Image Resolution in Digital Photography: Are Megapixels So Important?

Image Resolution in Digital Photography: Are Megapixels So Important?

When we browse through another message board or photography community over the web, we often hear that the detail is the most important thing in digital photography and that the more detail your DSLR captures, the better it is.

It's true if we think about it theoretically, but it's not always the case in real life. In this post we will give you an easy and detailed explanation of the image resolution concept in digital photography and learn whether the number of megapixels of your camera is as important as people tend to think.

There are a lot of people who believe that one of the most important thing in a camera is the number of megapixels or its resolution. And recently the majority of camera brands fortify this belief by launching point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs with 20 to 50 MPs.

Higher resolution means that you can print your photos in a larger size and view them on a larger screen without deterioration in the image quality as well as crop in a more flexible way.

And though it's true that more megapixels give you a better image quality, there are still certain misconceptions and misbelieves about the topic. Actually, there are three things that play a key role when it comes to the quality of your images. They are megapixels, sensor size, and lenses you use.


If we are to compare two similar cameras with a different total megapixel number—say Nikon D7000 and Nikon D7100—we will see that their maximum resolution is different, too. The former has the maximum resolution of 4,928 × 3,264 pixels (16.2 MPs) and the latter produces images with the maximum resolution of 6000 × 4000 pixels (24.1 MPs). This means that you will be able to print larger photos without any loss of image quality.

And now let's take another example and compare Nikon D7000, which has 16.2 MPs, with Nikon D810 that has 36.3 MPs. At first glance it may seem that photos from Nikon D810 will be twice larger on print without any loss of quality, but it's not really true. Let's see why.

Nikon D810 maximum possible resolution is 7360 × 4912 pixels and when you compare it with that of Nikon D7000, you get to understand that the difference is less than 50%. That is because the sensor resolution is calculated via multiplying the total amount of horizontal pixels by the total amount of vertical pixels.

This way if you have a Nikon D7000 and would like to print 2x larger photos without any deterioration in quality, you will need to buy a camera that has about 65 MPs. And we're sorry to tell you that, but there's still no DSLR like that on the market (Hasselblads aside).


Also, there's a lot of confusion about the relationship between the total megapixel number and the DSLR sensor size. Let us shed the light on that issue.

Actually, a bigger sensor size means that the size of the pixels is bigger and therefore every pixel can obtain more light, leading to less noise and higher overall quality. A bigger sensor also gives you the possibility to take larger pictures or, in other words, fit more things into the frame.

However, that doesn't mean that the highest image resolution will be larger and you will be able to print larger photos without a loss of quality.

That's why if you take two cameras that have different sensor sizes and the same total number of megapixels, the maximum resolution will be the same, but the camera with a bigger sensor will yield better pictures by default because its sensor size is bigger.

This means if you see a point-and-shoot camera with a 1/2.3" sensor and 25MP+, you will understand that there's no use in so many pixels on the sensor as small as 1/2.3". Though you will be able to print larger pictures, they will simply lack detail if printed at the maximum resolution because of the small sensor.


And the last but not the least thing that plays a crucial role in the quality of your images is the lenses you use.

Just imagine that you are taking photos with a fancy cell phone that has a 25MP camera and tiny sensor. But suddenly you are given a Nikon D90 DSLR that has 12.3 MPs and APS-C sensor but a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens that costs about $1800 alone. We think that the answer is obvious.


As far as you understand from the abovesaid, you should look at three things—the total megapixel number, sensor size, and lenses—when choosing a camera with great image quality. You will be able to achieve excellent detail and maximum possible image resolution only if these three things are balanced. Good luck!

We hope that this article was of help to you and we’ll be glad to answer your questions in comments. Feel free to shoot us a message!

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