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Two questions:

In most literature about digital photography, there is some info-graphics about the path of the light signal from sensor to the storage. It starts with sensor, then there is the Analog-to-digital-converter, the processor, the image buffer and then the card.

It seams to me that Analog-to-digital-conversion characteristics and processor characteristics of digital cameras are less thoroughly marketed than sensor characteristics. Why is that? I mean, the CPU and GPU manufacturering companies market their stuff very aggressively as well.

  1. Why don't the "prosumer" camera vendors do their marketing this way (focusing on the entirety)? It's mainly pixel numbers, and not much else.

  2. Where can I find a good compact technical discussion of the entire processing chain (less sensor-focused), written for the ambitious amateur? Something like this whitepaper from Canon from 2007?

I think the overall interactions of the whole chain is what is decisive for me, plus the usability of the GUI of the in-camera software. (Olympus user here... )

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I think it would probably better to separate your second question into its own question, since it's detailed enough on its own. (Also, I suggest asking for the compact technical description, rather than asking for where to find one. This is a site for answers, after all, not a human-powered search engine.) –  mattdm Dec 6 '13 at 16:20
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about marketing. Whatever the reason(s) behind the way DLSRs are promoted, they don't change the characteristics of the cameras or the way we use them to make photographs. –  Caleb Dec 6 '13 at 18:11
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I don't think this is just marketing; it's also about the relative importance of this part of a camera body. –  mattdm Dec 6 '13 at 18:58
    
it started with me noticing that A/D conversion does not get much attention in the marketing literature (see title of the question), although this step is important and should get more attention, probably. As I was writing this, the problem became more involved and it became two questions –  knb Dec 6 '13 at 20:21
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think your premise is basically flawed. Every DSLR maker gives a fancy marketing name to their processor chain and hypes it in press releases for new cameras.

For example, Canon calls theirs "DIGIC", and touts it as part of a their digital trinity (the other two parts being designed-for-digital lenses and the sensor).

The Canon DIGIC 5+ Image Processor brings phenomenal increases in processing speed and power. Data processing performance is 17x faster than the Canon DIGIC 4 Image Processor and features new algorithms that promote greater noise reduction at higher ISOs. Improved noise reduction provides greater image quality and a faster processing speed makes it possible to obtain high-quality shots during continuous shooting.

Nikon calls theirs EXPEED, and here's an example from their marketing material for the D5200:

The D5200 comes equipped with image-processing engine EXPEED 3, equivalent to that of higher-end models such as the D4. It processes multiple tasks in parallel at high speed while maintaining high precision to bring out the full potential of the 24.1 megapixels for both still images and movies. The image processing of the EXPEED 3 is excellent at color reproduction, gradation processing and image quality at high sensitivity. It reproduces human skin tone, eyelashes and hair more faithfully. Furthermore, from image processing and card recording to image playback and image transfer, EXPEED 3 manages massive amounts of data at high speed. Even with high ISO noise reduction and Active D-Lighting, continuous shooting speed is not sacrificed, realizing comfortable shooting. This also contributes to energy saving.

Sony's engine is named "BIONZ", and they've got a whole page about it:

For enhanced detail reproduction, Sony’s BIONZ™ Image Processing Engine infuses a sense of vibrant realism in every shot taken by an α DSLR.

It works by rendering colours captured by the α lens accurately – emphasising them with a rich layer of texture and depth just as the human eye perceives them. Working together with an Exmor™ CMOS Sensor™, BIONZ™ also eliminates noise during RAW data conversion and image processing, reproducing images in realistically vivid colour and detail.

A totally new way of enjoying photography has truly begun with BIONZ™ Image Processing Engine and the α DSLR. High-quality photos for everyone, with advanced technology that's sure to impress. That's the α attitude.

Pentax bucks the all-caps trend with "Prime". They don't quite go on about it as much, but it's still prominent in, for example, the Pentax K-3 press release:

By coupling this sensor with a newly developed PRIME III imaging engine with high-efficiency noise and image processing capacities and an anti-aliasing filter-less design, the K-3 delivers high-resolution, fine-gradation images.

