Friday, January 20, 2012

The Truth About Megapixels

   More accurately titled:
 Megapixels:  They only Mean something to the Salesman

Whether you got a brand new camera for Christmas. still using an old one or if you're in the market for a new one, LISTEN UP!!!  One thing that drives me absolutely crazy is how most people do not understand what the term "megapixels" means when referring to cameras.  Without fail, it's usually the very first thing people tell me about when they start talking about their new camera, or the camera they want ("it has 12 megapixels!").  Or better yet, it's often a complaint or excuse they have as to why they don't like their current camera ("it's only 3 megapixels").  So many people think that the higher the megapixels on a camera, the better the camera is and the better pictures they will be able to take.  Right?  Are you guilty of this? 

First of all, let me say it's not your fault entirely.  Camera makers and marketers have done a STELLAR job on promoting this idea and profiting from it immensely!  But today's your lucky day. Today's the day you will stop thinking the amount of megapixels is what makes a camera good and that megapixels will single handedly transform you into a great photographer over night!
In basic terms,  pixels are those little tiny dots that make up your picture.  You count how many you have horizontally and how many you have vertically and multiply them together and you get your pixel count.  Since it's a big number, the results are in megapixels instead of just normal pixels (3 MP = 3,000,000 pixels).  Thus, small differences in the size of megapixels your camera has is not very important (and certainly not noticeable) since the pixel count is a square function (whoa a math term?).  Basically, all I'm trying to say is you could double your pixel count (going from 4MP - 8MP) and the result is invisible to the naked eye if you looked at them on your computer screen or if you printed them out.  They deal with the resolution of the overall photo - especially when printing - but none of us will probably ever print anything big enough to make that even matter.  The reason the camera makers all want you to think it matters is because now they only have to increase the linear resolution of their cameras a tiny fraction and it results in a big pixel number increase which attracts their unknowing consumers (because of that 'squared function').  Cheap-o cameras and even cell phones boast big megapixels now-a-days.  Then they can convince you that you need to upgrade last year's camera because the new ones are so much better (even though they haven't really made the camera better at all).  They are tricky with their advertising too in that often times they put a blown-up print from a lesser MP camera next to a small print from the higher MP camera so that a drastic difference can be seen (and so their consumers will gasp and hurry and buy the newer camera). 

So if you've read this far, repeat after me: 

Got it?  Case in point.  I didn't have a super nice, professional camera when I had all my babies and as my kids were growing up.  In fact, ever since my oldest was 1 year old, I had one of the very first digital cameras that ever came out.  It sported a whopping 1 megapixels!  Yes you heard me - ONE!  It was top of the line back in 1999/2000 but of course by the time my youngest was born in 2006, it was extremely outdated and everyone else had these smaller, fancier point and shoots with higher megapixel numbers.  Yet without fail, my pictures always looked way better than theirs did.  How could this be if I was only shooting with an old, outdated 1 MP camera and they were shooting with fancy, new 5 MP cameras?  Could it possibly mean that it's not just the camera that takes the good pictures, but it actually has something to do with the person holding the camera?  <gasp>   And it definitely showed that megapixels weren't making the difference.
(excuse the fact that I didn't have manual settings back then)

Four years ago, I finally got a DSLR that I'm still using today.  It's never been the top of the line, most expensive camera and it shoots at 10 MP.  I'm trying to think if I've ever even shot at 10 MP though.  I'm pretty sure I haven't - and I've done A LOT of photo shoots.  Why don't I utilize the full capacity of my camera's megapixels?  That's easy.  Unless I'm planning on printing something out on a huge 30 foot billboard, there's absolutely no reason for me to.  And guess what?  Not only do my pictures turn out great, I think many of my photos are way better than some people who have uber expensive cameras that cost thousands of dollars.  Maybe I just have a big ego . . . or maybe, just maybe, there's other important factors behind what makes a good image.  It's up to you to decide . . . but at least now you're educated on the subject!

**If you want to read & learn more about megapixels, here's a good site:
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Charissa said...

Okay, so megapixels don't count...and my actual talent does. But my new camera I got takes the crappiest pictures ever (that my last 2 cameras didn't). I haven't changed my picture taking strategies (which I can count on 2 fingers--point and shoot) what features do count on a camera when I buy one?

Get Hooked said...

This is helpful. I'm in the market for a cheap camera for my almost 7 year old. So now I can't blame her pictures on the lack of megapixels. It will be the fact that she's 7. Thanks.

tiffunny said...

Well ansel Adams once said something to the effect of "the most important feature of a camera is the 12 inches behind it" so first of all the person taking the pictures is most important. There are super famous photographs taken with $3 cameras. The camera is just the tool the artist uses. As for picking out point and shoots, I'm no help. I've bought two in the last two years and I hate using either one of them. Sometimes they do good for me and other times they don't because I struggle with not being able to easily control all the parameters. Image processors and image sensors are key factors for what makes some cameras better than others. And the more you learn about cameras, the more you will want ones that let you manually change the settings for each and every picture. I guess what I'm trying to say is one can make any camera work for them if they take the time to really figure out how their camera works. Read your manuals or look upntips and reviews about your camera online. A good lesson for me too since I havent bothered to do that on my point and shoots.

Heidi said...

I camera phone takes way better pics than my Canon PowerShot. I think it is all about the person taking AND the editing software that is out there!!

Tenille said...

I am totally guilty of thinking more megapixels meant clearer photos. I still need to read my manual for my new camera. Thanks for the great advice.

Beth said...

I can see the point of not needing to enlarge an image up to billboard size... however, you may want to crop an image that your target is far away in the original shot, and you don't want that cropped image to be all grainy. This is where the higher MP number IS necessary. I've had a 4 MP and now have a 10 MP and I can see the difference in the quality when cropping an image. Frequently, I don't always have the luxury of being right on top of my subjects and rely heavily on cropping. If you don't do much cropping of your photos, then no, you don't need a higher MP than 5.

tiffunny said...

true Beth. I probably should have mentioned that as well. I don't find myself cropping too much in general, but if I ever go back to my old camera pictures where I could only take 1+megapixels, it is frustrating if I need to do anything with them to make them bigger.

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