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The Seitz 160 Megapixel Camera - a scam?
I was going through my log files the other day and I noticed a bunch of new sites referring to my 222 Megapixel Machu Picchu Image. Usually that's nothing special, the picture got linked on many sites. However I like to check most incoming links and what I found reported there was pretty amazing. My image was used as an example to demonstrate the resolution of a 160 Megapixel Digital Camera, that is expected to hit the market in 2007. While I had to manually stitch 35 images of my Canon 20D camera, this bad boy will be able to achieve a similar resolution in one shot. Looking at the picture above I do have some doubts as to if the optics can handle this kind of resolution though. Considering that for my 20D, I will not get a significant improvement beyond about f/16 (Limits of Diffraction), the image sensor must be gigantic. From the picture, it seems the lens is not nearly big enough for such a large sensor.
The sensor of my 20D is 24mmx18mm. The Machu Picchu Image did use a 7x5 matrix (7 columns, 5 rows). Lets subtract 20% for overlap, the effective sensor size was 0.8*24*7 x 0.8*18*5 = 134.4mm x 72mm. Lets assume the pixel size of the 20D and this bad boy were the same, I would need a sensor of 134x72mm for the Machu Picchu Image and a lens large enough to cover this sensor edge to edge (no vignetting). This lens doesn't seem big enough. A smaller pixel size would certainly accomplish this, but then the Limits of Diffraction dictate that you will only be able to obtain a very small depth of field.
I have seen many articles popping up about this camera and despite the size of this camera, noone has ever dared to question the limits of the optical resolution. In the heads of most people a digital camera is always limited by the sensor alone, but that is simply not true (and a reason why I believe that even most consumer point and shoot cameras above 7MP are limited by their lenses already).
From my experience with the Machu Picchu Image, there is another limitation to consider here. Lets assume that the sensor really is about 134x72mm (yes I know that would be for the 222 MP model, but who says they are not already cooking that one up). Since 134 is approximately 3.7 times larger than 36mm (standard film size), such a sensor would have a crop factor of 1/3.7. This means in order to obtain the same Field of View as a 50mm lens on a normal film camera, we need a 50mm x 3.7 = 185mm lens. Unfortunately longer lenses compress depth of field accordingly, which means a high f-stop number is required (an effect well known to the digital SLR crowd). A consumer point and shoot camera usually has a crop factor around 2.5, which means those cameras have very small sensors and are capable of achieving great depth of field. As a consequence, this giant here would need an even higher f-stop, again pushing the Limits of Diffraction.
From their website we can find out that the camera is a 6x17 widescreen format. For an equivalent Medium Format Camera this would mean 60mm x 170mm. It would seem pretty hard to fit this kind of sensor behind this lens, but maybe not. The dimensions are hard to judge. A 22MP digital back sensor is about 48x36mm, which leads me to believe that 60x170mm should be about right. How they can fabricate such a large sensor at a reasonable yield is beyond me (yield is inversely proportional to area due to probability of impurity). It is certainly possible, but not at this price (A professional digital back doesn't cost much less either).
Here is some more information about the camera:
In case you were wondering about the street price, you should expect around $32k. Not that bad considering a 1DSM2 (Canon) runs at around 8k. The ISO range of the camera is 500-10,000. Now this gets me a little curious. How can this be true? Professional SLR cameras usually offer a range of 100 to 3200.
The Image Sensor has been developed by DALSA Corporation exclusively for Seitz. Whatever that means, I have never heard of Dalsa before. However I do know that Kodak once tried to develop their sensor but didn't do so well. Currently there are Canon, Nikon and Sony. Many other cameras like Konica Minolta are using the Sony sensor and outside these three there are not many manufacturers. The reason is simple, these three companies really have the edge when it comes to sensor development. It remains to be seen how good the Dalsa Sensor can be.
The camera offers 48-bit images (this means 16-bit per channel). Not bad, considering the Canons are doing 12-bit and some Minolta are doing 14-bit. However i doubt that the camera will really deliver this kind of dynamic range. There is a reason Canon limits themselves to 12-bit. That reason is noise (or signal to noise ratio). Why should they record more bits if they are buried in noise anyways.
Well i am not going to conclude that the camera is just a marketing stunt. Noone would be crazy enough to announce something they cannot produce. The technical data is really impressive and Seitz may just have found a way to push the envelope a little further than most thought would be possible.