Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I wrote this email about 10 minutes ago to my brother Tom in response to a question he asked me regarding megapixels on a digital camera.

Here's the deal with megapixels: you're correct in that anything above 3-4 is kind of pointless. The bigger issue is the *quality* of the megapixels you do have. You could have a 10 megapixel camera with a crappy image sensor, and it will take very bad photos. Andy's old camera was 4 megapixel but the photos were excellent quality because it was a high-quality image that his camera captured.

However, let's say that you want to do a lot of cropping and whatnot. Like, you take a picture of Dan on a unicycle but there's a ton of stuff in the background that you don't want. If you took the picture on 3 megapixels and then cropped it, your pixel count would also be greatly reduced. However, if you took it at 5 or 7, then cropped it, it would still look fine.

The only time it really matters is when you are talking about actual printed versions, though. Let me give you a few examples. We have two photos on our wall that we blew up to 8.5 X 11 inches. The photos are of the Montana skyline in the winter and during summer. But each photo clocks in at just under 3 megapixels. And NODOBY knows. You can't even tell. We have another photo of us leaving the church at our wedding, which we cropped to 1119 X 1119 pixels, which means it is about 1 megapixel. We blew it up to a full-page photo in our wedding album, and nobody can even tell that it's not a "good" photo. As a final example, Eve has a photo of her dog, Maggie, that was pulled from a short video clip I took. It is a 640 X 480 image, which means it's 0.3 megapixels. As in, one third of a megapixel. Well, the we have a print of the photo on our wall, and nobody can tell the difference.

So what does it all mean? Learn to use your camera. Megapixels mean jack squat, man. It's all about lighting, shutter speed, white balance, exposure...all sorts of stuff that I don't even really understand. It's about the quality of the photo, not the number of megapixels.

But, you can't go wrong with setting it to 5 or 7 megapixels either. You'll just waste a bunch of space on your memory card. :)

Incidentally, the picture at the top of this blog is a tiny portion of a 1.9 megapixel photo I took while on vacation a few years ago.


gb said...

you did such a good job with this, could you concisely explain women to me now...

Simon said...

No can do, jee-bee. You're on your own for that one. :)