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When you are taking photos, having a good understanding of the resolution of the images is an important factor that you are going to have to consider, particularly if you are buying a camera or deciding which camera to use to best capture your subjects.
The number of megapixels that your camera has will play a significant role in determining the resolution or quality of the image when you take a photo. The exact number of megapixels can be worked out by multiplying the number of horizontal pixels multiplied by the number of vertical pixels.
Each megapixel is the equivalent of a million individual pixels. Each pixel is a tiny point of light or illumination on a digital screen. Essentially, one pixel is the smallest point that you can modify in an image.
When you are looking at cameras you will find that the image resolution is often defined in terms of megapixels. The lower the number of megapixels the lower the overall resolution of the image will be. This is because with more pixels in a given image then it will be a more detailed representation of what you were taking a photo of. A 12 Megapixel camera will be able to produce an image that has a total of 12,000,000 pixels in each image.
This is why resolution is usually measured in terms of the number of megapixels that the digital camera’s light sensor can produce. A 1 Megapixel camera has the capacity to produce an image that is approximately 1200×900 pixels.
How does the Megapixel Rating of a Camera compare to the Human Eye?
Just for the sake of comparison a good quality camera has a 12 Megapixel light sensor. The human eye has an incredible 576 Megapixel definition when you are looking at something with focus however if you only give something a quick glance your retinas will pick up an approximately 5-15 Megapixel resolution. This is a huge variation but it is still remarkable how high the resolution of the human retina really is! However, human eyes have many faults that a camera does not and of course everyone has a blind spot in their vision as well.
The Reality of the Importance of Megapixels.
When you are deciding how important the megapixel rating of your camera is then you should be thinking in terms of what you will be using the photos for. If you are posting them online then it’s worth remembering that many websites where you can post images have serious limitations and beyond a certain point you’ll be wasting pixels there!
Another major factor that you need to keep in mind is the size of the image you want to produce. If you are printing out your photos then having a digital image with a low resolution will lead to a very poor result if you blow that picture up. When you are printing out images the lowest good quality resolution, usually measured in Pixels Per Inches (PPI), is around 180 PPI. A superb quality image will be about 300 PPI but 250 PPI and above is perfectly fine for exhibitions and other professional work.
Should we focus on megapixels when taking photos?
It is important to use the tools at your disposal to their highest capacity and in the field of photography megapixels certainly play a major role. However, the number of megapixels on your camera’s sensor is not the only thing that will determine the final quality of the photo.
Of course if you take a photo with a 1 Megapixel camera and then blow it up to a full poster size the final result will be pretty terrible! But on the other hand keep in mind that big posters or printouts are typically viewed from afar. So you might not notice some of it’s deficiencies.
Pros and Cons of High vs Low Resolution Cameras.
In today’s world of high technology digital photography you can get a huge range of cameras that vary in Megapixels from 12 Megapixels right up to an incredible 50 Megapixels!
Low Resolution Cameras.
Despite what you might think low resolution cameras do have some advantages as well as limitations. Taking photos with a low resolution camera creates smaller image files that makes post production work faster and will create photos that are more than adequate for posting online. Smaller image sizes are easier to store and can be handled by older computers. One important advantage that lower resolution cameras have is that they can use higher frame rates which is helpful in certain genres, including wildlife and sports photography.
On the other hand, a low resolution image will not leave you any room to heavily crop the image without losing too many pixels and if you want to blow up the picture then you will find that the finished result is of a poor, grainy quality.
High Resolution Cameras.
Using a high resolution camera will give you much more flexibility when it comes to making prints of any size and allow you to portray fine detail even if the image is heavily cropped. It’s also undeniable that you will get a better quality of image although you have to balance that with a good lens to make the extra megapixels worthwhile. Taking high resolution images also allows you to downsize an image to get rid of ‘noise’ in dim lighting situations.
There are some disadvantages to using a high resolution camera. First off you will need to deal with the large image files and will need a computer and software that can handle it. You’ll need good storage on your computer, more memory cards and plenty of spare hard drive space. You will also lose out on frame rates which can only process so much data and information at any one time. When using a high resolution camera you will also have to be careful with your focusing skills because even the slightest shake can blur the photo although you can overcome this by using a good tripod.
Most of the photos from Philadelphia and other places that I post on this site looks slightly different online when compared to how it looks on my camera. Most photography websites, as the name indicates has a lot of photographs. Lots of photos can slow down a website, which is not good for search engine optimization (SEO). So I normally compress photos before I load them. Compression degrades the image quality.
Other Factors to Consider Beyond the Megapixels.
- The Importance of a Good Lens: Megapixel ratings are a good indication of the quality of image that you will get however other factors are equally relevant and need to be taken into account. A good lens will make a huge difference to the final results of your work. If you are using a basic point and shoot camera then the low quality of the lens will be a limiting factor that no amount of megapixels will make up for, although practically speaking you would probably expect such a camera to have about a 5-10 megapixel sensor.
- Image Processors: The image processor of a digital camera is also a major factor in determining the final resolution of the photo. Many digital cameras will automatically sharpen the image after you have taken the photo which is fine for posting online but for exhibitions and other professional work you may find that this actually reduces the final resolution of the picture.
- Lighting: The lighting of the environment and your subject is fundamental to get right in order to achieve good results in your photography. If the lighting conditions are bad then you will need to increase the ISO on your camera otherwise the images will come out grainy but even if you do get this right might end up increasing noise levels in the image and lowering the resolution.
Is the Megapixel rating of a Camera Important?
Megapixels do play a role in the final outcome of the work you produce and will always define, to some extent at least, the capabilities of your camera. Regardless of the lens you use or the settings you choose, without the basic underlying megapixels to capture the light information the results will always be lacking.
However, megapixels are not, as some people think, the most important factor in selecting the right camera. Making sure you have a good, balanced and versatile camera system will give you the best bang for your bucks. Lower resolution cameras, as well as high resolution cameras, have their place in photography and so the question is as much what you are going to be using the camera for as it is how many megapixels your camera has!
What is your camera’s image resolution?
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