How many megapixels do you need in a digital camera?

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by gary_hendricks, Dec 25, 2004.

  1. gary_hendricks

    gary_hendricks TPF Noob!

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    One of the most important decisions to make in buying a digital camera is the number of megapixels supported. The number of megapixels determines the quality of your photos. Choose too few for your needs, and your images will suffer. Choose too many, and you might be spending more cash than necessary.

    If you have unlimited funds, then, by all means go for that high end 8 megapixel camera. Otherwise, you certainly don't want to waste money on extra megapixels you don't need.


    Always try to remember this golden rule: more megapixels isn't always better. If your camera supports more megapixels, then each image will be larger, which in turn means more expensive memory cards and more space used up on your 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. So here we go:

    1 megapixel or less: At this resolution, you won't be able to make a high-quality print of your digital photos. You can, however, email the photos or post them on a personal web site. This number of megapixels is typically found on smaller, inexpensive cameras or cameras in combination with other devices (such as cell phones or PDAs ). I'd say you'd expect to pay $100 or less for the camera alone.

    1.1 to 2 megapixels: I'd reckon you need at least a 2 megapixel camera to develop a 4x6 print of decent quality. However, I wouldn't recommend this number of megapixels if you want to take proper family portraits or if you really need a nice-looking print. Expect to pay about $100-150 for cameras in this range.

    2.1 to 3 megapixels: Pretty good compromise between picture quality and low price for most casual photographers. With this number of megapixels, you can print lovely 4x6 images, decent 5x7s and, depending on the camera, might even get a good 6x9 print. You will pay around $150 to $250.

    3.1 to 4 megapixels: At this resolution, digital images will make practically photo-lab quality 4x6s, and great 5x7s and 6x9s. You can even print 8x10 in some instances. Price range would hover between $250 to $350 for such cameras.

    4.1 to 5 megapixels: If you want to capture images for 8x10 printouts, then you need this number of megapixels. Most professional photographers have at least 5 megapixel cameras, usually more. The quality is evident in the photos developed. Cameras in this megapixel range are around $350 to $450.

    5 megapixels and up: These days, you can get 7 or even 8 megapixel cameras from the retail store. While they give wonderful image quality, their price tags will set your head spinning. In this megapixel category, expect to pay $450 and above for a camera.


    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, if you're just an amateur photographer, then don't buy cameras above 5 megapixels. When you are really serious about digital photography and want to go professional, then consider buying a super high megapixel camera.
     
  2. DocFrankenstein

    DocFrankenstein Clinically Insane?

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    This is true and I agree with it.

    Something has to be added though. It is not the megapixels that count. You have to look at the size of your sensor too.

    The smaller the sensor, the higher the noise will be at high ISO settings. Also, the smaller the sensor the harder it is to achieve that shallow DOF we all need for portraits.

    In fact, it is impossible to achieve as small DOF on the small sensor. This is what makes DSLRs so attractive.

    Rebel has a 11*16mm (?) sensor and Pro1 has something around 4*6 mm sensor. The result is that you can get beatiful bokeh impossible with Pro1.

    Also, megapixel coming from a CCD or CMOS sensor is not an actual megapixel. Read here:
    http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sigmasd10/#x3

    Unfortunately, there is not much in between a high end point and shoot, like Canon Pro1 or G6... which retail around 600-800 and any DSLR system.

    When you buy a DSLR, you'll also want lenses, flashes and other accesories, which will cost around 2-3 grand.

    600$ vs. 4000$ system... What's your choice? You decide.

    I know I'll take Sigma's big 3 layer sensor over G6
    I'll take Drebel's 6mp over Pro1's 8 megapixels

    But the pictures I take are worth the $$ I spent on the system. :)
     
  3. Youngun

    Youngun TPF Noob!

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    Then how come my friends 4MP camera takes worse pictures than my 3MP with a small sensor?.........

    Oh yeah, maybe it's those pieces of glass in that bend and focus the light? Don't forget the optics....[/quote]
     
  4. matthew robertson

    matthew robertson TPF Noob!

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    $450? For an entire camera? This is head spinning?

    I expect to pay double that for my primary lens when I buy my SLR.
     
  5. walter23

    walter23 TPF Noob!

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    You should also consider that you essentially get diminishing returns as you move from one number to the next - 4MP isn't that much different from 5MP (think in terms of area - most of your extra million are used up on a small amount of peripheral area, equivalent to adding a small border almost). A jump from 4MP to 8MP is a reasonable difference, but there's no point in upgrading from 4 to 5, or 5 to 6. Even 6 to 8 isn't a big difference (so don't trade up your 10D just for the megapixel difference!)

    Even more important once you get above 4MP or so are other sensor characteristics. As a general rule, a physically larger sensor is better, because your noise levels will be dramatically lower. Thus the APS (canon terminology) sized sensor of a digital SLR is way better than the tiny little sensor of even the most expensive point and shoot.

    For example, the 8MP Sony DSC-F828 (which goes for ~$1000) gives terrible image quality compared to the 4MP Canon EOS 1D SLR, just because the sensor size of the canon SLR (28.7 x 19.1 mm) is way larger than the sony (8.80 x 6.60 mm). Also because of this intrinsic noise, moving from 4MP to 8MP on a point and shoot will almost never give you a significant increase in image quality. Better to save up for that dSLR.
     
  6. walter23

    walter23 TPF Noob!

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    Well, that's not totally fair. Of course $4000 of accessories is an option with the dSLR, but you're still way better off with the $1000 digital rebel + EF 18-55mm kit lens than you are with the similarly priced non-SLR digitals out there (like the Sony DSC-F828 or the powershot G6 or olympus C-8080).
     
  7. DocFrankenstein

    DocFrankenstein Clinically Insane?

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    Well... a LOT of people get bitten by the L bug

    Or at least want a telephoto zoom, a 50mm prime and an external flash... It runs easily to 2 grand... and then any quality lens adds another 700-900 bucks.
     
  8. mrsid99

    mrsid99 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    The old "Megapixels is everything" gambit huh?
    Having made quite decent 8x10's from a 2Mp camera I gotta believe that this is someone trying to justify a purchase.
    The lens is probably the most important and sensor size is close behind.
     

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