It’s become commonplace to hear about the new camera release from one of the top brands, boasting about their new 22, 24, or 28 megapixel sensor. It’s a never-ending race that keeps the customer gasping for breath—and with a hole in the wallet.
The reality is that megapixels were never that important and much less so today.
Every digital camera has a wide mixture of parameters and factors that we have to consider when we’re thinking of our next purchase. Today we focus on two of the most important ones. One is in the camera—its sensor and its resolution in megapixels. The other is not in the camera, because the other, in fact, is what matters the most in photography: the lenses that you’ll use with your camera.
The sensor of your digital camera is the electronic device that captures and register the light that arrives to your camera. The photons enter the lens and are focused onto the sensor which converts the analog signal into digital numbers that then get stored into the memory card. The more megapixels your camera has, the more detail and definition you will be able to discern in the captured image.
If the camera has 12 megapixels, this means that the surface of the sensor will be roughly divided into 12 million pixels. Twelve million pixels in a picture can mean many different combinations of widths and heights in pixels. a Typical one will be a digital image that’s 2848 pixels in width and 4288 pixels in height. If you multiply those 2 numbers, you get 12.212.224 pixels = 12 million pixels = 12 megapixels.
It’s clear that the more megapixels your camera has, the more fine detail it can reveal in your pictures. However, there are two very important aspects that impact the megapixel number, and about which the average consumers rarely hears.
One is the quality of the pixel in relation to the size of the sensor.
The Sensor of your Camera
Different digital cameras have different sensor sizes. Imagine that your sensor has a specific size. Imagine a small rectangle (which is what your sensor actually is). Now imagine you put 6 million pixels in that space. Now maintain the same space and put 12 million pixels in there. Now keep the very same size and put 22 million pixels in there.
As you increase the megapixel count but keep the same sensor size, the quality of the pixels degrade. There is less surface available for each pixel; the sensor and therefore the precision and quality of each of those pixels will deteriorate. So you get more megapixels but less quality.
That’s why the sensor size of your camera is such an important parameter. The first digital cameras had a sensors smaller than the traditional 35mm analog film size. Today more and more full-frame sensor camera models are coming out. These full frame cameras have sensor sizes similar or even larger than the traditional 35mm analog cameras. This allows them to have very large megapixel numbers in their sensors without the quality suffering that much.
Therefore when you’re thinking of your next camera, consider the importance of having a full frame sensor. But also consider that full frame cameras usually weight more and take up more space. So if you don’t need that extra boost in quality, you may in fact do better with the smaller sensor.
Appropriate Lenses for your Goals
The second element is the lens. This is often surprising to hear, but your lenses are just as important (or more important!) than the camera body you get. If you get a great camera body but use it with poor lenses your results will suffer. If you have an average camera body but use it with fantastic lenses, your results will be above average.
Lenses are key. It is the lenses that capture and shape the light that arrives to your camera. It is the lens that provides the miracle of bringing that light into your camera. The only thing the camera’s sensor does is to register and record that information that has arrived. But the critical factor in the whole photo taking process is the lens. Which is why lenses are never cheap. The cheapest of them give poor results and the very best of them are extremely expensive.
So when you’re looking for a new camera, think that you have to invest in both a camera body and a set of lenses and put just as much effort in understanding and finding out what lenses you need.
You may be a fine art photographer, commercial photographer, or photojournalist. Regardless of your passion—fine art photography or portrait photography or food photography–finding the right tool for your job is a process that will always be related to the lenses that you bring in your kit.
Nowadays, megapixel counts are very high in every camera coming out, so whatever camera you choose will be fine in regards to that parameter. It’s easier nowadays to think more carefully about your lenses and get the right set that will take your photography to the best heights.
About the Author
Javier Gonzalez is creative director at Ideami Studios, http://www.ideami.com. Ideami Studios offers high end photography and filmmaking services, advanced photo retouching, creative workshops, creative consulting and much more. Ideami Klinklin retouching services: http://www.klinklin.com.
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