And, Olympus -- I shouldn't forget that, since it's what you say you use! -- calls theirs "TruePic", and this is from the OM-D E-M1 press release:

New TruePic VII image processor

The Olympus-original image processing technology Fine Detail has evolved into Fine Detail II for proper correction of magnification chromatic aberration that differs depending on each lens's movement, and applies the appropriate sharpness processing according to the lens type and aperture value for natural, high-quality resolution. The E-M1 is also equipped with moire-removing processing equivalent to that of a low-pass filter, which helps reduce compression artifacts that tend to occur during sudden scene changes when recording a movie.


So, why does this seem less visible to you, prompting the question? I think we're still at the stage in digital camera development where sensor characteristics are a big enough differentiator that they grab most of the attention. (It's still a lot about the megapixels, although high-ISO performance has risen in prominence too.) Maybe in a decade that will slow down, and the other marketing areas, like this one, will catch up.

I do want to note that it gets at least enough attention that we do get questions about it on this site, like this one: Does Expeed 3 make D3200 better than D5100?

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okay, admitted, the chain is indeed marketed and hyped, but the A/D converter step does not get much attention in the corporate PR material and tech-doks. –  knb Dec 6 '13 at 20:17
    
@knb I think that's because the A-D converter is essentially boring except in terms of bit depth (usually mentioned and sometimes made a big deal of) and possibly read noise (which goes to AJ's point about this being included in overall promotion of high-ISO abilities). –  mattdm Dec 6 '13 at 20:45
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Many stats that are traditionally thought of as being the "sensor" are actually a result of the actions of the sensor, the A/D converter and the image processing chip. They may be physically distinct parts, but they work very closely together. Many of the "sensor" characteristics go beyond simply the light sensitive portion of the sensor. They include how the A/D converter and processor are used in the overall performance. You can't mix and match sensor, A/D converter and processor, so they are all just grouped as characteristics of the camera. There is no need to know how much of the ISO performance comes from the sensor or the A/D Converter or the image processing chip. All that matters is the combined performance.

Sure basic consumer marketing focuses on MP count and the number of x the zoom can do, but those are both near meaningless values that consumers just don't know any better than to look at. The marketing for any DSLR or high end camera is going to talk about characteristics that are directly impacted by the sensor, the A/D converter and the image processing, even if they don't specifically mention them as separate pieces, because it's a result of all 3 working on it.

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The question is not about separation of components. The question is: Why are only some parts of it marketed aggressively and others are not? (And where to find information about that.) –  Cornelius Dec 6 '13 at 16:42
    
@Cornelius - that's precisely my point. The basis of the question is off. The marketing is about the whole unit, they just don't distinguish the A/D converter or processor from what comes off the actual sensor itself. The data they describe is the result of all three parts. –  AJ Henderson Dec 6 '13 at 16:51
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Except they do when they talk about MP. Or in the ways pointed out by mattdm in the other answer. –  Cornelius Dec 6 '13 at 16:52
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They talk about far more than MP. Noise handling, dynamic range, color reproduction, plus just about anything other than MP is descriptions of the entire system. MP is just used in the simplest marketing because it makes it "simple" for consumers, but MP is a useless number, just like an x zoom number. –  AJ Henderson Dec 6 '13 at 16:52
    
@Cornelius - MattDM points out that they do specifically mention the processor, which is true. But even on stats that are generally attributed by most people to the sensor, the A/D converter and the image processing chip play an important role. None of the pieces work by themselves. My assumption in this answer is that the OP was thinking that things like Noise level and dynamic range are solely part of the stats of the sensor, but they are not. That is my point. –  AJ Henderson Dec 6 '13 at 19:11
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Others have pointed out that manufacturers do market their processing units as being unique and superior to the competition. Perhaps your perception is based on the fact that the coverage by photo review sites and the press doesn't pay as much attention to that end of things as they do to the specifications of the sensor.

Keep in mind that most enthusiasts and pros shoot many if not most of their images in RAW file formats in which the demosaicing of the data from the image sensor is performed off camera. The question then becomes focused on which application provides the best RAW conversion: The manufacturer's own software, Adobe Camera Raw, Aperture, DxO, etc? The in camera processing routines are most vital when the data from the sensor is converted and compressed to JPEG before it is saved to the card. But most shooters who dig into the details of camera models are probably saving their files as RAW images most of the time.

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