How many megapixels do you really need in your camera?

Camera shopping or looking for a new smartphone, the M word is inevitable. And by that we not only mean money but the coveted Megapixel. Like calories, megapixels are a measure of quantity, not quality. While a certain number of megapixels is important it is not the only way to tell if the camera is a good one. One of the most fascinating optical gadget the construct of a camera is complex. The quality of lens, its focal length, overall weight of the camera, all contribute to you taking a good picture. We decode the obsession over megapixel so you can make a more profound choice on your next camera shopping sojourn.

What is a megapixel?

The image sensor in your camera contains an array of pixels which are nothing but buckets that collect photons or light. Megapixel is a rating of the total number of pixels that make up your image.  One megapixel is equal one million pixels in an image. Just multiply the number of horizontal pixels by vertical pixels to get the total number of pixel and divide by a million. The answer is your camera’s megapixel.

How many megapixels are really necessary?

While camera and phone brands may make it seem like a big deal, a higher megapixel does not always mean a better picture. First off, forget the marketing pitch – you don’t need a huge number of megapixels to get some great photographs. Especially in today’s day and age where printing photos is obsolete, a higher megapixel may not really serve much purpose. A decent 6-megapixel camera is good enough for most normal camera usage. Go for higher megapixels  only if you wish to use your images for canvas-sized prints or large hoardings. If your interest is in night sky photography, then too a higher megapixel camera can be important. For web and usual print size of 4×6, a 4-12 megapixel camera is easily good enough.

Can higher megapixels hurt?

Unbelievable but true, shooting with a very high megapixel camera may backfire. Simply because your high resolution image when uploaded on social media, send to the printer or  a photo book app; will be downsized automatically. In other words, the software or upload process will randomly delete pixels without the smarts to understand what might be critical in the picture, such as the sparkle in a child’s eye or the razor-sharp edge of a leaf. And worse still, high resolution images will take a longer time to upload, eat into your bandwidth and hog a lot of storage space too.

What to watch out for?

Firstly, before investing in a camera roughly define your use. Are you going to use the camera mostly for travel pictures or day to day clicks, are you going to take night time shots especially night photography or even produce photo albums or commercial prints? Only in the later case, do you need to invest in a camera with more than 12 megapixels. Beyond this point, other considerations may matter more. Be it phones or point-and-shoot, the zoom feature will provide you with the required flexibility to frame your shots. Apart from megapixel, look out for the quality of the lens, the sensor technology and quality of focusing. For instance, the Canon 550D uses lenses and sensors that are larger than smartphones which is what really makes the images look better. It has no relation with the megapixel whatsoever. Lastly, the lens aperture (f number) shall determine the clarity of  pictures taken in low light. 

So do not obsess with how many megapixel a camera has – unfortunately, this megapixel game is more a marketing game then an assurance of superior image quality. Ultimately, great pictures are more about the timing of the moment you capture than anything else the camera can do.

Happy Clicking!

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