For this reason, most of the features that we are going to see next acquire meaning in these camera segments, and not so much in the compact ones of the input and average ranges, which are the most damaged by mobile phones. And also those that leave less space for innovation. Let’s get into matter.
How is a camera resistant to the future?
A note that seems important to me before moving on, and that surely many of you already know: the three components that have a direct impact on the quality of the images we obtain with a camera are the optics, the sensor and the processing engine In fact, their cooperation is so intimate that it is often not easy to define the extent to which each of them contributes to the final result. Even so, it is interesting to note the fact that two of them are elements of an electronic nature, and, therefore, susceptible to being overwhelmed by that maelstrom of constant technological development to which other consumer electronics devices are accustomed to us.
Your heart should be a sensor of high sensitivity and low noise
Megapixels are left out of our discussion for a compelling reason: most of the cameras on the market exceed the resolution we need for photo enthusiasts who only print our snapshots occasionally. Or never. We can illustrate this situation in a very simple way. If we use a TV with 4K UHD panel to see our photographs, which is a very realistic use scenario today, it is enough that our camera has a resolution of 8 Megapixels (3,840 x 2,160 pixels = 8,294,400 pixels ≈ 8 Megapixels) to enjoy our captures in a satisfactory way. Most cameras, at least those of a certain quality, have sensors that exceed this resolution, so we can even print our photographs on media of a certain size without their quality suffers.
Manufacturers seem to be aware that users no longer allow ourselves to be coaxed by the resolution because we know that our needs in this field have been filled for years, so they are striving to refine two parameters of the sensors in which they still have room Improvement: sensitivity and noise. When light, which is the real raw material of our photographs, abounds, it is relatively simple for a modern camera to offer us an achieved result. However, when the light is low, the level of detail can be seriously damaged and the noise can increase significantly, ruining our shots.
“Fortunately, the “megapixel war” was long overdue. The challenge now is to increase sensitivity and reduce noise, among other parameters with room for improvement in which brands are working”
The challenge is to offer good results when the capture conditions are not optimal. And an effective way to increase the native sensitivity of the sensor and reduce the noise requires increasing the size of the photodiodes, which are the sensor cells that are responsible for capturing the light, even at the cost of reducing the resolution. This is the strategy used by many brands currently in their cameras, although it is not the only one. They also often improve the manufacturing techniques of their sensors and optimize their architecture so that they perform better when environmental conditions are not conducive.
The technological development in this area has made possible the appearance of cameras capable of offering us a very high sensitivity and a very low noise level. A model that illustrates this panorama is the Sony A7S II, a camera that offers us a maximum ISO sensitivity of 409,600 and is capable of keeping noise under control with very high ISO values. However, this is a somewhat extreme value that few models can aspire to. For this reason we can take as a reference a little more realistic the extended ISO value offered by other quality cameras today, which can reach ISO 51,200. It is a good goal to aim for as long as the noise remains under control.
Of course, noise and sensitivity are not the only characteristics of the sensor of a camera that matter, but currently they represent one of the great challenges that brands are facing because their impact on the quality of the shots is very important . And it is not easy to improve these parameters. Other features, such as color, depth, level of detail or the absence of moiré effect, are quite well “tied” by the main brands when we get a camera of a certain entity.