When do Megapixels Stop Mattering?

Megapixels stop mattering once it passes 6 megapixels unless you want a large print of your image. A megapixel is a measure of resolution which is equal to 1 million pixels. Pretty much every camera on the market has several times that.

There are advantages to increasing the number of megapixels. Larger prints that require a minimum pixel count can be easier to make and you can even crop the image to focus on just the subject. However, it takes only 6-7 megapixels to print a nice large photo.

In this article, we will cover a few topics related to megapixels, such as, how many megapixels would you need? How are megapixels calculated? What is the relationship between megapixels and photo quality? Why are 6 megapixels enough? And why do companies advertise megapixel counts?

In the end, we have answered a few frequently asked questions.

What is the maximum number of megapixels you need?

The number of megapixels you need depends on what type of photographer you are and what you do with your pictures.

Casual photographers who only use their phones for sharing on the internet should not be more concerned about the megapixel count of their cameras as professional photographers.

For serious photographers, assuming you have the appropriate lenses and you know how to capture and process raw files then 6 or more Megapixel will enable you to print your photos on an A3 sheet of paper.

In product photography where you need bigger and higher quality prints, you will need at least 10-20 megapixels.

It is important to make sure that your camera can produce good quality images with enough megapixels. This generally is not an issue with modern cameras as they all have a higher megapixel count than early digital cameras.

How are megapixels calculated?

Megapixels are calculated by multiplying the number of vertical pixels by the number of horizontal pixels that are captured by the camera’s sensor.

What is the relationship between megapixels and photo quality?

Megapixel count plays an important role in how large you can print your photos, because the more pixels you have, the more detail is recorded in the image.

The word megapixel represents the quantity, not the quality. More megapixels represent a higher resolution, resulting in more details.

However, the quality of the lens and the sensor are also important factors for better image quality than a high megapixel count.

Megapixels do equate to higher resolution, but the term resolution does not only refer to the number of megapixels in an image. It also refers to how the camera lens and sensor can capture and record detail.

a high megapixel photo will have fewer visible pixels.


Why are 6 megapixels enough?

A higher megapixel does not always mean a better picture. A 6-megapixel image is good enough for most normal camera usage. The only thing that higher megapixels provide is the ability to enlarge and crop images without individual pixels becoming visible.

Higher megapixels are for canvas-size prints, large hoardings and night sky photography. Shooting with higher megapixels may backfire. Especially when you upload your high-resolution image on social media and the image is downsized automatically.

Other than this, higher resolution images take longer to upload, use more internet and occupy a lot of storage space too.

As megapixels are not the only factor that determines the clarity of an image, having more megapixels does not guarantee that the image will be better.

The camera also needs to have a good lens, decent image processing and a calibrated sensor. This is why 6 megapixels are more than enough to capture decent details in everyday scenarios.

Understanding DPI for prints

The term DPI or Dots Per Inch refers to the number of printed dots contained within one inch of an image that is printed by a printer. This term is commonly used to describe the resolution of an image.

DPI is a method to determine the print size of an image on paper. Increasing the DPI will make the size of the printed image smaller and decreasing the DPI will make the size of the printed image larger.

Having higher DPI values does not make your photographs better, as the DPI cannot add more detail to the original photo. All a higher DPI does is make your digital photo larger.

A lower DPI such as 150 DPI, will produce an image with fewer dots in the printing. So no matter how powerful your printer is, a low-resolution image will not provide enough raw data to produce high-quality images. The ink will spread on the page and make the edges appear fuzzy.

Low-resolution images are suitable for scanning text documents or other business purposes. But anything used outside the office should be higher than 150 DPI.

A 600 DPI scan is the best image resolution for paper photographs. The resolutions above 600 DPI are best suited for professional archive work.

If you have your scanning device, choose 600 DPI over 300 DPI, as, in 300 DPI the printed image will look great, but it will lose overall quality if you want a larger print. But, the same photo scanned at 600 DPI will have all the detail in larger prints.

It may seem obvious to go for the highest resolution and the highest DPI setting, but time and storage space are two factors to look out for. Before going for the maximum resolution every time, think about the intended use of the photos.

Why do companies advertise megapixel counts so much?

Many companies attach the worth of a camera to a higher megapixel count. Megapixels are one of the most common ways of advertising the quality of the camera, especially the low-end cameras.

Advertising more about the megapixel count is merely a marketing trick to show that megapixels are the only thing that matters in camera and image quality.

It is a good selling point for the manufacturers because with the technological advancements the cameras are having more and more megapixels among other features, hence that information is presented upfront like it’s the only information you need.

Frequently asked questions

Do megapixels matter on a phone?

Megapixel count matters in smartphones as they do not have optical zoom. The only way to zoom in is to crop the image from the sides. If you have a high megapixel count, then the image will still have enough details after cropping.

Do megapixels matter for video?

Megapixels don’t really matter for video as video is shot using a different protocol. For high quality videos, you’ll want at least 1080P or 4K.

How big can you print a 12 MP photo?

A 12-megapixel photo is 4000 pixels wide and 3000 pixels tall. So, at 150 PPI you can print a 12-megapixel image on a 28.60-inch by 18.67-inch canvas. At 150 PPI, printed images will have visible pixels and the details will appear fuzzy.
At 200 PPI, you can print a 12-megapixel image on a 20.16-inch by 15.12-inch canvas. This could work if you just wish to print your images for yourself or your friends.
At 300 PPI, you can print a 12-megapixel image on a 14.30-inch by 9.34-inch canvas. If you wish to print in books or magazines, you will require 300 PPI for good photo quality.

Do more megapixels mean sharper images?

You might get greater edge sharpness in your image at the same output size with more megapixels. However, higher megapixels do not add to lens sharpness nor do they compensate for a poor quality sensor.



In conclusion, it is better to have a camera with fewer megapixels combined with a better sensor than to have it the other way around.

The megapixel count is responsible for the size and the resolution of the picture, which is also important, but other factors are vital for the quality of the picture.

Also, there are different types of photographers and not all have the same needs. Some will benefit from a large number of megapixels, while others may not.

More megapixels offer higher digital zoom options without losing too much detail, because when you zoom an image, you will lose some amount of the details, and it will be visible on a printed copy.

If you want to take everyday photos and upload them on social media, smartphones will be enough for your needs.

For photo prints, 300 DPI is fine for general prints, but if you want to get all the hidden detail in your print then scan at 600 DPI. Scanning beyond 600 DPI is wasteful as it will make your file bigger without giving you any additional detail and will take more time to scan each photo and more storage space.

Latest posts by Shabbir (see all)