Megapixels: Do You Need More?

The first digital camera I ever used took 3.2 megapixel photos. Cameras today take as many as 24 or 36 megapixel photos. What is a megapixel though?

What is a pixel?

Pixels are tiny squares of color. When you put a bunch of these squares together, you can make an image.

Digital cameras make photos by capturing light onto tiny little sensors whose information is stored in each 'pixel'. 

Images are made of tiny little squares of color called pixels.

Images are made of tiny little squares of color called pixels.

What is a Megapixel?

The prefix 'mega' is similar to 'centi' or 'kilo' except on a larger scale. It denotes millions instead of tenths or thousands. So a megapixel is simply 1 million pixels. Camera sensors are typically judged by how many pixels make up their resulting images.

Its one of the first numbers you will see when looking at camera specifications.

More pixels means there is more information and detail in your photo... to a point.

Do Megapixels Matter?

As camera technology advances the amount of information modern sensors are able to record is staggering. It used to be very important to get a camera with enough megapixels, but for now this isn't really the case in today's markets. Most devices are not capable of showing all of the detail that current cameras take.

In the gallery below I have the same image scaled to two different sizes. One is a 1 megapixel image, the other is 10 megapixels. See if you can actually tell the difference between the two.

The 10 megapixel image has 10 times the information that the 1 megapixel image does. Why doesn't it look 10 times more detailed?

Your monitor is to blame for this one.  Most monitors (except for new 4K ultra-HD models) do not have the resolution to be able to display all the information in the images.

The 10 Megapixel image above has a resolution of 2573x3885 pixels. However, if your screen is HD, it at most only has a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels (about 2.1 megapixel). 

For this reason, a megapixel count does not really matter for current cameras. The only time that extra information becomes useful is when you want flexibility in cropping or extremely detailed large prints.

Consider this, when Nikon updated their pro flagship camera (The D4) this year with the D4s, the pixel count remained the same - 16 megapixels. For the near future until 4K monitors become commonplace, there won't be a huge need for high-megapixel count cameras.

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