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The Megapixel Lie

By now, everyone in America has at one point or another heard the term 'megapixel', but for most people it remains a technical term that has little meaning to them. Most people do understand the basic definition, but have been purposefully deceived into what that actually means.

A megapixel is simply a unit of a million pixels. Easy enough, right? With this in mind, a 6-megapixel camera has the ability to take photos that are made up of 6,000,000 pixels. It would be easy for one to reason, then, that a photo with 6,000,000 pixels is pretty clear with lots of detail. While this is sometimes true, it isn't usually the case. Let me paint a picture for you: Sue sees gorgeous artistic photos online on a professional photography website. She decides that her 3-year-old 4-megapixel camera just can't get those kinds of shots and upgrades to a brand new 10-megapixel one. Excitedly she slaps some batteries in it and goes to town. Then, the disappointment comes in slowly that the pictures look uncannily like the ones she was taking with her old 4-megapixel camera. Sound at all familiar?

My fictional Sue is among the masses who have been duped by the industry into thinking that that they needed to "keep up with technology" and continue to buy the next biggest and brightest camera, specifically the one with the higher megapixel count. It is true that the higher the megapixel count the more detail you can find in your photos which allows you to blow up the photo to a huge print size, zoom way in on your computer, and crop the photo to a smaller size without losing clarity. However, there are many other factors that play a very large role in your photos clarity.

The first is camera shake. We all do it. Tripods don't. When we are taking photos in bright sunlight the shutter speed is so high that our minimal camera movement is rarely caught in the photo, but indoors or in any lower light situations your slightest little breath while shooting can blur your photo at a level you might not even notice until you do want to blow it up or zoom in. As a matter of fact, most photographers get this when they depress the shutter button. Just like a rifle can slightly be pulled to the right while pulling the trigger a camera can be shaken to the point of a blurry photo just from the shutter button being pressed. This kind of blurring is sometimes obvious, but most of the time people don't notice it because they don't print photos at poster size. Some cameras have image stabilization (IS) inside of them and they are the ones to get. It's called something different with every camera manufacturer and works differently in all of them as well. Some of the stabilizers are built into the attachable lenses and others are built into the camera itself. They are specifically designed to enable the photographer to shoot using slower shutter speeds and retain the crisp photo that without IS only would have been possible with a faster shutter speed. Some of these systems allow you to shoot with a shutter speed up to 16 times slower without losing clarity.

The second is lens quality. If you've ever had the opportunity to use an expensive Canon, Nikon or similar brand SLR camera and also have experience with cheap off-brand cameras then you know what I am talking about. I still have a Kodak camera that was a very high end point and shoot camera. It still is actually. I bought some cheap attachment lenses for it from and while they did serve a purpose there was some pretty bad blurring that the telephoto attachment gave the photos. The center of the photo would be in focus, but the outsides almost had a motion blur quality to them. The pictures looked alright, but were clearly amateur. The Kodak lenses were great and brought back great clarity, but the off-brand attachments lenses were made with cheap glass. So, unfortunately, buy name brand with cameras. Those companies have a name to keep up with and refuse to ruin their reputations with professional photographers by putting cheap glass on the market (even the low-end market) with their name on it.

Thirdly, the sensor plays a huge role in the quality of the photos. Without film, the sensor is the eye of the camera so naturally you want one with good vision. Some sensors are more sensitive to light than others and can capture photos in lower light situations better than their counterparts. Others are made cheaply and will wind up with dead pixels in them that leave small black dots on every photo you take. Some sensors capture color well while others will either be dull or will mis-read color. Still some will add lots of noise to a photo for no apparent reason. Just like with lenses, name brands will help you avoid those poorly made sensors. So, when you see a 20-megapixel camera on Ebay with 10x optical and it has the 'Buy it Now' option for $25 try not to get too excited. If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Don't buy it if it's a Toshniokisha brand or something else you cannot pronounce, either.

The megapixel lie was created so that companies could produce cheap cameras with a great big sensor and make a small fortune in the process. The truth of the matter is that most people don't need anything more than a good quality 4-megapixel camera. The output pixel count for one of these photos is 2304x1728. What most companies don't want you to know (so they can continue to convince you that you need a better camera) is that the human eye can't make out the pixels at 60 ppi (pixels per inch). So, let's do the math, shall we? This means that the aforementioned
4-megapixel camera can take photos that can be printed at 38"x29" and still not have pixellation seen. When was the last time you needed to print a photo larger than this? So, as long as that 4-megapixel camera has all the things we've talked about earlier, then there's no need for most people to get something else despite what the market will tell you.

Take it from a guy whose been lucky enough to see several of his photos wind up on billboards. You don't need more megapixels.


I have done extensive testing and found it actually makes noise more visible, and lower megapixels take advantage of lens quality better. I tested an Olympus E-10 (4 megapixels) against a Pentax IST D, the results from the Olympus were way more pleasing

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