Do More Megapixels Equal Better Image Quality?

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No, more megapixels does not always equal better image quality.

Social media and pop culture have redefined our ideas of photography in many ways. Just a few decades ago, photography was reserved for the privileged and talented among us; its use was largely restricted to special occasions and truly interesting moments in life.

Today, however, with the advent of digital photography, taking pictures has become an incessant obsession for many people. More importantly, our ancient habit of printing photographs seems to have waned. People now prefer to fuel their narcissism through social media outlets instead. Of course, cell phone companies have played a large role in encouraging this process. As the smartphone market grows increasingly competitive, they continue coming up with newer models with even higher megapixel cameras included. However, do more megapixels equal better image quality?

Credit: Javiindy

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What Is A Megapixel?

Simply put, a megapixel is one million pixels. Therefore, if you know the resolution of an image, you can calculate the megapixels within it. For a computer screen, the best available resolution is usually 1920 x 1080. Therefore, a crisp picture that size would have 1920 x 1080 = 2,073,600 pixels. Basically, if you want to click a photo for your computer screen without it looking grainy, don’t worry! A 2-megapixel camera is enough to snap that picture and have it look clear.

Given that information, do you really need a camera that offers a higher number of megapixels?

As the example above proves, large megapixels make no difference if your intention is to simply put it up on your Instagram account. The number of megapixels taken in isolation is not a guarantee of photographic quality. In fact, megapixels only come into play in two ways:

1. If You Have To Print An Image

As discussed earlier, printing photographs is no longer a popular trend. Most people are quite content just uploading the pictures online and saving their digital copies, rather than making the effort of printing them. In case you’re interested in printing the photograph, you must be mindful of the number of megapixels. Obviously, more pixels would translate into a sharper image, which would keep the picture looking clear even when you blow the image up to accommodate much larger prints. Here is a chart that denotes different types of prints and how many megapixels they require to look “good”.

Comparison between camera resolution and DPI (dots per inch) of prints

However, there is another factor that you need to consider – the viewing distance from the print. Let’s take billboards, for example. A billboard with an image that looks acceptably crisp is usually very pixelated if you take a closer look. However, from afar, that graininess is completely disguised. Believe it or not, a good 16-megapixel camera is all you need for prints the size of billboards!

When it comes down to more everyday needs, most posters usually don’t require more than 7 megapixels! Even if the size of the print is 30 x 40 inches, due to the large viewing distance that would almost certainly be needed, a 7-megapixel camera would be good enough.


Also Read: 70 Mm Vs Digital Film: What Can Give A Better Movie Watching Experience?

2. If You Have To Crop Or Zoom In On An Image

We all know the adverse effects of too much zooming. Your beautiful and colorful image will be shredded down to its ugly grainy self, leaving you annoyed by the entire ordeal of uploading a photo that you’re unhappy with.

Fortunately, cameras today have too many pixels crammed into their sensors for this to be a problem anymore! Another way megapixels help you as a photographer is by giving you more room to play around with the pictures you take. You can zoom more effectively and crop photos without any worries about quality loss. However, even in these cases, you still don’t need as many megapixels as most phone and camera companies offer. Even with a meager 4-megapixel camera, you can double the entire image on your monitor screen and still not worry about pixelation!


Knowing what we do about pixels, why are we constantly battered with advertisements for products that offer more and more megapixels? In reality, it’s just a marketing strategy to make you want to buy a newer and “better” phone or camera. The truth is that a photo clicked from a 5-megapixel camera can be just as good as one snapped with a 12-megapixel camera. In fact, it can even better!

Allow me to explain…. in many settings, image quality is more dependent on the image sensor than megapixels. If the image sensor can’t handle the offered number of megapixels, the quality of the pictures would obviously be poor. Therefore, the next time you want to buy a phone with a good camera, remember that having less megapixels is not exactly the end of the world! Your amateur photography career can continue!

Also Read: Why Are Photos Grainy In Low-Light Conditions?

References (click to expand)
  1. Camera megapixels: Why more isn't always better ... - CNET. CNET
  2. Do More Pixels Mean Better Photos? - Forbes. Forbes
About the Author

Vaishnavi has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology/Anthropology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai (India) and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Global Studies (whatever that is) from Humboldt University, Berlin (Germany). She loves to read and to sing, especially to avoid awkward situations. She claims she has learned a lot through traveling but she still ends up pulling a door marked ‘Push’, so the jury is still out on that one.

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