Digital Cameras: Do Megapixels Matter?

megapixels

Think back to the camera sensor we spoke of in our compact vs. SLR camera buying guide. Every digital camera has one, and upon it resides an organized array of indescribably small photodiodes called pixels. When digicams first appeared on the scene circa 1990, sensors were capable of perhaps two or three hundred thousand pixels. That sounds like a hell of a lot of pixels, but the truth is that a photo captured on a sensor of that caliber looks, for want of a better expression, “noisy.” Object edges look jagged, smooth textures look irregular, and the entire shot appears rough – especially when enlarged and printed. And that’s why film camera buffs of the time remained rightfully convinced that digital temporarily wasn’t up to snuff.

But technology never sleeps. Soon, we’d figured out how to ram a million pixels (one megapixel) onto a single sensor. Still, the quality of even a small 4×6 digital camera print paled in comparison to that taken by a film camera. Those in the know knew that one day we’d have a digital camera that could take comparable, if not superior, shots – if only we could cram even more pixels on a sensor. And so began the megapixel wars. Megapixel counts soon became the most important parameter, by a long shot, in a digital camera, and people spoke of the number of megapixels in their camera as if bragging about something quite a bit more personal.

The Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III offers a 21.1 megapixel sensor
The Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III offers a 21.1 megapixel sensor

But several years ago we crossed a critical megapixel barrier. The exact number at which that threshold was met is arguable, but most agree it was in the five to six megapixel range. Photos captured on a sensor of this density could reliably be enlarged to an 8×10 or even an 11×14 print. Nevertheless, miniaturization continued unabated and still continues to this day. Now, ten megapixel cameras are commonplace, and some are approaching twenty.

But don’t be fooled. Unless you’re really gearing up for poster-sized prints, you simply don’t need anything more than a ten megapixel camera. Our advice? Never drop a bunch more dollars on a digital camera simply because it’s a megapixel king. And if you don’t fully believe us, head on over to Ken Rockwell’s blog at www.kenrockwell.com. Ken is a great photographer, a respected voice on the subject, and a straight shooter. He’s also highly opinionated. In any case, Ken often shoots at five or six megapixels even when he’s using a camera capable of double or triple that, and he (and we) are perfectly happy with the results.

Product Review

The Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S redefines sharp -- but is it worth the cost?

Nikon’s new mirrorless cameras now have a bright, versatile workhorse zoom that can be used without an adapter. Here's how the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S stacks up -- and whether it's worth $2,300.
Deals

The Canon PowerShot SX420 bundle gets a massive price cut from Walmart

Looking for a feature-packed and lightweight camera? You may want to check out the Canon PowerShot SX420. Right now, Walmart is offering this model at a huge discount. Normally $611, it is available for only $189.
Deals

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…
Photography

Hasselblad’s CFV II and 907X are a modern take on a photography classic

The CFV II 50C digital back is compatible with V system cameras from nearly the middle of last century, while the new 907X camera body turns it into an ultra-compact medium format machine using X system lenses.
Apple

Good news for Mac photographers — Lightroom now available from Mac App Store

Getting your hands on a copy of Adobe Lightroom CC just got a bit simpler for Mac users. The popular photo-editing app launched on the Mac App Store today, allowing photo editors to skip ordering from Adobe and go right to the App Store.
Photography

Take control of your photographic lighting with the best camera flashes for 2019

A good external flash makes your camera more capable and opens up new creative lighting options for you. Here are the best camera flashes you can buy for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, and Panasonic cameras.
Photography

The 2019 class of camera phones is great, and we tested them to find the best

It's the middle of the year, which means it's time for a mid-year camera shootout to find the best among our top phones of 2019. We pit six phones against each other, including the OnePlus 7 Pro, Pixel 3a, and Galaxy S10 Plus.
Photography

Sandmarc crams cinematic video flare into a tiny iPhone anamorphic lens

Looking for some unique flare for your iPhone videos? The Sandmarc iPhone Anamorphic lens captures a wider aspect ratio, oval bokeh, and horizontal flare. The new iPhone lens, designed for video, uses a clip or case-style attachment.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Illuminated keyboards and a retro gaming console

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Photography

Create apocalyptic A.I. world with this camera app that removes people from pics

What would the shots in your camera roll look like without any people? Bye Bye Camera is a new iOS app that uses artificial intelligence to remove all people from the photo., but it's not designed for practical applications.
Photography

Get those photos off your phone and on your wall with these printing options

Have you been looking around for the best place to print out your favorite photos online or in store? Don't fret, we've pored through dozens of options and narrowed it down to the seven best.
Deals

Walmart cuts $90 off the Canon Imageclass laser printer for your DIY projects

For those who don’t need color, monochrome lasers printers are among the better choices on the market. If you're looking for one, check out the Canon Imageclass MF232W. Normally $189, Walmart has brought its price down to $99.
Photography

Leicas are never cheap, but the M-E sacrifices little and costs half as much

Drooling over that iconic red circle logo, but don't have a big budget? The Leica M-E is the most affordable rangefinder in the M series. Despite the entry-level price point, the M-E even offers performance improvements.
Photography

After Lightroom and Photoshop, Loupedeck brings tactile edits to Camera RAW

Loupedeck, the photo-editing keyboard, can now work round-trip for editing a photo in Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW, and Photoshop. The new Camera RAW integration continues to add to the Loupedeck Plus roster of compatible software.