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How many Megapixels do you need?

How many megapixels do you need

Ever wondered how many megapixels you need for the best social media posts and prints? Or how many megapixels your camera needs for capturing 4K video?

Well, the good news is that for small prints and social media, you can get by with less than 4 megapixels. But if you are looking to create large prints, edit your photos or record high-resolution video, you may need a few more. Jump to the Conclusion


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Table of Contents

1. What are megapixels

Your photo is made up of lots of tiny squares known as pixels with one million pixels equal to one megapixel. For example, an 8-megapixel camera produces photos with 8-million pixels. Read How image sensors work

As you might expect, a photo captured by a 16-mega pixel sensor has twice the area of a photo taken with an 8-megapixel sensor. And because there are twice as many pixels, there is the potential to capture twice as much detail.

2. How many megapixels do you need?

4 megapixels are more than sufficient for creating photos for social media and producing 6×4 inch prints. However, a few extra megapixels can be hugely beneficial for cropping and creating larger prints.

2.1. How many megapixels do you need for social media?

You don’t need many megapixels for social media. For example, the maximum dimensions for a photo posted on Facebook seem to be around 2048*2048 (4.2 megapixels), assuming you post 1:1 square photos.

On Instagram, a large photo measures 1080×1350 (1.5 megapixels), whereas a Pinterest cover weighs in at 1000×1500 (1.5 megapixels).

Overall, 4 megapixels is plenty for social media.

2.2. How many megapixels do you need for Printing

Your camera needs 2.2-megapixels to produce a 6×4 inch at the favored resolution of 300 pixels per inch. Alternatively, producing a large 12×8 inch print will cost you approximately 8-megapixels.

However, you should note that megapixels do not guarantee resolution. For instance, a blurred 20-megapixel photo will look bad at any size. Not to mention that some cameras produce more detailed photos than others.

Therefore, it’s the quality of the photo, rather than the number of megapixels that truly determines your maximum print size.

2.3. Cropping your Photos

Photo cropping is where you trim the edges off your photo for effect. For example, you may be cropping out a passer-by or some other distraction. Alternatively, you may use cropping to ‘zoom’ into and emphasize your subject.

Of course, if you crop away half of your photo, you are also throwing away half of your megapixels.

So, the more megapixels you have to begin with, the more you will have left after cropping and the better your cropped photo will look.

That being said, it is far more effective to take the time to take the best possible photo and avoid cropping altogether.

2.4. Video

4K videos require an 8-megapixel sensor. On the other hand, you only need 2-mega pixels to capture Full-HD 1080p video.

3. Megapixels vs Resolution

You may have come to believe that more megapixels equal more detail. However, this is often not the case, particularly when it comes to smartphone cameras.

Viewed large or up close, the smartphone’s image quality falls apart

The number of megapixels you have will dictate the size of your photo. On the other hand, the resolution is the level of detail captured in your image.

For example, despite having only 6 megapixels, my ancient Nikon D40 captures more detail than my 16-mega pixel iPhone. Thus, I can conclude two things.

  1. My iPhone does indeed have 16 mega pixels and always will.
  2. My iPhone’s resolution is less than 6 megapixels.

So, whilst the number of pixels suggests I can create big prints with my iPhone, its real-world resolution is insufficient to do so.

If you want to print large, a large-sensor camera with a decent lens is a must. Read Best cameras for beginners.

Furthermore, make sure your own technique is not letting you down. Read How to take sharper photos.

4. How many megapixels does your camera need?

Your camera’s ideal megapixel count depends on the size of its sensor. For example, the sensor inside an entry-level DSLR such as the Nikon D3500 is 20 times larger than those found inside a smartphone. This means the larger sensor gets 20-times the light and 20-times more room to fit megapixels. Read Camera Sensors for Beginners.

In fact, overcrowding small sensors with megapixels becomes destructive to image quality. But you must admit, a high pixel count looks great in the sales brochure. Read Camera vs Smartphone

Camera TypeIdeal Megapixel Count
Smartphone/Compact camera10
Entry-level DSLR/Mirrorless camera20-30
Full-Frame cameras25-65

Conclusion

Since neither social media nor the typical 6×4 inch print requires more than 4 megapixels, you probably already have all the megapixels you need.

On the other hand, if you like to shoot a 4K video, crop your photos or print large, more megapixels are a must.

However, more megapixels do not necessarily mean more detail and resolution, particularly when it comes to the smaller sensors used in point-and-shoots and smartphones. In fact, the ever-increasing megapixel counts on some sensors are actually degrading image quality,

For these reasons, a high megapixel count becomes an insignificant measure of detail. If you are planning on cropping your photos or producing large prints, it’s better to consider other factors such as sensor size, the quality of your lens, and your technique.

But if you limit your photography to small prints and social media, it’s good news. There is no reason to upgrade your camera for the sake of megapixels. Return to Introduction

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2 thoughts on “How many Megapixels do you need?”

  1. I’ve come to essentially the same conclusion. I don’t need to buy a new Nikon camera to get greater resolution than my trusty old 6 megapixel Nikon D70. I use a quality Nikon lens, and when I blow my images up on the computer to the equivalent of 8×10 or even 16×20 dimensions, I’m more that satisfied with the image quality. I try to create a sharp image when taking the picture (e.g., tripod), and to fill the rangefinder with an image as close as to possible to what I really want so as to require minimal cropping and fussing with the recorded image.

    1. The Nikon D70 was my dream camera when it came out but I could not afford one. Thus, I ended up with a Nikon D40, and even by today’s standards, its images look great.

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