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Camera technology has improved a great deal in the past years. Never before could we shoot at such high ISO values or could we take photos at such high resolutions. Things are getting better and better, but sometimes we need to stop, look back and ask ourselves whether all these changes and improvements are necessary. I’m talking about the low pass filter this time, or better said, its absence. It seems like it is the “hot trend” in camera manufacturing these days.
For those of you who are new to the topic, the low pass filter or anti –aliasing filter is mounted in front of the camera sensor to prevent moiré and other artifacts. These are produced by the flaws in the Bayern pattern, which is used on most of today’s camera sensors. But that’s a different and far more complicated story. Now, the thing about these filters is that while they reduce those unwanted elements, they also reduce overall sharpness. This has started a debate that’s been going on for over ten years. Do you need that extra detail or not? The thing is, a straight answer is hard to find. Some photographers claim that it’s wrong to omit these filters because an essential element will be removed. You can’t really compare a digital sensor to film from this perspective. Film has no fixed resolution that limits it and the image characteristics depend on a variety of factors. You might even say that film has a “built-in” low pass filter.
Back to the debate, until recently, only professional cameras, mainly medium format ones lacked these filters. When you buy such a camera, you buy it especially because of its level of detail and image quality. Amateurs on the other hand rarely needed that extra crispiness. Lately however, even entry-level cameras lack the anti-aliasing element. The problem is that many amateurs don’t have the necessary skills to deal with moiré and artifacts in post-processing, whereas adding a little sharpness isn’t the hardest thing you will do.
For the pros, maximum amount of detail is crucial. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to fix everything else. And this is something that is advertised by all medium format manufacturers.
But it’s starting to look like there is a way around these problems. The Bayern pattern is the most common, but there are other ways of building a sensor. Fuji’s X-1 Pro has a sensor called X-Trans. It has one layer, no low pass, but the mosaic is larger at 6x6 and more random than the Bayern. According to them, this effectively eliminates moiré, while preserving maximum detail. It will probably take more time for these technologies to mature and successfully blend everything together. The lack of a low pass filter is not a technological breakthrough, nor is it something we needed for so long and couldn’t have. Normal cameras with normal sensors have been perfectly capable of coping with professional needs. But so far, it looks like it’s going to become a trend at least for the near future. Is it absolutely necessary? It’s anyone’s guess. Is it an effective marketing tool? No doubt.