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Digital Camera: The Megapixel Hoax.

Every time you see a new camera, what feature catches your attention first and foremost? We bet it is the megapixel count. As the world of cameras gets better by the day, megapixel count seems to have become the most ultimate parameter of judging them, at least for us laymen.

Camera makers are always bragging about the next model with even more megapixels than the one that came before it. The new numbers make your current model seem obsolete. If you bought a camera with twelve megapixels a few years ago, you wish you could get a new one that gets twenty.

But is it really true? Does only a higher megapixel count really makes a camera better than the one with a lower count? The answer is a big 'NO'. Megapixels are not at all the only or even the principle criterion for better image quality of a camera. There are other more important factors to take note of like the camera sensor, ISO, optics, aperture, and so on.

You might be thinking, why then camera makers keep coming up with cameras having more and more megapixels every year? Well simply because they need to stay in business, and they need to boost their sales in a highly saturated market. They need an easy point to convince the buyers that the new models are a big upgrade from the one they have now, luring them to make a purchase.

Megapixels serve the purpose pretty well for them. It is a number game after all, simply projected as 'Bigger the better'. The other factors, and which in fact matter more in image enhancement, are complex mechanisms not to be easily interpreted by buyers. And that's why the sellers made the megapixel their scoring point.

Whether it's your first one or you're upgrading, it is important to know what specs matter. Let's break it down for you and see what is really important to your photography needs and what's a given already.

The Megapixel Mystery

So what are megapixels, and how do they relate to image quality? Simply put, a single megapixel amounts to exactly one million pixels in an image captured by the camera.

Up to certain point megapixels matter, but never as much as they are projected. Like calories, megapixels are a measure of quantity, not quality. You need a certain number of megapixels depending on the way to want to share a photo. But just as the number of calories in a meal doesn't say much about how nutritious it is, the number of pixels in a camera doesn't say much about the quality of the image they can capture.

You would probably not believe, but it is still true that for online image sharing, you really only need a 1 megapixel camera. That is because your computer monitor is usually about 1000Eu1000 pixels = 1 megapixel.

When you print your images, you will need more megapixels. If your megapixel count isn't enough for the size of image you print, your images won't look sharp. But even for that you only really need a max 7 megapixel camera -- even for huge 30Eu40 posters.

These days, almost all cameras have double digits of megapixels, making this spec basically irrelevant when it comes to image quality. Some would even argue that a high megapixel rating on a small camera is not such a great idea because if a camera has too many megapixels packed into it, the images can get a noisy (grainy) because there is too much information being captured and stored in a small space -- a good reason not to rely on a camera's megapixel rating.


Ever wondered why even a 40 megapixel smartphone camera couldn't match the results of a 6 megapixel DSLR camera? The key to the mystery lies in the sensor size of the devices. The senor is exposed to and captures the available light when you click an image. It is the most important component in capturing and storing the images. Larger sensors capture more light, which means they produce a more shallow depth of field.

Today, there are numerous camera sensors available on the market. 'Advanced Photo Systems' or 'APS-C' sensor is the most commonly used in DSLR cameras. The sensor is significantly larger than what's available in a point-and-shoot camera or a cellphone.

While smaller sensors struggle with capturing enough light, the APS-C sensors are able to accommodate lower light situations, and have better control of depth of field. With a larger sensor, you can more readily render an out-of-focus background behind your subject too.

Even bigger are the 'Full frame' sensors, often considered to be the digital equivalents of 35mm film. You'll find these sensors on high-end DSLRs such as Canon's 5D series. The most desirable benefit of the full frame sensor is that there is no crop factor.

Crop factor refers to the degree of magnification of a lens when attached to a camera. Subjects are zoomed in a little bit more when using an APS-C-based camera. With full frame camera, the lens won't be magnified at all: a 28mm lens will give you a 28mm image.

You can guess by now that it is the full frame cameras that have the ability to produce the highest quality images. In a nutshell, larger the camera sensor, higher will be its image quality, and that explains why you don't often capture a cellphone image that can compete with a DSLR, no matter how high its megapixel count.

Image processor

A camera's image processor can affect quality in a few ways. Many cameras can fix lighting issues and adjust various other settings that can make your images look really nice. A good image processor makes it possible for the camera to handle these operations. A fast processor also makes it possible for a camera to capture images in quick succession. Camera speed is important, and a fast processor can allow a camera to compensate for less-than-ideal lighting conditions.

The Lens

Last, but certainly not the least, a good lens can make all the difference in the world in a photograph. The lens is the eye of your camera, and if it can't see well, it definitely won't show well. The quality of the lens very much reflects in the quality of the image produced.

In the case of point-and-shoot cameras, the optics is limited in quality for two reasons; it is limited in size, and fixed to the camera, unlike a DSLR, where the lens is changeable according to the situation. The prospects are even grimmer in case of cellphones having a real tiny lens-eye.

When looking at DSLRs, consider what the maximum aperture is, or how wide the lens opens. Wider the aperture, more the light is let in, resulting in better images in low light situations.

When shopping for any lens, take note of its f-stop. The f-stop is a measurement of the diameter of the aperture, expressed as a fraction (f/1.4, f/3.5, and so on). Higher the f-stop number, lower will be the lens' aperture opening, which means a lens with a lower f-stop number will have wider aperture opening and will be a better option, among the lenses with same focal length and zoom.

Got a picture now of what it is actually all about? Megapixels are great; they revolutionised the world of photography, enabling photographers to produce digital images that compare to film images.

But megapixel count is no reason to upgrade your current camera. Instead, focus on the kind of photography you are indulged in and accordingly consider the limitations of your current model. You might need a different lens or a camera body that takes a quicker continuous stream of photos. If you are upgrading, do it for better reason(s) than just getting more megapixels.

Actual megapixels you need for best image results

Computer Monitor / Online - 1 to 3 megapixels

6Eu4 prints - 2 megapixels

10Eu8 inch prints - 5 megapixels

14Eu11 inch prints or larger - 7 megapixels

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Dec 7, 2015
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