Hardware overkill

Big numbers and excessive specifications sometimes serve little purpose; companies should instead focus on bettering their products and technologies in more meaningful ways.

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  August 25, 2008

Last month’s digital camera grouptest gave me something to think about. You see, while testing the cameras I realised that most of today’s digital cameras are needlessly over-engineered when it comes to their image sensors and megapixel ratings.

For most consumers a camera with an 8-megapixel image sensor isn’t much more beneficial than one with 4-megapixels. This is simply because a higher resolution sensor doesn’t actually guarantee sharper photos; it’s actually your skill as a photographer that determines this.

If you compare two identical shots, one taken by a 4-megapixel camera and one taken by an 8-megapixel model, on a computer or TV screen you’ll find it difficult to spot any visible differences between the two. And, the further away you get from the screen, the lesser the differences will become. In fact, if you’re standing about 15-feet away from the screen, you’ll find it difficult to distinguish the difference between a 1-megapixel image and a 4-megapixel image.

A skilled photographer with a 3-megapixel camera could take shots that appear sharper and more picture-perfect than an amateur using a 10-megapixel model. The only reason you really need a very high-resolution image sensor is when it comes to the business of printing. If you’re only interested in standard 10 x 15cm printing (standard photo size), you’ll find even a 1-megapixel camera will do the trick. It’s only if you want to print to A4 or A3 or even bigger media that the extra resolution will be needed to ensure the prints look their best.

So, rather than focusing on cramming as many pixels as possible into their cameras, my advice to camera vendors is to focus on more meaningful technology. Better anti-shake when using zoom, a slicker user interface and smarter automatic shooting modes come to mind. Any of these would help a novice have an easier time of dealing with the camera and would also help him to produce better photographs. A higher resolution image sensor just isn’t going to do that, all it will do is give him something to brag about (and also something to be embarrassed about when his photographs come out looking like a mess of colours).

Besides digital cameras, I also find today’s notebooks pointlessly spec-heavy. Regardless of what notebook type you invest it (portable, ultra-portable, desktop replacement etc), the idea behind having a notebook is you have a mobile PC to work on. Being mobile means you sometimes don’t have a wall socket to plug into, so obviously this means you need to use the notebook’s battery.

So, why then are notebook vendors focusing on cramming in super fast CPUs, GPUs and larger hard drives into notebooks? They should be working on better batteries that offer longer life so you can work on the go. Just because I want a chunky desktop replacement, it doesn’t mean that I also have to deal with rubbish battery life. I don’t see why I can’t have my cake and eat it too?

I hope that manufacturers draw a line somewhere and focus on improving their kit in ways that are more meaningful because it’s this that we, as consumers, ultimately care about. Top specs are fine but only if the output they produce is of equivalent value. A megapixel-rich camera and a super-fast notebook aren’t going to be of much use if I can’t brag about the shots or use the notebook when I’m away from my desk.

Jason Saundalkar is Senior Technical Editor of Windows Middle East English.

3945 days ago

You are right and it takes a rare talent to reflect on real needs because consumer perception will always be more or faster is better. It's difficult to change this mentality. The laptop battery issue has always been associated with the speed of getting things done; more speed, shorter battery life. Instead of just working on improving the hardware, laptop users should have access to trimmed down software. I recall back in the late 80's when software had to operate when memory was only a miserable 64Kb. Software today is bloated with too many features we don't always need. As regards camera resolution, just about everybody I know with a digital camera, either as standalone or with their mobile cannot take a decent photo. Why not? I believe that the first manufacturer who is able to encourage and train their customers to be good photographers, despite the resolution of their products, will revolutionise the industry and get a real leg up in the market.

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