Resolution- How Many Megapixels Do You Need?


When deciding which digital camera to buy you will need to consider how many megapixels you need. Resolution in a digital camera is measured in pixels. Let’s look at why this can be important in your choice of camera.

Resolution- How many megapixels do you need?

Pixel stands for picture element, and digital photos are made up of millions of these tiny pixels. The term megapixel (MP) simply means 1 million pixels. So 2 megapixels would be 2 million pixels, 3 MP’s would be 3 million and so on.

Your digital camera has an image sensor that is the digital equivilent to film. This sensor is made up of pixels.

When exposed to light each pixel records a small bit of data which is then processed and the result is a digital image.

The number of megapixels that your camera has tells you how many pixels the image sensor uses to create your image. Since detail in the image is relative to the number and size of each pixel, the more megapixels your camera has the more detail it is capable of recording.

Think of a pixel as a tiny dot. Your digital print is made up of millions of these tiny dots. The larger the print, the larger these dots become. At some point they won’t be sharp little dots, but more like fuzzy circles. Detail then becomes blurred.

You can see this yourself if you have an image editor on your computer that allows you to enlarge an image. Simply take a digital photo image and enlarge it as much as possible. You will see that it becomes more and more a blur. If the image came from a 2 mp camera it will show more blur at the lower magnification levels than an image from a 5 mp camera.

Megapixels and Print Sizes

Your main concern when deciding how many megapixels you need is the size of the prints you expect to make from your digital images and how important having good sharp and clear photos is to you. For a rule of thumb just remember that the more megapixels your camera has the larger the prints you can make.

If you only want snapshot size prints for the family album, and to email to friends and family, then you will be quite satisfied with a quality 2 or 3 mp camera. On the other hand if you want to be able to make a lot of large pictures that you can frame and display then you should try to get at least a 4 or 5 mp camera.

There’s one more thing consider when deciding how many megapixels to get. If you want to be able to crop your photos, using only a small section of the image for the final print, then you may want an extra megapixel or 2 even though you are only making album sized prints.

A 2 or 3 mp camera can produce some very good quality prints up to about 4×6 inches and even larger in some cases. But if you want to make 8×10 or larger sized prints or you do a lot of cropping, then you would get better results with a 4 or 5 mp camera.

This is extremely simplified and there are other factors that determine print quality besides how many megapixels your camera has, but the important thing to consider here is the size of the prints you want from your digital camera.

While it doesn’t hurt to have more megapixels, if you don’t need them you might be happier with a high quality 3 mp camera than a cheap 5 mp one. Also, for email and display on the web you have to reduce the resolution anyway, so fewer megapixels is not a disadvantage.

If you are shopping for an intermediate level camera and know you want at least 5 or 6 mp, then you should also learn about image sensors and lens quality, since they can be very important to the quality of the camera’s images.

Just having more megapixels doesn’t guarantee that a camera will produce better quality images than a camera with fewer megapixels. If high image quality is important to you, then the number of megapixels is only one factor to consider when choosing the best digital camera.

Go to Step 3 – Which Features Do You Want?

Here’s to better photography …

Al Hannigan

Al Hannigan