Reader Poll: How Many MegaPixels Are Enough?

Back in the day, 3 megapixels were hot stuff. Then it was 4, then 5, and 6, 8, 10, 12, 16… How far will this go? The dSLR cameras are leading the pack with their pixel count, but even compact cameras are starting to follow along (some now have 12MP). Honestly, how many pixels are enough? Will we ever be satisfied with the value of this metric? I’ve heard many photographers state that number of pixels don’t matter as much as they used to, but are we at the point of being completely satisfied with our pixel count? How many megapixels would you be happy with?

How Many MegaPixels Are Enough?

And in last week’s poll (How Many Lenses Do You Own?), it looks like the average glass collector has 4 lenses. There are quite a few who have less than four, and there are one or two out there with as many as 14 lenses! They must have really big camera bags.

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About Brian Auer

a photography enthusiast from North Idaho. He's also the guy behind the Epic Edits Weblog. As a hobbyist photographer since 2003, his passion has been to constantly improve his photography skill set, to share his own knowledge with others, and to become an integral part of the photographic community.

12 thoughts on “Reader Poll: How Many MegaPixels Are Enough?

  1. Neil Creek

    So many thoughts on such a contentious issue, it’s easier for me to make a couple of lists:

    The pros of more megapixels:
    - Larger size reproductions possible.
    - More room for cropping.
    - Capture more detail.
    - More detail is like having a longer lens, you see more at a 100% crop.
    - More megapixels usually means bigger chips which means wider possible angles of view.

    The cons of more megapixels:
    - Smaller photosites which means more noise.
    - More data to shove through the buffer which means fewer shots on continuous.
    - Memory cards hold fewer photos.
    - Long term storage becomes more expensive.
    - Every defect in the lenses shows up.
    - More accurate focus needed.
    - Camera shake is a more critical issue.

    All that being said, I voted for 16 megapixels. I think that’s a good compromise between the above factors. On the other hand, better technology could mitigate or overcome many of the problems with higher megapixels. Who knows what we’ll be satisfied with in another 5 years?

  2. David

    Thom Hogan has a nice article on this subject, but related more to printing and size of the sensor-

    I rarely make prints bigger than 8×10, only a handful of 11x14s, the output from my D70 or ist-DL was actually quite acceptable for 11x14s; the only problem is lack of wiggle room for cropping when printing at that size. I have no issue for 8x10s, with room for cropping, :).

    I guess if I ever upgrade my camera, I’d go for at least 10 mp to make it a worth while upgrade, but that’s for DSLRs. For P&S, I am happy with 5MP.

  3. Brian Auer Post author

    Dang Neil, you practically just turned this into a real article! Great points for both sides. It really is interesting how our views change as technology changes. Five years from now we’ll probably be debating that 50MP is enough and that the new 75MP cameras are overkill.

  4. Brian Auer Post author

    I’m with you there on the prints. 6MP is quite enough for me to print 11×14… though sometimes I wish I had more room for cropping. Once I crop down from 6MP, I don’t have much left. I’m guessing by the time I upgrade, I’ll be looking in the 14-16MP market — but not because of megapixels. I’m waiting to see what’s up with Sony’s flagship camera.

    For P&S, I’m happy with 6 or 7MP. Even 7 is too much sometimes.

  5. the_wolf_brigade

    I voted for 12. I have a 6MP point and shoot at the moment (Fuji S6500fd), and I’m finding that it limits the amount I can crop. While I’m getting decent images thus far, I figure double the amount means I have just that little bit more room.

  6. Chris Lodge

    I remember when 1MP was impressive……

    I read somewhere that after 10MP you can’t really tell the difference anymore in any practical usage….but then Bill Gates one wrote that 640k memory should be enough for anyone!

    One things for sure, my habit of keeping every shot, no matter how bad is about to go out the window – it’s time to start deleting the average & the dross.

  7. susheel

    I think that professionally there may never be an end to it… But I suspect that somewhere in the 20 MP range should do it for most professionals (even if you’re cropping!). Beyond that it’s just pixels that will never be seen! and since 12MP or so is good enough for an A4 spread…

    Having said that, I’m extremely happy with the 12.8MP that I get with my EOS 5D. For now…

  8. Brian Auer Post author

    I agree with the bit about cropping. I don’t do it too often, but sometimes it’s just needed — especially if I’m creating a square crop. Once I do that, I go from 6MP to 4MP.

  9. Brian Auer Post author

    LOL, 640K! It’s true, our perspectives certainly change in a short amount of time.

    As for throwing out pictures, I have a habit of keeping most (if not all) of my shots. I’m finding that as my post-processing skills get better, many photos that I thought were unusable actually become quite usable once you start to get creative. With the cost of disk space so low, I’d say be careful about what you throw out — your artistic taste and style may change over time.

  10. Jim Goldstein

    My goal has always been to obtain and use a digital camera that can match or exceed the output of film. I’ve alway felt sensor resolution needed to be in the 20-30 megapixel range. Resolution is always dependent on use. With the advent of the web fewer people are printing and lower MP cameras are fine. If you pursue printing for things other than personal use the higher resolution is a must. Once you work with higher resolution files its tough to go back.

  11. Brian Auer Post author

    I have a feeling that the higher-end dSLRs (excluding medium format) are heading toward that 20-30 range, especially as full frame sensors become more mainstream. Canon is leading the pack in that aspect, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony released their flagship model as a full frame somewhere above 16MP.

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