Megapixels Explained: How Many Is Enough?

27 December 2021

When talking about any digital camera, the first thing mentioned is often the camera’s megapixels. This makes sense, as a camera’s megapixel count impacts other features of the camera and determines the outcome of your photographs. 

Generally, it begs one main question. Do more megapixels mean better photo quality? Join us as we discuss what megapixels are, why it matters, and what’s a good amount of megapixels for a camera for the type of photos you’re after.


So, what is a megapixel?

Let’s start with pixels. A pixel is the smallest unit of a digital image that makes up a complete image or video or any visible thing on a digital display. Put simply, they’re the tiny details that form the bigger picture, and a pixel is often in square form to avoid any gaps. Digital cameras capture millions of these pixels via millions of censors, and the term used to describe each group of million is, you guessed it, a megapixel. So a camera with an image sensor that has about 14 million pixels is said to have a 14-megapixel resolution.


Picture a very low-resolution image you’ve seen online, often described as “pixelated”. If you counted the squares, or pixels, that make up the image, you wouldn’t be counting all that many. The more “pixelated” an image, the fewer the pixels. So few, in fact, that you can actually start to make out each one individually. It gives the appearance that it’s pieced together by small blocks, which is actually entirely true. Conversely, the more of these pixels, the sharper the image will look.

Megapixels Explained: How Many Is Enough?Megapixels Explained: How Many Is Enough?

How many megapixels are enough?

Megapixels Explained: How Many Is Enough?Megapixels Explained: How Many Is Enough?

With camera megapixels explained, we can now look into how many of these we actually need our camera to have to capture high-quality images. The short answer is a long one, as it depends entirely on what the individual is photographing and what they intend to do with the finished product.

Whether you’re shooting portraits, images of fleeting lightning, or vivid shots of sports and action, if you’re printing images that folks are going to see up close, megapixels definitely matter. The more megapixel sensors have, the more information is captured. This means that larger, detailed images can be printed without compromising quality. If you intend to increase an image beyond its native size, you’ll need a camera with a high megapixel count to create larger prints without losing the sharp quality of the image.

If you’re sharing your work on social media, you don't need a very high-resolution image, so any modern digital camera with a decent megapixel count will do. The same goes for printing your images at standard print sizes. However, keep in mind that if you crop a portion of an image, you can start to see the tiny squares that make up the image. So if you intend to crop your work heavily, there are advantages to working with high-resolution cameras with more megapixels.

The mirrorless Canon EOS R5 achieves a resolution of up to 45 megapixels, and the Nikon D850 appeals to professionals and enthusiasts of all kinds with its resolution of 45.7 megapixels. Both mirrorless and DSLR camera systems result in sharper than sharp images with megapixel counts this high.

Megapixels Explained: How Many Is Enough?Megapixels Explained: How Many Is Enough?

How do I know what megapixel count I need?

Megapixels Explained: How Many Is Enough?Megapixels Explained: How Many Is Enough?

You can actually work out what megapixel count you need to make prints of a certain size, which can help you decide whether a high megapixel camera is suitable for what you will be using it for. This is for an image that’ll be printed at 300ppi, or 300 pixels per image, which is generally considered the ideal pixel density for printing, as a pixel is just barely discernible by the human eye. 

Formula:

  1. Print size (in inches) x 300 = total pixel count
  2. Horizontal pixels x vertical pixels ÷ 1,000,000 = required megapixels

Now, let's test this formula using the print size of 12×18 inches.

  1. (12×18) x 300 = 3600 × 5400
  2. (3600 × 5400) ÷ 1000,000 = 19.44

From this, we can decide that a 19.4MP camera can comfortably produce a 12x18 inch print. In this case, the easy-to-use digital Panasonic Lumix G95 with its count of 20.1 megapixels will do.


Check out some of our favourite high-res cameras


Find the best camera for you

You’ll get the best results when your chosen camera matches your desired outcome perfectly. Find the camera with your perfect megapixel count by heading into your nearest Ted’s Cameras store, or having a look at digital cameras online.


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