Why high resolution cameras don’t need an AA filter

17 Dec

Disclaimer: Unfiltered truth ahead.

Digital cameras used to have a problem, which was that their lenses were so sharp that images would show moire or aliasing if there wasn’t an additional anti-aliasing or low-pass filter placed directly in front of the sensor to add a small amount of blur. Side effects of this filter include a small reduction in light transmission and a slight distortion of the colour distribution.

As camera sensors got to around 16MP APS-C or around 40 MP full frame, it became apparent this problem wasn’t so much of a problem any more. Glass quality generally wasn’t good enough to still cause moire and other aliasing at this tight packing of Bayer array and photosites. The lenses themselves served as AA filters, and throwing in an low pass filter on the sensor only made images blurrier, without any particular benefit. So some smart executive or engineer at Nikon said, “let’s ditch the thing and see if our customers like it”. And the customers came, and they saw that it was good, and they bought it.

Around the same time, some Pentax execs likewise came together and said unto each other, “let there be unwavering sharpness”. But knowing full wele that the Nikon gods had spread their bets across two models, one with and one withoute AA filter, the good sirs of Pentax did likewyse, and thus there came to be the K-5 II and IIs, made in the D800E’s image.

So there you have it: the story of why you can buy a D800E or K-5 IIs without regret. And how, as an engineer, you can do something for very good reasons and completely fail to communicate this to the customers. Probably because upper management told you to keep your trap shut about the sharpness of the lenses. And the fact that the Ricoh GR and Fujifilm X100S take sharper pics than your monster-tea-bagging SLR.

So there you have it: the reason you can leave that K-3 AA simulation switched off, save battery power, and never worry. Woohoo!

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