What are Megapixels?

Friends frequently call me up and ask for advice on which camera to buy, and one of the most common question that I hear is, “How many megapixels do I need?”

Well, let’s answer that by first answering: What are megapixels?

The word “pixel” comes from “picture element.” Seriously – who would have known?! A picture element is basically a dot. Digital images are made up of these colorful dots put together in the right order to create a picture. One megapixel equals one million dots, or pixels. In general, the more pixels you have, the closer the dots, and the greater the capacity to record fine detail. All this means better picture quality.

The higher the number of megapixels your camera has, the more flexibility and options you will have when editing, cropping and printing your pictures. A larger original image will allow you to crop a smaller portion of the large photograph and still have a high quality print. However, a 4×6 printed image taken at 4 megapixels will most likely look just as good as a 4×6 image taken with an 8 megapixel camera. You will only notice the difference when the image is blown up to it’s maximum quality size.

(I made a snazzy table, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get the table to copy into my post. Here’s the info:)

Resolution Best print size (up to)
2 megapixels………..3×5 in.
4 megapixels ……….5×7 in.
6 megapixels ……….8×10 in.
8 megapixels ……….11×14 in.
10 megapixels ……..13×17 in.
12 megapixels ……..16×20 in.

Ask yourself: What size photos will I be printing? Can I tell a difference between 4.0 and 8.0 megapixels? Are the additional detail and original image size important to me? Remember that just because a camera has more megapixels than another does not mean that the images will be better.
Some other factors in photo and print quality are as follows:

  • Good lighting (ah, lighting–the most difficult factor for me!)
  • Quality of lens (good glass makes a huge difference!)
  • Steadiness of camera (keep still!)
  • Focus on the proper subject (if I focus on the wall in the background, megapixels will not help make my subject look any better!)
  • Proper shutter speed for moving or stationary subject
  • Clean equipment (darn those finger prints!)

Lolli is a lifelong member of the Church, married to a convert. She has five kids–3 girls and 2 boys (and a camera that goes everywhere she goes!). Read more on her personal blog, Better in Bulk.

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