megapixels

 

If you’re in the market for a new camera, it often seems like the number one criteria is megapixels. I’m not saying that this is right, but it’s the one of the few criteria that camera makers think that their customers can understand.

I often think there’s a lot of hype with cameras, so I’d like to take a second and break down what a megapixel really is and help you figure out how many you actually need for your workflow.

A megapixel is simply a unit of storage that describes the amount of data captured by a camera. It can be written to internal memory or to a removable card. A megapixel is one million pixels and is a term commonly used to describe how much data a digital camera can capture.

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A good analogy with megapixels is to look at the gas tank on your car. Just because your tank can hold more gallons of gas doesn’t mean it’s more fuel-efficient or better than your friend’s car. For example, if a camera can create an image that measures 6016 X 4016 pixels, it is referred to as having 24.2 megapixels (such as an image captured by my Nikon D600).

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If that image were printed at 300 pixels per inch (a common resolution used for professional printing) it would measure about 20 X 13 inches. That’s often a larger print than many need. Canvas prints are often done at end lower resolution settings.

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A few guiding points.

  • Professional photographers may need more pixels than consumers so they can output larger prints. But always check the recommended resolution requirements for your printer or targeted surface.
  • The more pixels you capture, the larger the image is (both in disk space and potential print size). As camera resolution goes up, so will the need for card capacity. Don’t resort to shooting JPEG because you don’t own enough memory cards.
  • You can make much larger images by choosing to shoot stitched panoramic photos. This process involves shooting multiple photos in a scene with some overlap between each image. These can then be stitched together using Photoshop or another tool.
  • Having a higher resolution image makes it easier to crop and still have a high-quality file. This can be really useful if you shoot fast moving subjects or have to shoot from a greater distance.
  • Don’t dump your current camera just to get more resolution. Despite what the salesperson may tell you, more pixels does not mean more quality. It just means more data.

Disclaimer: This post attempts to explain a tech concept in a simple way. It is a summary of the issues and doesn’t cover all the technical considerations. I hope it helps.

Be sure to follow Rich on Twitter

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About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Lynda.com. Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.

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