A ‘megapixel’ is an abbreviated term meaning millions of pixels. As an example a 50.6 MP photo is 50,600,000 mega pixels. Quite a mouthful to say, hence the abbreviation.

Megapixels (MP) are a misunderstood feature of the modern digital cameras and smartphones. Most people think the higher the MP the better the quality of the image.  It would be great if it was that simple.

I believe quality comes from a combination of the lens you have, the digital sensor on your camera, and your ability to dial in the correct focus and exposure. You can have a camera with 50MPs and still end up with poor image quality.

I’m old school, so I believe lens quality is a huge factor,  and personally, I prefer the German lenses. Since I’ve owned two camera stores, I’ve tried just about everything out there. Over the years I’ve owned Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Yashica, Fuji, Contax, Panasonic, and Hassleblad, but I’ve used just about every brand there is.

When you’re talking digital you have to start by defining the discussion. Your camera’s sensor size is a big factor and the primary regulator of how many MPs you can have. The digital, full size sensor is about 24 x 36 mm (the same as a 35 mm film frame), but sensors come in many sizes all the way down to the tiny sensors that exist in smartphones. Why is this important? Well, you have to have a sensor size that is big enough to hold all those pixels. If you put 50MP in a tiny sensor it becomes pixelated, what we used to call ‘grainy’ in the days of film. We will have to talk more about sensors later because there is a lot to talk about, or you can arrange a private lesson with me!

What MPs directly effect are how big you can print a photo without losing any quality of the image. The higher the MPs the greater the size of enlargement you can make. For example, a 12MP photo can print at up to 12″ x 18″. All you need for a 4″ x 6″ print  is 4MP.  Also, very few people even make prints anymore. If you’re only going to be looking at the photos on a pad, monitor, a computer HD screen or TV all you need is 4MP. It’s not until you make big blow-ups that the lack of pixels even shows.

If on the other hand, you want to print a photo at 2′ x 3′,  you would want as many megapixels as possible. However remember that the higher the MP, the larger the camera sensor needs to be, the greater the file size you’ll get, the longer it takes to the process the image in camera, the more storage space you’ll need, the bigger the camera you’ll end up with, and the more expensive a camera you will need. All that is a much greater commitment by the shooter! So unless you’re going professional a super high MP number isn’t going to be all that important.

There is one other advantage to higher and higher MPs and that’s your ability to crop a photo after the shoot. Not an issue for me as my camera has a 24 mm – 600 mm zoom lens with macro to 1″ close. Also, the goal is to capture your original image the way you want it in camera, and not have to spend time editing after the fact!

My current daily camera is a 12MP with a smallish sensor, sporting a Lecia designed lens, and I’m VERY happy with it, but then I’m now a grandfather and not looking for 2″ x 3″ of my grandson’s face.

So after all this, why are the camera manufactures making higher and higher MP cameras? Good question, stay tuned!