One thing that pops up all the time in photography is the word megapixel. We all know exactly what it is, and at the same time, not at all.
We may know how many megapixels our cameras are to the decimal place, and shout it proudly. Yet, when it comes to using them effectively, we are scratching our heads.
We understand that a higher megapixel means better quality in the image resolution. What becomes confusing is when we need to export, edit, share or, god forbid, print the images.
What Is a Megapixel?
A digital camera captures images through what we know as pixel elements, simply known as pixels. A megapixel is one million (1,048,576 pixels) of these pixels.
Digital images come from thousands of tiny tiles capturing light and colour. The more pixels, the better the image resolution.
What Is Image Resolution?
Image resolution is best thought of in terms of image quality. A higher resolution means higher image quality. The sharpness, definition and detail go up alongside the resolution. More megapixels means a higher resolution, as it holds more information.
Image resolution relates primarily to the images’ print size. It also refers to the amount of detail the photograph or image has when viewed at 100% on a computer monitor.
The megapixel size of the image is just one aspect relating to the quality of photographs you can capture with a particular camera. The camera sensor, processor and even the quality of the lens you are using play a part.
A good quality photograph also comes from many other factors. These are good lighting of the subject and a correct exposure. A clear, well focused and utilising the best resolution on the camera are also important.
Do More Megapixels Mean a Better Image?
In former times, you had to really think about the resolution and what you could do with a two-megapixel image. Nowadays, we have enough resolution to print bus-sized images; more than we will ever need.
A 6-megapixel camera will give you enough resolution and image quality to create a powerful 4×5″ print.
For bigger prints, you will need a higher resolution, otherwise, the lack in quality will be noticeable. Billboards will look perfect at a distance, but poor quality when viewed from up close and personal.
If you would like to work out the pixel size of your camera, or the resolution of your images, you can look at the information from one of your images. I use a Canon 7D, and that gives me an image of 5,184 x 3,456 pixels.
This means the maximum resolution of my camera is just under 18 megapixels.
There are a few reasons why you would want an image with a higher resolution. The most important reason is cropping. Most of the time, you will find you do not capture exactly what you wanted.
By cropping the image, the composition looks much better. Having a higher resolution gives you a little playroom, and helps in not creating a drop in quality.
Exporting, Editing, Sharing and Printing
When it comes to exporting your images, you may find that your 20+megapixel image becomes redundant. If your images are for a website, or sharing platform such as Flickr, you will shoot yourself in the foot by using the highest resolution.
Sure, it makes your images look great, but if it takes a few seconds to load an image (due to the size) viewers will move on.
Facebook resizes any images you share publicly and compresses them to be able to store millions added each week. This has the potential to turn a great image into one with a poor resolution.
There is a difference between screen resolution and print resolution. Your image may look great on the screen, but when it comes to printing, it is a whole different ballgame.
If your knowledge in this area is limited, it may be best to leave this to the professionals, until you get up to speed.
Printing your images at a high resolution on paper that isn’t correct will cause inks to bleed, resulting in a blurry effect. You need to make sure the ink and materials you use are possible with digital photography printing.
Print resolution tends to be bigger than screen resolution. This is due to the dots being closer together when printed than they are on a monitor. You can fit more pixels in a printed image than you can on a screen.
Because of this, you should never print your images at the same resolution of your screen. These are typically 72 dpi (dots per inch), so you want to aim for anything between 300 and 1,800 dpi when printing.
For images at 300 dpi, follow this table for an idea on how big you can print your photographs.
|Max Print Size
|4 x 6″
||1600 x 1200
|5 x 7″
||2048 x 1536
|8 x 10″
||2560 x 1920
|11 x 14″
||2816 x 2112
|16 x 20″
||3264 x 2468
|16 x 24″
There is a megapixel myth that states that you need more and more megapixels for your images to look great. This is a great way to sell cameras, and some photographers will need them for advertising, fashion or editorial purposes.
But the everyday photographer isn’t taking images for huge multi-million dollar campaigns. Nor are they printing their images to the size of small buildings.
New cameras these days are never below 10 megapixels, which is more than enough to produce a 16 x 20″ print. Perfect for sharing online, great for building up a portfolio, and will be enough for 99% of your photographic work.
If you are cropping into the image, then you will not be able to print so high, so take it into account.
For the highest quality images, make sure you are taking good photographs. Do not overlook capturing images in RAW, keeping your ISO low, using a fast lens (preferably a prime lens) and working in well-lit areas.
These will help your images a lot more than having the latest 30+ megapixel camera.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
Thank you for reading...
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