How many megapixels Do you need?

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It's a question I get asked a lot, "How many megapixels to I need?".

The answer is, "not that many really". We've become a bit obsessed with them and, since we got to about 12Mp (which covers just about any camera or phone in the last 5 years), it's mostly irrelevant.

My first digital camera was a Fuji Finepix in 2001. It was a 2 Megapixel camera. My latest camera has 24 Megapixels and I've had pretty much everything inbetween. Pay some money and you can have 45Mp..50Mp...and more, but do you really need it?

Here are some of my images. Can you tell which ones are 10Mp, 12Mp or 24Mp? Look at the detail, have a guess without looking at the answers. (The file names provide the answers)

2mp a.jpg 2mp b.jpg 7mp a.jpg 14mp a.jpg
 
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Answers:

1) The Blue Door is from a 2 Megapixel camera.

2) The Boy in blue is from the same 2 Megapixel camera.

3) Me, with my bike, is from a 7 Megapixel camera.

4) The fishing hut is from a 14 Megapixel camera. (A very cheap Canon SX150. I think I paid £80 for it new in 2013).

The point being that, as long as you don't need to crop into an image, 2 megapixels was good enough. I have A4 prints from that camera.
Counter-intuitively you don't really need more megapixels for bigger prints either. Because you are supposed to stand further away from large prints, you don't need eye-watering resolution. Some billboards use 2 Megapixels!! True, if you stood a metre away from the billboard you'd see every pixel the size of your hand, but the point is you don't stand that close to them.

So, don't worry if you only have 8 megapixels. 15 years ago, the best professional camera in the world only had 12Mp, and that cost £3,500 in 2003!!.

The important thing, as with many things, is how you use it. Instead of asking yourself, "have I got enough megapixels for this photo?" try asking yourself, "What is this photograph going to be of, and would it be better if I stood a bit closer?". You'd be surprised what a difference it can make if you ask yourself that question.

Hopefully you can tell, in the 4 images above, what my own answer was to that rhetorical question.
 

Lenny HB

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Our first Digital camera was 2mp results ok but not brilliant. I reckon for good results anything 6mp and up is fine. Only really need large MP cameras if you are going to be making professional poster size prints.
 
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Jim

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If you are only doing to display photos digitally then you don’t need to much at all. Printing though and I often have to squeeze the last drop out of my 20 meg negs when outputting on A3+. (y)
 
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Even my £200 phone has a 16mp main camera and 2mp selfie camera.
Yes, mine too.
There's a danger that they will push phone sensors too far. 16Mp is as far as they should go really, and there's a sound technical reason why they could improve matters by backing off a bit, to say 12Mp.
The problem is that "Loads and loads of Megapixels" is an easy marketing headline whereas, "Fewer Megapixels than our rivals for sound technical reasons and overall better image quality" isn't quite as catchy. Phone manufacturers are in desperate straights now, trying to provide good reasons for spending £900 on the new "improved" model.

I'd happily have a 12Mp sensor using the technology of my 16Mp sensor if it meant it was better in poor lighting conditions (which is the sound technical reason for not squeezing so many pixels on a sensor).
 
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The MHF site I think will only allow around a 10mb picture. But I agree megapixels are not the end of the world for quality.

My favourite camera is my Canon 1D from around 2005. It only has around 8meg picture quality and was probably used by the majority of professional sport photographers in its day.

A friend has a 40+ meg Nikon and the quality of the pictures can be stunning.

The photo below was with the 1D. It shows pretty good definition.

I personally suspect that camera shake at 50meg looks just as crap as at 2meg. But one will be defined better and so make a worse photograph.

View media item 23414
 

hilldweller

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It's a question I get asked a lot, "How many megapixels to I need?".
When I upload here I reformat to 1000x700 ( approx ) they are perfectly fine on screen.

But as a point of order, you can't upload your 24Mpx image here, the system won't take that size.
 
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If you are only doing to display photos digitally then you don’t need to much at all. Printing though and I often have to squeeze the last drop out of my 20 meg negs when outputting on A3+. (y)
Printing is definitely a separate topic as it introduces a whole new area of quality questions/answers. Once you start squirting ink then the list of variable affecting quality/detail/sharpness (real and perceived) increases dramatically. In my experience printing allows you to get away with fewer pixels, for an acceptable result, than under the "microscope" of a PC screen viewed at arm's length.

For reference, the 2nd photo of mine (the boy in blue) on my 21" monitor, displays at just bigger than A4 on the MHF website. It's uploaded in native 2Mp resolution, which is 1600x1200 pixels.
 
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The MHF site I think will only allow around a 10mb picture. But I agree megapixels are not the end of the world for quality.

My favourite camera is my Canon 1D from around 2005. It only has around 8meg picture quality and was probably used by the majority of professional sport photographers in its day.
Agreed. I had a 12 megapixel 5D from 2005 and, between that and the 1D, I'd say 95% of Professional digital images were taken on them for 5 years, from postcard size, through high-end glossy magazines, to billboards. The stunning images from those 2 cameras (Landscape, Wedding, Fashion, Sports...etc) didn't suddenly stop looking amazing with the advent of the 45Mp Nikon D850.

Naturally technology brings nice-to-have enhancements (such as wider dynamic range, lower noise at high ISO to name two that always get mentioned) but this thread really isn't for people who care about that. I figure that if you know about dynamic range in cameras sensors then you already knew everything I said in the original thread.

