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I have a Sony SLT-65 and consider getting a new mirror-less APS-C camera. What can I expect from sensor development of the last 10 years? E.g., does the Fuji X-T1 offer better quality in low-light/indoor conditions (using a comparable lens)?

edit: X-T1 is also quite old (2014)... Let's compare to X-T30 or some other current APS-C instead.

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    "What can I expect from sensor development of the last 10 years?" – That's a broad topic that will change with each new year. Generally, you can expect sensors from the latter third to be better than sensors from the earlier third. – xiota Dec 23 '20 at 19:31
  • @xiota, the maximum ISO of SLT-65 is 16000, (the auto iso is up to 1600): imaging-resource.com/PRODS/AA65/AA65DAT.HTM – Romeo Ninov Dec 23 '20 at 19:44
  • @xiota ISO 16000 was a common limit of Sony APS-C cameras with 16.2 mega pixel sensors in the NEX 3 series starting with the NEX-C3. – Bob Macaroni McStevens Dec 23 '20 at 20:45
  • @xiota My apologies, it's the NEX F3 with ISO 16000 (and the NEX 3N). Also several 16.2 megapixel A series cameras with 16.2 megapixel sensors. The C3 is a tiny camera with an APS-C sensor. Not much bigger than many compact point and shoots. – Bob Macaroni McStevens Dec 23 '20 at 23:16
  • @xiota The A65 mentioned in the question is one of A-series cameras with ISO16000. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_Alpha_65 – Bob Macaroni McStevens Dec 23 '20 at 23:20
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Did sensors improve in the last 10 years?

The best sensors available now are better than the best sensors that were available ten years ago. The sensors in most consumer grade¹ interchangeable lens cameras are better than the sensors in most consumer grade ILCs made ten years ago, particularly if one looks at the same "class" of cameras, such as mid-level APS-C format cameras, between then and now. But there are certainly also some cameras sold now that have sensors that aren't much, if any, better than the best sensors that were available in some cameras tens years ago. In most of those cases, the current models cost much less than cameras with similar performance a decade ago would have cost.

But I think the real question you're attempting to ask here is more along the lines of "How much have sensors improved between when my Sony SLT-65 was designed and when models currently on the market were designed?" It may also include a qualification such as "in the price range I'm willing/able to spend?"

Then it all depends upon what one means by improved.

  • More resolution, that is a higher number of individual photosites (a/k/a sensels or pixel wells) for the same sensor size?
  • More dynamic range?
  • Better signal-to-noise ratio at the individual photosite level?
  • Better signal-to-noise ratio at the overall dimension of a particular sensor (and display) size?
  • Better color depth?
  • Better quantum efficiency?
  • Better in-camera or post-camera processing of the information gathered by the sensor as it is converted to a viewable image?
  • Any other number of ways to measure improvement in image quality related to the sensor's ability to measure light at discrete locations on the sensor and the way the camera or other computing device processes that information?

But beyond that, there are other ways cameras have improved that also affect the ultimate quality of an image that can be produced from a particular shooting scenario. Lenses have improved in the past decade as well. Image stabilization technologies have improved over the past decade. Autofocus accuracy and consistency, along with how much light they need to function, have improved immensely over the last decade. Flashes have become much more affordable for similar light output and color consistency than they were ten years ago. All of these things and more also contribute to the ultimate technical quality available to a photographer at specific price points.

You mention "low light indoor conditions", for instance. Again, that depends upon several particulars such as whether your subject is static or animated. It depends upon whether one is willing to use a tripod or other means of immobilizing the camera for the duration of the length of the exposure, or whether one insists on holding the camera in their hands. It also depends on exactly how dim one means by "low light".

But no matter how much the technology of sensors and the processing hardware and algorithms used to create images from the information collected by sensor improves, along with, more generally, how much cameras, lenses, and lighting systems improve, the single most important thing that affects the quality² of images is what the photographer brings to those tools. That was true ten years ago and it's still true today.

The period when digital camera technology was rapidly improving by leaps and bounds with every product cycle has long since passed. Improvements over the last decade or so are more incremental in nature, particularly when compared to improvements made in the previous decade. The difference between images taken in marginal light with cameras available in the year 2000 compared to images taken in the same light with cameras available in 2010 is far more easily seen than the same differences between images made in light that was marginal for cameras available in 2010 and images made in the same light using cameras available in 2020.

There should be a far more obvious difference in the images taken by a relatively new and inexperienced photographer ten years ago when compared to the images taken by that same photographer who now has a decade of experience, even when using the exact same gear now as was used a decade ago, than there is in the difference between images that a well-seasoned photographer today can get with todays cameras compared to the images that well-seasoned photographer could get today with the gear from ten years ago. Sure, there are edge cases where no matter how good the photographer is the shot can't be done with less capable gear and it is possible to do with today's better gear. But what a skilled photographer brings to the table is the ability to recognize and work around any camera's limitations, whether a 2010 camera or a 2020 camera, to get images that can be taken with the tools available to them at the time they make those images.

For more, please see:
How important is a good quality camera for good photography?
When should I upgrade my camera body?
How to improve image sharpness on Canon 700D?

¹ "Consumer" in this sense would include all those cameras available to a consumer at the retail level, and would include such "professional" models as the Canon 1-series and 5-series cameras, the Sony α9 and α7 series of cameras, the Nikon D6, D5, D4, etc. series of cameras, etc.

² This is true regardless of how one defines quality. A knowledgeable and skilled photographer will always get higher quality images out of the same gear than a less capable photographer shooting in the same scenario will. How much that difference will be can vary depending on how challenging the scenario is.

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