Great images and informative discussion. I have learned a lot. Very confusing to noobs. I remember someone on CR frequently talking about better resolution being related to " number of pixels on target." So with reach limited subjects, you need either higher focal length lens or more (ie smaller) pixels per area on the sensor, to get better detail resolution. Did I say that correctly?
Yeah, that's correct. BTW, it's me who has always said "pixels on target". I read that a long time ago on BPN forums, from Roger Clark I think, and started experimenting with it. I think it's the best way to describe the problem...because it scales. It doesn't matter how big the pixels are, or how big the sensor is...more pixels on target, the better the IQ. If you are only filling 10% of the frame, try to fill 50%. It doesn't matter if the frame is APS-C, FF, or something else...it's all relative.
It is not true as a general statement that the more pixels on target, the better. There have to be optimum sizes of pixels and optimal numbers on target, as shown by the following arguments. The signal to noise of a pixel increases with its area: the bigger the pixel, the greater the number of photons flowing through it and the greater the current generated, and the statistical variation in both becomes less important. The dynamic range is also greater for large pixels than can accommodate a large number of electrons. A low megapixel sensor should have very good signal to noise and DR, but poor resolution. Now, see what happens as we progress to the other extreme. As, we decrease the size of the pixel, the resolution increases but the statistical noise starts to increase as the number of photons hitting each pixel decreases per unit time. The electrical noise also increases until the inherent noise in the circuit becomes greater than that due to the fluctuation in number of electrons generated by the photons. We all experience this as the noise caused by increasing the iso setting. The dynamic range also decreases. Eventually, the pixel becomes so small that it loses all of its dynamic range because the well is so shallow it can hold only a few electrons.
So, too large a pixel gives too little resolution, too small a pixel gives too much noise and too small dynamic range. You could have a 20 billion too small useless pixels on target where 20 million would be the optimal number. Because of the above reasoning, astrophotographers and astronomers match pixel size to their telescopes. For photographers, the optimal size for current sensors pixels is around the range of crop to FF.