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Digital Photography - Take the Guesswork Out of Mega pixels

Jul 19, 2008
The number of features that come with a digital camera can be overwhelming and knowing what these features really mean can be a task in itself. From ISO to exposure, how do you know what you need? Here we are going to take the guesswork out of knowing how many mega pixels your photography will require. First let's make sure we know what a megapixel actually is:

Megapixel is a fancy term for "million pixels". A single pixel is the smallest unit of color that a camera's sensor is able to capture. The more pixels the sensor can capture the sharper the image the camera can replicate. When comparing cameras, mega pixels can be abbreviated as "MP".

Now then, how many of those pixels do we need? The first task in answering this question is to determine how we intend to use the images. We are mainly concerned about uses that require a high resolution digital photo. Putting a photo on the computer's screen requires a low resolution image, so any camera is sufficient, if this is our only intention. The most common need for high resolution photos is to print or develop pictures. Let us then focus on putting pictures on paper to answer our megapixel question.

The second task is to determine the largest print size we would like of our photo. Sure, it would look cool to have poster-size images all over the house of our sweetheart, but are we really going to go through that expense? I assume for most of us, poster size prints fall into the "rarely or never" category. Having ruled out extreme sizes, we have the three most common photo sizes to consider. According to online photo labs, the following minimum resolutions are sufficient to produce high quality prints:

4 x 6": 640 x 480 pixels (0.3 megapixels) 5 x 7": 1024 x 768 pixels (0.8 megapixels) 8 x 10": 1536 x 1024 pixels (1.6 megapixels)

I have found through my own trial and error that my 3 megapixel camera serves as the bare megapixel minimum that I would use for an 8 x 10" print. Mega pixels any lower will begin to show pixilation under close inspection. To prevent this, double the above megapixel recommendations when buying a camera. The example shows that if your goal is only for 4 x 6" prints, a 0.6 megapixel camera is plenty. Most digital cameras start a 2 mega pixels, which would be enough for quality prints up to 5 x 7".

Once you know the minimum mega pixels required for your image needs, you can move forward to other aspects of your camera in order to be prepared to capture whatever moment comes your way.
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