If you’re out buying a digital camera, then one of the key deciding factors is the number of megapixels supported.
The question I always hear my readers ask: “How many megapixels do you really need in a camera?”
The number of megapixels determines the how good your photos turn out. If you have too few megapixels, then your pictures will turn out crappy.
Investing in a camera with too many megapixels, on the other hand, is an unnecessary waste of money.
A golden rule to bear mind: a camera with more megapixels isn’t always better. If your camera supports more megapixels, then each photo you take will be larger. This means that you’ll use up more space on your memory cards and computer’s hard drive.
If you have trouble deciding how many megapixels you need (I know I did when I bought my first digital camera), then the guide below will help.
Essentially, you need to ascertain what size prints you want to get and what your budget is, before deciding on how many megapixels you want.
Take a look at the diagram below. It shows you the number of megapixels you need in order to produce images for sharing online, small prints, large prints and extremely large prints.
2 to 3 megapixels: Cameras in this range (e.g. web cameras or cell phone cameras) have very low image resolution. Don’t expect to be able to print high-quality photos using these cameras. You can, however, email the photos or post them on your web site, Facebook, Twitter, PInterest, etc. The good thing about such cameras, of course, is their low price.
4 to 6 megapixels: For standard home prints for friends and family, you can go with just 4 to 6 megapixels. One of my first digital cameras was a Canon PowerShot S110 which only had a 2 megapixel sensor. But it served me very well – for many years.
Cameras in this range are pretty decent – you can expect to print out great 4×6 prints at this resolution. Of course, if you want larger, blown-up portraits of your birthday party or a holiday in Europe, then I would certainly recommend getting more megapixels.
7 to 8 megapixels: Most new point-and-shoot cameras these days tend to have at least 8 megapixel image resolution. Bring these images to the lab and they’ll be able to develop great looking 8 x 10 prints for inserting into your photo album.
If you’re looking to edit your photos and put them in slideshows or add effects, this level of megapixels will also do nicely.
10 megapixels and up: The more advanced cameras tend to have image resolutions of 5 to 8 megapixels. Newer Digital SLRs can go up to 24 megapixels and you’d also expect their prices to go up too.
Besides print size, the other thing to watch out for is file size. If you go around shooting 24 megapixel shots, do expect your memory card to run out of space – fast. You do need to get multiple memory cards as a backup if you really need to do high-resolution shooting.
Here’s a diagram showing camera megapixel counts versus image file size and print size.
Well, now you know roughly the number of megapixels you should be shooting for depending on your intended usage and budget for the camera.
My general advice is this:
If you’re just shooting for fun and posting images online – save some money and go for anything from 2 to 6 megapixel cameras.
If you’re a budding photographer – go for 7 to 8 megapixel cameras to ease into the hobby. Upgrade next time when your skills improve.
If you’re a serious photographer – yes, then go for anything from 10 to 24 megapixels cameras – but be sure it supports the type of photos you want to do. If I were a professional photographer, I’d have no qualms shelling out hard cash for high resolution photos.