The myth of the megapixel: less can sometimes mean more

Consumers have been told for a number of years that the more megapixels a camera contains within an image, the better that image is. This has been the case with many camera manufacturers, and also the retailers of those cameras. People have consistently purchased a camera based on this claim, however, the problem with this claim is that it’s false. Together with Clifton Cameras, retailers of cameras and camera lenses, we explain this commonly misunderstood myth.

Just because there are a certain amount of megapixels contained in an image, this doesn’t mean that the image quality is dictated by this factor. In fact, it is the size of the image sensor that impacts the quality of your image. Image quality is more complex then, as it depends upon the relationship between the image sensor size and the megapixel number.

The image sensor

For example, if the same picture was taken on two different cameras with an identical megapixel size, the image quality would actually depend on the camera’s sensor. This is because a larger image sensor can capture more available light within the frame – and it is the light within the frame that contributes towards the overall sharpness of the image, which is not dependent upon the number of pixels within the image.

Take old camera films, for instance. With larger 35mm films, these would produce a better image quality. However, with smaller 16mm films, these would produce a worse quality image, as these films capture less light. Therefore, a modern ‘full frame’ DSLR camera can capture the most available light, alongside the APS-C type DSLRs – these cameras tend to take greater quality images because of their image sensor’s capacity for light intake compared to a ‘point and shoot camera’ or a simple mobile phone camera.

The image quality

The image sensor becomes important when a photographer begins to crop or enlarge an image. Photographers should aim to have an image sensor that can capture more light, as opposed to a greater number of pixels within the image. Cameras that cram a greater number of pixels into a smaller image sensor create images that are prone to developing noise (blurriness or visible grain) and less dynamic range within the frame, compromising the photographer’s ability to enlarge the image or crop the image once it is taken.

Taking a good image is more to do with skill than it is megapixels; an inexperienced photographer is less likely to take a good photo, irregardless of the number of megapixels on the camera. Sloppy technique, or the amount of motion contained in the frame, can blur an image more than the width of a microscopic pixel contained within an image. So, a clean shot produced by a 3-megapixel camera will be clearer than a picture taken with an 8mp camera with the same image sensor if there is disruption in the shot when it is taken.

Most cameras now can print a decent quality image at any size, if it’s a modern digital camera, irregardless of the number of megapixels. If you’re printing standard sized images, then you need 100 – 150 DPI (dots or pixels per inch) to take a sharp image, which means that with a 6mp camera, images can be printed to a size of up to 30 inches and they will still look sharp. However, if you want to achieve pure-clarity with extra sharpness in the image, go for a camera with 300 DPI. Always remember, to get the perfect image you’ll need to evaluate both the image sensor quality and the number of megapixels to ensure that the images, and the camera, are right for you and the photographs you’re going to take.

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