Megapixels – How Many Megapixels Do I Need?

Megapixel Truth

How Many Megapixels Do I Need
Got megapixel questions?

How many megapixels do I need? The question about megapixels does not come up as often as it used to, but there is still the belief that more megapixels means better quality.

In fact, this article is a direct response to a question I came across on the dpReview forum in the “Beginners Questions” category.

“I have a question about megapixels… I am in the market for my first DSLR and (the professional photographer who shot my wedding) told me that I wouldn’t need anything over 6mp and anything over that is gravy. Could this possibly be true? I want to do landscapes so I estimated something 14-18mp? Would a 6mp DSLR give that much better quality than my 14.1mp P&S?”

Over the past several years, there was a “megapixel race.” Each digital camera that was produced had more megapixels than to one before it.

We were lead to believe that more was better when it came to megapixels.

Now, however, digital camera manufacturers have kind of leveled off in terms of megapixels, and most camera makers are producing cameras with 12-18 megapixels as a general rule. And this is true for point and shoot models as well as digital SLRs.

Is 6-megapixels Enough?

The truth? You want the truth? I want the truth! You can’t handle the truth! (from “A Few Good Men”)

Yes, 6 megapixels is enough to print good quality prints up to 8 x 10.

However, you can’t find a camera with a 6-megapixel sensor any more unless you buy a very old one. But why would you do that?

Not only are there more megapixels in today’s cameras, but the quality of those pixels has also improved. Picture quality has gotten very good, as well as the camera software which processes the images.

I will not go into the algorithms that lead to the final image being seen and printed. That is far too complicated. Just know that if you buy a digital camera in today’s market, you will have plenty of megapixels to be able to print a picture just about any size you desire.

One thing you will want to do before you start shooting is to check the size setting in your camera. There are lots of choices from very small to very large. If you plan on printing, make sure you have set your camera on a large enough image (the camera will usually give you the dimensions of each size in the menu).

There IS a Difference in Pixels

Image Sensor
Image sensor sizes displayed

With the number of megapixels no longer being a factor in the size of prints, there is another issue that you need to be aware of.

There is a major difference in the quality of pixels between a point and shoot camera and a digital SLR camera. For example, 12-megapixels in a point and shoot camera does not produce the same quality photo as 12-megapixels in a digital SLR camera.

What’s that, you say?

It’s true. Just because two cameras have the same number of megapixels does not mean the cameras are equal.

Instead, the issue has everything to do with sensor size. The sensor is what holds the pixels.

A digital SLR camera sensor is much bigger than a point and shoot camera sensor.

It just makes sense that if you jam 12 megapixels into a sensor that is about 1/10th the size, the quality of those pixels will not be identical.

More room on a digital SLR sensor allows for better quality. It is just a fact of digital photography life.

So when you are in the market for your next camera, rather than asking, “How many megapixels do I need?” Ask am I getting the best pixel quality possible?

Digital SLR simply equals higher quality than point and shoot.