This is more for people who are concerned that it's a lack of pixels that is holding their photography back..... and it probably isn't. It's almost always that they forgot a couple of basic rules for good photos.
 
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Years ago, I had a Nikon D50 with a 6 mp cropped sensor. The quality of most of the images I took with it in good light are comparable to many of my full frame Nikon D750...... at first glance.
It’s true, more megapixels don’t necessarily mean better pictures, but it’s how those pixels are processed that is important.
I tend to crop a lot of my photos and often crop to 100%, it’s then that the difference becomes noticeable.
With a low megapixel camera, resolution at higher magnification will suffer and depending on how those images are processed, noise will be a problem in lower light.
There’s much more to a good picture now than megapixels but good quality higher megapixel cameras will knock spots off low megapixel cameras all day, especially into the night.
 

pappajohn

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I would imagine the pro photographers would be using RAW image data to manipulate as they saw fit.
I wouldn't think the pixel rate would have much impact compared to the average amateur photographer merely croping, editing and printing a shot.
 
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I would imagine the pro photographers would be using RAW image data to manipulate as they saw fit.
I wouldn't think the pixel rate would have much impact compared to the average amateur photographer merely croping, editing and printing a shot.
Yebbut.... RAW doesn't change the number of pixels you have to work with. You can only crop in so far before the pixels start to show, RAW or otherwise.

RAW is more about having the ability to utilise all the dynamic range and subtle colour-science that a modern sensor provides you with. When it comes to cropping, the Pro and the Amateur have the same limitations.
 

hilldweller

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This is more for people who are concerned that it's a lack of pixels that is holding their photography back..... and it probably isn't. It's almost always that they forgot a couple of basic rules for good photos.
Now you are talking !
 
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I remember the first decent digital camera I had was my Sony Ericsson k800i phone in 2006. It had a xenon flash :eek:, remember them? Now they're all LED. It also had a good 3.2mp sensor, the previous k700i had an avg or something sensor and images were much inferior.
The k800i images could be zoomed into to see extra detail, I often think why do we need all these extra megapixels which just take up extra memory.
HTC had a couple of phones out recently that had 4mp low light sensors (the sensor pixels were bigger so could allegedly gather more light) but they bombed. Probably because of negative publicity.
 
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No one seems to have mentioned lens in conjunction ? surely just as if not more important ?
Not in my opinion, not at the level we're talking.

The photos I posted are from consumer cameras with tiny, pop-out, zooms and they were fine. My Phone has a typical 2mm diameter lens that somehow manages to produce amazing images.

I have some expensive Canon (L series) lenses, that certainly make the very most of my camera's sensor, but no expensive lens prevented anyone from taking a bad photo.
 
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I'd agree to an extent, but it does help if wanting to blow up a section.

Here's an example - an image I took quite by chance:
Roche Rock with Female Figure Above.jpg
and blown up:
Roche Rock - Female Figure Above.jpg
 
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I thought pixel density was more important than the number of pixels regarding quality.
 
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I used to use digital photography for exhibition work, including 5x4 digital backs, and in my opinion, the lens is just as important as the sensor if not more so. The sensor can only reproduce what it sees. The problem is that cheap sensors tend to be matched with cheap lenses. In this age of digital printing some of the biggest advances are in the algorithms that printers use. there's no question some printers are better than others at reproducing from the same file.


Malcolm
 

Lenny HB

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I'm getting pixel overload I think I'll go and get my Minolta SRT101 out of the cupboard and see it I can find the enlarger in the loft.:)
 
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Could do worse Lenny:D Where do you get your FP4 these days?

Malcolm
I bought a roll of HP5 to put through an 1950s Baldamatic 35mm camera I have, just for old time's sake.

It's a pain in the arse.

I'd forgotten what a pain it is to use film. I want to make every image count so I'm struggling to shoot 36 exposures of "meaningful" things so I don't waste money.
In the back of my mind I know it's going to cost me time and money to have just 36 images developed and that they won't be any better than images from my digital camera.
I expect it will cost me £20 in the end (film + developing) for 36 photos.

Nostalgia is most definitely rose-tinted (even when it's Black & White film).
The bloody camera doesn't even shoot HD video !!!!!
 
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Many of us only view photos that we have taken on a screen these days, I very rarely print anything out.
Unless you need to zoom in to a picture it can be very low res to display on the screen.
Try this very ordinary picture:-
Almond blossom.jpg

Probably not bad on screen but it has been reduced right down to 600x450 pixels/inch.
Most of the stuff that I upload here or on my blog is the same size.
It used to be more important when I had very slow broadband and pictures took an age to upload.

Richard.
 
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I resize most of my images to 1920x1080 for upload to the web.
That's only 2 Megapixel but it fills any HD monitor or TV at its maximum resolution.

This is a 1920x1080 (2Mp) resized image. On my 46" HD TV is looks amazing but that's because you are supposed to view a 46" TV from across the room. It's another reason why megapixels aren't that important (once you have around 8Mp), it's because of optimal viewing distance.

Many Billboards are printed from less than 4 Megapixel images. Viewed from 3 feet they are a mess of blurred pixels but, at their optimum viewing distance, of over 20 metres, they look clear and sharp. It's why I'm not that concerned about moving to a 4K TV. 4K (and certainly 8K TV) is actually more detailed than reality.
I don't notice the pores on people's skin in reality so why do I want to see them on a news-reader's face on a 50" screen?

1920x1080. If you can see the pixels on a HD screen then you're sitting too close..........
20180629 IMG_2515 Honfleur 1920.jpg
 
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