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February 23, 2010

Pixel Pitch Comparison Between Canon EOS 50D and 5D Mark II

So I was down shooting some photos of my favorite owl today, and I saw another guy there shooting some photos also. He had a Canon EOS 40D with a Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super Telephoto Lens. He's got a box of live mice, which I'm sure the owl wouldn't go near when he/she is incubating a clutch of eggs. They take turns sitting on the nest, I'm led to believe. So presumably, they hunt for food when they're not on the nest. That's my theory, anyway. Genetically speaking, it doesn't make sense to leave the nest in 20 degree weather to get a mouse and risk losing your family. It's not worth it. But I digress.

So, this guy has his 40D and his 400mm fixed focal length lens and he's crowing about how he used to have the 100-400mm lens and couldn't get sharp images out of it. And, I'm like, fair enough. I've got more glass. In theory, a fixed 400mm lens is better, but I like the zoom too much to get away from it. I carry too much equipment as it is. So, no, I'm not buying another 400mm lens just because it's sharper. Plus, I'm not the one shooting a 40D. So there's that.

Then, he starts talking about a "full-frame sensor" like the EOS 5D Mark II and I was like...whoa, whoa, whoa. Just hold it right there. Now, it's true that the Canon EOS 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, and 7D all sport a 1.6X "cropping factor". So, it's true that my sensor is smaller than 36mm x 24mm. However, since I'm cropping down to get to my image, I'm not clear how much that actually matters.

Then, he starts into that old saw about pixel pitch and sensitivity and every story everyone with a full frame sensor tells you to brow beat you into believing that the $$$ you put into your camera gear was basically a glorious waste of money on sub-standard, housewife-quality, photography equipment.

And I'm like...hold on there Sparky. If I'm cropping down to get to the image of the bird, I'm not clear that it matters if I have a full-frame sensor or not. And as for the pixel pitch, I'd argue that mine is pretty much equal to the pixel pitch on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

So, now that I'm home and calmed down somewhat (but not much), I decided to do some comparisons.

Camera sensor comparisons:

So, OK. He's right that the pixel pitch is greater on the 5D Mark II. The pixel pitch on the 5D Mark II is about 36% greater than on the 50D. Fair enough. But that still means that I get more pixels on the owl than the full-frame sensor, because when we're photographing something very small like a bird, we're throwing away a lot of the data from the full frame sensor. You may say "oh, the full-frame sensor is more sensitive". OK. Great. And what I'm going to tell you is that the first thing we're going to do is throw away everything outside of my sensor area anyway, because it's meaningless. Do you want to see the limbs around the owl? I didn't think so. You want to see the owl. So, if you look at the photo above, we're going to toss the "gray" area immediately. Straight into the trash can. Now how does the full frame sensor look? Well, when we go from 36x24mm down to 22.3 x 14.9 mm, we end up with a cropped view of the full frame sensor with a remaining resolution of 3,510 x 2,340 = 8.2 Megapixels.

When we toss out the unwanted data from the full frame sensor, the EOS 50D has more pixels on the owl than the full frame sensor has. Granted, you say the full frame sensor is still better. OK. Fair enough. But I got more pixels on the owl, and you can't argue that. At this level of zoom, the 5D Mark II has 8.2 Megapixles to play with and the 50D still has 15.2 Megapixels.

I know, I know. You say the 5D Mark II is still better. And I'm not in a position to say you're wrong. But at least I'm not the guy standing out there with a box of field mice and a 40D. So there. Humpfff.

Update: Previous post on Lunar Photography pixel calculations that I did for that jack@ss that couldn't even lower himself to say "thank you".

Comparison of 50D vs. 7D vs. 5D Mark II: http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Canon_EOS_7D/outdoor_results.shtml

Posted by Rob Kiser on February 23, 2010 at 9:00 PM


Full frame cameras and wide-angle lenses are great for landscape photography ("Digital Photography Book, Volume 2" (Scott Kelby, p. 124).

"But for shooting sports, you might want to consider hanging onto that standard-crop sensor digital camera. Here's why: because of the zoom factor regular-crop sensor cameras have, they will get you much closer to the action.... An EOS 50D will get you 60% closer than the same lens on a full frame camera." ("Digital Photography Book, Volume 3" (Scott Kelby, p. 162).

The same logic applies to your wildlife photography.

And on a related tangent, there was a recent article in Gizmodo about the improvements and importance of ISO in digital cameras.

Posted by: Robert on February 24, 2010 at 6:11 AM

I like your site.Pretty neat as I like your content and communication style. Just purchased a 50D and considered a tele extender.Opted for a 150-500mm Sigma.I spend allot of time "chasing" hawks and other predotors.Interested in your experience with extender.David Evans Grove,Oklahoma

Posted by: David Evans on February 24, 2010 at 11:34 AM

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