What is Megapixel? And how many Megapixels are enough for a Camera?


What is Megapixels?

The major deciding factor whenever we talk about camera specifications. For a lot of people, a general rule of thumb is that more Megapixels mean better camera quality. But what if I told you that it is not entirely true and most of the people don’t even know what the meaning of Megapixel is. Well, let me tell you a definition of Megapixel. Mega means a Million. So, 1 Mega Pixel means a million pixels.

How to calculate Megapixel?

This photo from my Xiaomi Redmi 4 has a resolution of 4160 X 3120 pixels.

Photo clicked by Redmi 4


Now, let’s calculate the number of pixels in this photo.

Camera Resolution

The image has a width of 4160 pixels and height of 3120 pixels.  Easy? So, this means that the total number of pixels in my image would be the 4160 Multiplied by 3120. That gives us this number: 12979200, which is approximately 13 Million, now let me tell you that My Redmi 4x has a 13 Megapixel rear camera, which means my camera can capture 13 million pixels. And that is exactly what it did.

How to calculate pixel in an image

You see the number of pixels in my image is the number of pixels my camera can capture. Now I think we have established that if a camera has more megapixels, it can capture more pixels and create a higher resolution image.

Does having a high-resolution image mean having better picture quality?

No! Megapixels does not define the quality of the image.

So, the point of having a higher resolution image is that you will be able to view your images on larger screens without having to zoom. That’s all megapixels can help you with.

So, let’s say you have a laptop whose display resolution is 1280 by 720 pixels and you want to click a beautiful wallpaper for it. So, you would want a total of 1280 multiplied by 720 that is close to 1 million pixels. Well, this can be achieved with a 1 Megapixel camera. Because, Hey! you wanted a million pixels, a 1 Megapixel camera can give you a million pixels. Easy, wasn’t it?

So how many megapixels do you need in a phone?

That depends on how you are going to use the image. If you are going to set it as a wallpaper on your laptop, you don’t need more than 1-2 Megapixels. If you are going to print that image then you may need around 5 Megapixel Camera depending on the size of the printed image.

Now you must be wondering, What about the image quality?

How do I get better image quality in a smartphone camera?

The answer is simple: The Image Sensor.

Now I won’t get too much into the image sensor part because it’s a little boring and anyways we are discussing megapixels here, so just to give you a rough idea the bigger the image sensor – The better the pixel definitions are. Sensors capture light. So, bigger sensors capture more light. Now if there were more megapixels in your camera, your sensor would have to distribute its light into those many pixels thereby reducing pixel definition. Sure, more megapixels would bring you more pixels but those pixels would be of low quality.

So what we can conclude from this is that more megapixels have nothing to do with the quality of the image.

So, are More Megapixels useless?

No, Not at all. Having More Megapixels would mean that you will be able to zoom more into your images. So, if you wish to show your image on a bigger screen, you could do that.

We have discussed a lot of theory, so let us take a very easy example. Let me ask you. If there are 2 phones with the exact same specifications but one of them has a 13 Megapixel Camera and the other one has a 5 Megapixel Camera, which one do you think will produce better images. Well, to be very honest, you may not be able to note a difference in the image qualities but theoretically and in some cases, the 5-megapixel camera might produce photos that are better. Surely they won’t have a high resolution like the one clicked with the 13 Megapixel camera but do you really need high-resolution images? I mean what do we do with our images, we usually share them on social media sites or store them in our albums.

So, whenever we view our images, we are viewing them on either laptops, phones or Television. These devices usually have a resolution of HD, Full HD and some of you might have 2k or 4k televisions. And you can click a 2K and 4K pictures with just 5 and 8 Megapixels. Unless you are planning to print the images clicked by your phone on the big hoardings you see on the roads, you probably don’t need a high-resolution camera.

Why Smartphones have more Megapixels in camera?

Lastly, now you must be thinking as to if megapixels are not so important, why are all smartphone companies competing for it. I already told you in the example I gave that there won’t be much difference in the photos clicked by a 13 MP camera and a 5 MP camera with the same hardware. The only benefit will be that the 13 MP camera will give a high-resolution image. So, companies are like if it doesn’t hurt the image quality, let’s give more megapixels.

Now this happens because the sensors used have that range to distribute the incoming light onto each pixel but this was not the case earlier which is why while all companies were cramming more pixels on the same sensor, Apple just gave an 8 Megapixel camera till the iPhone 6  and we all know that it could still capture better photos than many other 13 and 16 megapixel cameras at that time. So maybe it is time we stop running behind megapixels and start looking into things like the image sensor and the lenses.


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