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What Are Megapixels & Do They Matter?

When you’re shopping for a new camera, one thing you’re likely to consider when comparing cameras is the number of megapixels the camera has.

It’s natural to assume that the higher the pixel count, the better the camera. But do megapixels really matter? It turns out they only matter if you plan to do certain things in your photography journey. 

In this post, we’ll look at the situations that demand a camera have more megapixels. Read on to find out just what megapixels are, what they do, and how many megapixels is good for both cameras and smartphones. 

What are megapixels?

Megapixels is a term to denote one million pixels (and is often abbreviated to MP). One pixel is a dot of visual information. Images are made up of millions of these dots. 

A camera with an 8MP sensor can produce an image with 8 million pixels while one with 30MP can produce an image with 30 million pixels.

But what does this really mean? Think of pixels as tiny squares, or receptors, that sit on your camera’s sensor and collect information from a scene. 

Rows of light issuring from pixels.

In theory, the more pixels your sensor has, the greater the detail your camera can capture and the higher resolution your photo will be.

In practice, it doesn’t always translate that more pixels = better quality. The size of your actual image sensor plays a part too (along with a host of other factors). 

Two sensors can contain 20 megapixels yet produce drastically different results if one is a tiny phone sensor and the other belongs to a DSLR.  

Simply put, larger image sensors have larger pixels that can capture more light more accurately, which results in less noise in your photos

When lots of small pixels are clumped more closely together on a small sensor, there can be interference between the electrical signals, which can result in grainy, blurry, or poorly focused photos. 

Why do camera megapixels really matter in photography?

The truth is, they don’t always matter. A better question would be WHEN do megapixels matter?

You really start to see a difference in the higher megapixel counts when you look at enlarging your image. This might be through creating big prints or through cropping your photos.

Everybody has had that experience of blowing up an image so large that it becomes pixelated – you can actually see the tiny squares that captured each bit of detail. A camera with more pixels allows greater enlargements without defects. 

A large billboard in the desert advertising a hotel.

Having those extra pixels comes in handy when you want to crop a tighter image around your subject too. The higher your pixel count, the more closely you can crop an image without degrading the quality. For example, if you have a 30MP image, cropping it by 50% still gives you a decent 15MP image. 

At the end of the day, you’re only going to need a camera with enough megapixels to support your desired image size. 

How many megapixels is good for a phone?

Smartphones these days are competing for the number of megapixels they can boast on their camera sensors. A phone camera with 12MP should be more than enough for your everyday needs. 

There is a whole range of reasons why 12MP is the ideal resolution for smartphones, including processing speed, low light photo quality, and storage space, as well as the phone’s battery performance. 

How many megapixels is good for a camera?

Most casual photographers could get away with a camera that has 10MP to 16MP. This would be more than enough to upload your photos to Instagram or print off a standard 6×4 inch photo. 

Business Insider says 24MP is better for anyone who wants to create large, high-quality prints, while professional photographers shooting life-size images or billboards would want 30MP or more, especially for a camera with a full frame sensor. 

So what megapixel count should I look for in a camera?

Ultimately, you want a camera that will deliver the best quality for your needs. So when you’re shopping for a new DSLR or mirrorless camera (or even a compact camera, which can still outperform a smartphone), look at the size of the camera sensor as well as the number of pixels that sensor has. 

If the camera has a large sensor as well as a high pixel count (such as a full frame sensor with 61MP), it’s guaranteed to deliver outstanding results. 

But if you’re looking at a compact camera with a smaller sensor, a high pixel count doesn’t necessarily translate into superior quality. 


Still not sure which camera is best for you? Visit our staff at your nearest Camera House store to get some expert advice on which camera will suit you.

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