As an enthusiast of digital photography, it is inevitable that you’ll encounter quite a few alien terms and phrases, and megapixels is one of the words most photographers will come across when looking at different camera models. After all, most of the adverts for digital cameras and modern smartphones will list the number of megapixels as one of the main selling points.
But what does that number mean, and does it really matter? Here’s all you need to know.
A Brief Look at Megapixels
In its most basic sense, the term megapixels relates to the number of pixels that are made up by the camera’s sensor:
Mega = Million, Pixels = The smallest programmable picture element within the picture
Essentially, the number equates to how many million dots of information are recorded by the camera. This number is calculated by multiplying the horizontal pixels by the vertical ones. Therefore, a camera with 6000 x 4000 pixels would be a 24MP camera.
So Megapixels are Important, Right?
In a word, yes. You only have to look at the recent history of digital cameras for confirmation of this point. Even 15 years ago, a 5MP camera would have been seen as a high-spec option. Nowadays, some smartphones boast 10x that amount.
Let’s compare that 24MP camera to a 6MP camera as an example. The latter option will only record a quarter of the detail. With more detail and data recorded, the photos will naturally be a lot clearer.
This won’t always be highly evident when looking at a photograph on a small screen, such as our smartphone, or even a laptop. But, we might start seeing differences when we enlarge the photos for printing or displaying on large screen televisions. Nevertheless, things will be far more telling when you plan to print the images.
Printed photos are best seen with at 300dpi (dots per inch). For a standard 4”x6” photo, a 2MP camera will do. However, an 8”x10” will require 7.2MP, and the number will increase at a dramatic rate as the images get bigger.
Meanwhile, the way a digital zoom works means that a 4x zoom essentially uses one-quarter of the sensor. Therefore, if you only have a 6MP camera, you’ll suddenly be down to 1.5MP. If you’re fond of the zoom feature, a higher megapixel rating is vital.
Shooting at the Proper Resolution
Keep in mind that many digital cameras allow you to shoot at different levels of resolution. Adding a paragraph on resolution would be helpful. I don’t always like shooting photos at the highest resolution since it will require more storage space on memory cards and on your hard drive. Here’s some relevant additional reading.
Megapixels aren’t the Only Feature Though
The megapixel number is significant when looking at smartphone cameras. This is largely because the other elements are very similar. When looking at DSLR cameras, though, megapixels are just one of many influential features.
Your choice of lens will always have the most significant impact, even though accessories and camera settings will have an influence on the final photographs too. A high megapixel rating is still advantageous; but it isn’t nearly as important as you might first think. I’ve shared other articles on the importance of lighting, lenses and other elements of your DSLR. You’ll want to consider these options and features as much as the megapixels rating, if not more.
On a separate note, using an optical zoom lens doesn’t impact the megapixel rating in the same way that a digital zoom does. Therefore, you can get away with a smaller megapixel rating as long as the other aspects work in your favor.
In summary, the megapixels rating is a significant piece of data that will influence the level of clarity shown in your photos. Nonetheless, there are more important attributes out there, and gaining that sense of perspective should help guide your future purchases.