More Than Megapixels

Author: David Huffman

For most of the last 15 years, part of the race for digital imaging among manufacturers, is to emphasize an easy-to-compare metric: Megapixels.  The term refers to the millions of picture elements that make up the image.  As the saying goes:  “the more, the better.”  Not really, and here’s why.


Technically speaking, there are infinitely more variables present than the pure pixel count of an image sensor that determine quality.  Some of these other variables include the total size of the sensor, the image processing algorithms of the built-in computer and firmware in the camera, the sharpness and other quality characteristics of the lens, and of course the photographer and post-processing techniques.

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The number of megapixels is an easy thing to compare but does not tell the whole story. As we now witness with the megapixel race, anything in the range of 20 or more megapixels will provide much more than adequate quality for almost any image need. What manufacturers have also determined, more recently, is that sensor size is easily as important as the number of megapixels and determining the image quality.  The larger the size of the overall sensor, the higher the quality of the image, and even more importantly, the ability to use higher ISO settings and therefore take pictures in lower light levels with less “noise” or “grain.”  This is why, for those of us obsessed with quality, we use full frame image sensors and high pixel count to achieve the maximum in sharpness and quality at the range of ISOs we preferred to shoot in.

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The pictures that accompany this blog were photographed with a four megapixel compact camera in the year 2004.  I have printed these images to 24 x 36 inches, and they are among the most often sold images in my catalog.

So, for great pictures, it’s More Than Megapixels.

David Huffman is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, author and educator.