How important are megapixels in your digital camera

Lately, everyone has been talking and boasting about how many megapixel he has got on his camera. Recently, one of my friend compared my Canon SX 110 camera (which is of 9MP) to his Sony Cybershot (which was of 12 MP) and he was ruffled to notice that my cam actually was able to take better photographs than his camera in any given condition

I wasn’t remotely surprised to see that he was also in the same bandwagon of “Look, I got more megapixels than you, I RULE” bandwagon. I don’t know from where have people made Megapixels as a de-facto benchmark of judging a digital camera’s ability to take better photographs. So in this article, I’ll try to break all the Megapixel myths prevailing out there.

What exactly are megapixels?

First and foremost thing that I would really shout out loudly is, “Megapixels are not everything”. And if you got more megapixels than me, it doesn’t mean that you are better (you might be, but that’s not the only thing to be considered). You may ask why? Let me elaborate:
Getting to the point, tell me one thing, when you decide to purchase an entry level point-and-shoot digital camera (the Sony Cybershot kinds of), what do you really want to do with it? I’m sure, most of you will say “Just take family and holiday pics and view them on my computer/mobile” and very few of you may actually print them out as well. Now, you’ll surprised to know that if you only want to do these things with any digital camera of this universe, the maximum megapixels you need is FOUR. Yes, a 4 megapixel digital camera is really sufficient for all your daily needs and you won’t even notice that it’s a 4 megapixel camera if I scratch the label out and write 12 megapixels on the lens. Trust me, you’ll never find out
The reason behind that is, many people don’t really understand what megapixel is. Theoretically, Megapixel means Million Pixels. And it’s a unit to signify how many million pixels per inch can your digital camera capture. All digital cameras have tiny sensors built inside them which act exactly like the retina of out eyes. The light photons fell upon them and the photons gets trapped on the sensor and the image is produced.

What does that mean to me ?

Now let’s take a look how much megapixels would you be actually using (regardless of how many you got in your digital camera). As stated above, I’m assuming that you will only view your photographs on your computer or mobile and have no intensions to print them as large as bill boards. Let’s see how many megapixles your computer screen got.
For calculating megapixels, there is a simple formula where you multiply your screen resolution. So, if you got a 1600 x 1200 resolution screen (which is greater than the standard ones found), it will have a megapixel count of 1600*1200 = 1,920,000 pixels (~2 Megapixels). And If I consider an above average monitor with a resoultion of 2048×1536, you have 3,145,728 pixels (~3 Megapixels). By the way, did you notice that in both cases, the megapixel count is still less than four which I told you would be more than enough? So, this proves that for viewing photographs on your big ass monitor in full size, you don’t even need a megapixel count of more than three !!

What about the photo prints ?

Now, coming to the other point, the main domain that is affected by the megapixel count is photo printing. The quality of photo prints is largely determined by the megapixel count on which the photograph is taken. That been said, it’s the only thing that is affected by megapixels directly. Assuming that you will print your family and holiday photographs in a fairly standard size (which you can fit in a frame at your desk), you still don’t need a camera with more than 4 megapixels in it! The following table should make it clear:
Minimum MegapixelsMaximum Print SizeResolution
2 megapixels4 x 6”1600 x 1200
3 megapixels5 x 7”2048 x 1536
5 megapixels8 x 10”2560 x 1920
6 megapixels11 x 14”2816 x 2112
8+ megapixels16 x 20”3264 x 2468
Normally, printing is done at 240 or 300 DPI (Dots Per Inch) which determines the best quality possible according to the print size to megapixel ratio. If we apply some mathematics, for a 8 x 10” photograph to be printed at 240DP, we need
8*240*10*240 = 4,608,000 pixels (or 4 megapixels), which is still less than the count mentioned in the above table.

The Mobile Camera

Mobile and cell phone companies keep luring their customers by adding megapixels to their already crappy mobile phone cameras. I’ll again say it loud and clear, getting more megapixels wont get you better photographs from a mobile. Keep on adding megapixels and you’ll keep getting crappy photographs because all that matter is how powerful is the sensor behind that actually captures light. When Steve Jobs introduced iPhone 4 in the World Wide Developer Conference of Apple, he put this point forward loud and clear that megapixels doesn’t mean anything. It’s the engineering behind the camera, it’s the sensor, it’s the ability of the device to capture light photons. And it’s indeed evident, how the 5 megapixel camera of iPhone 4 takes far better photographs than even the 8-12 megapixel cameras of other mobile companies.


You don’t need a camera more having more than 4 or 5 megapixels for the things that you would be doing with it. Definitely, megapixel count is not the only important thing that defines the image quality which is also evident that many high end cameras with lesser megapixel counts and a more powerful CCD sensor take far better photographs from their low end, higher megapixel counterparts. I’m not saying that having higher and megapixel is bad. But only having that, indeed is. So, next time someone boasts about higher megapixels and still fails to take better photographs, direct him to shutterskills

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