Thursday, January 3, 2008

Digital Camera Megapixels - How Many?

More megapixels equals better pictures. Is it true? The New York Times say it’s a big fat lie. Other disagree, so what is it? Should we buy a digital camera with the most megapixels possible? Or should we not be concerned and just get the cheapest digital camera? The Canon S5 IS has 8 megapixels, is that good?

Of course there are other factors besides the number of megapixels that affect picture quality. Let’s rule out photographic skill and try to talk only of camera hardware. The most important is the camera’s lens. Compact digital cameras have tiny lenses. Tiny lenses make for worse pictures in general. Don’t expect your pocket sized camera to take pictures as good as an SLR just because your megapixel count is higher. It doesn’t work that way.

Pixel Overload
Years ago when 1 and 2 megapixel digital cameras were the norm, an increase made a difference. Now, that’s not the case. Now we are at the point where some experts say that the increase in megapixels is degrading picture quality. Too many pixels mean smaller pixels. Smaller pixels on a camera’s sensor, which converts light to electrical signal, means less light sensitivity. That could lead to noise in the image. Noise is anything from poor edge definition to off-color specks.

8 is Enough
When do we need more megapixels? We need more to make large prints or to zoom in and crop prints. If you want to make 12x16 prints you should have at least 6 megapixel. 8 is plenty – like the S5. If you want huge professional quality posters you may want more resolution and probably a more expensive SLR. Anything more than 8 on a powershot or other point and shoot is probably not helping your image quality. And most certainly it’s not helping your hard drive which will need to be a lot bigger to accommodate the larger file size of your images. So don’t get hung up on megapixels. Now is a good time to buy a camera because you can get an older model with less rez for cheaper. So the cheapest digital camera might be the best one! Soon there won’t be any more smaller megapixel cameras as the marketing frenzy over larger megapixels continues to escalate. I wonder if digital camera binoculars will go through the same pixel frenzy?