How many megapixels you need to print your favorite photographs?
- Unfortunately, it is not one solution that fix all, there is a lot of hype surrounding megapixels, which makes it hard to determine what you really need. One person will say you only need 4.0 megapixels, and the next will assure you that only 8.0 megapixels will do.
How do you sort through the hype and figure out how many megapixels is right for you?
What are these megapixels really all about?
- A photograph produced by a digital camera is a collection of tiny dots. Each dot is called a pixel. The image that you see is created out of millions of pixels: hence, megapixels.
- Problems emerge when you increase the size of a digital photograph. The more you increase the size, the more you begin to notice all of the tiny dots. The digital image is revealed for what it really is.
- This is especially true when you want to print your digital photo. While you may not be able to see the individual pixels on your computer monitor, you will definitely notice them when the image is printed. Printers require a LOT of pixels to create a decent photographic print.
When you need more megapixels?
You will need a camera with a lot of megapixels in the following cases:
- You want to make large prints of your photos
- You want to create high resolution greeting cards
- You want to print images in a magazine
Magazines and other print media have higher print requirements than a home printer used for snapshots of your latest vacation.
This table shows the relationship between megapixels and print size:
Megapixels Print Size (inches)
- 2.0 4 x 6 [standard]
- 3.0 5 x 7
- 4.0 8 x 10
- 5.0 9 x 12
- 6.0 11 x 14
- 8.0 12 x 16
Notice something interesting here? A digital camera that creates images with 2.0 megapixels is going to be enough to produce decent quality prints at 4 x 6, the most common print size for most photographs.
However, if you try to print a 2.0 megapixel image at 8 x 10, you will probably not be happy with the result. The image will look blurry and fuzzy, and you will be able to see the actual pixels in the photo.
When you need less megapixels?
You may be wondering, "If more megapixels creates better images, why not just get the one with the most?"
If you take two digital cameras that are essentially identical to each other with the exception of the number of megapixels (and they do exist) the camera with more megapixels will always cost more. Sometimes up to $100 more. Make sure that you need the extra megapixels before paying the extra expense. A few years ago, a 5 megapixels camera cost more than 200 pounds (>USD 400). But, nowadays you can get less than 100 pounds.
When you take a photo with a digital camera, the image is saved onto a removable memory card. These removable memory cards come in a variety of different storage capacities.
More megapixels is equivalent to more information in the digital photograph. This means that digital photo files created by cameras with more megapixels are larger. You can easily fill up a small memory card in a few minutes with an 8.0 megapixel camera.
Let's assume that you are going to use the memory card that ships with most digital cameras and that it is not your intention to buy another one. The standard memory card has a capacity of 1GB (GigaBytes).
Back to the megapixel table to see how many photos you can store on a 1 GB card:
Megapixels Number of Photos *
- 2.0 About 1408
- 3.0 About 640
- 4.0 About 512
- 5.0 About 384
- 6.0 About 256
- 8.0 About 64
* These numbers are approximate, and will vary between different cameras models. This is also assuming that the photos are being taken at the higest quality setting.
Every digital camera with a lot of megapixels allows you to take photographs at a lower setting. With a 6.0 megapixel camera, you will also be able to take photos at 2.0 megapixels if you want to e-mail them to friends.
The Basic Rule of Thumb
- If you think that at some point you will want to print one of your photographs at 8 x 10 (which can be nice if you get a real winner), then you just set you camera resolution to 4.0 megapixel. Then you can store more photos in the memory card.
The Real Truth
- I have printed images from a 3.0 megapixel camera at 20 x 30. If you're getting ready to break out a measuring tape, that is standard poster size - a pretty large print. Based upon what I have said so far, you might believe this didn't turn out very well.
- The reality is that it printed just fine and I have the image hanging on my wall at home. Would it look better if I had used a 4.0 or 8.0 megapixel camera? Sure. Can I tell that it is 3.0 megapixels by looking at it? Not really.
In the end, the choice will be yours. If you have a discriminating eye and little imperfections bother you, get the camera with more megapixels. You will be happier in the end.
If you are less prone to notice every little flaw, get the camera that has all the features you want, but NOT the one that boasts the highest number of megapixels.