It has become commonplace to hear about the new camera release from one of the top brands, reflecting about their new 22,24 or 28 mega pixel sensor. It is a never ending race that keeps the customer gasping for breath, and with a hole in the wallet.
The reality is that the mega pixels of digital camera 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 and think about when we are thinking of our next purchase. Today we focus on two of the most important ones. One is in the camera: the sensor and its resolution in mega pixels.The other is not in the camera, because the other, in fact, is what matters the most in photography: the lenses that you will use with your camera.
The sensor of your digital camera is the electronic device that will capture and register the light that arrives to your camera. The photons arrive to the lens and are focused onto the sensor which converges the analog signal into digital numbers that then get stored into the memory card of the camera. The more mega pixels your camera has, the more detail and definition you will be able to discern in the captured image.
If the camera has 12 mega pixels, this means that the surface of the sensor will be roughly divided in 12 million pixels. 12 million pixels in a picture can mean many different combination of widths and heights in pixels. a Typical one will be a digital image of 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 mega pixels.
It is clear that the more mega pixels your camera has, the more fine detail it can reveal in your picture. However there are two very important aspects that impact the mega pixel 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 rectangle and put 22 million pixels in there.
As you increase the mega pixel count but keep the same sensor size, the quality of the pixels degrade. There is less surface available for each pixel in that sensor and therefore the precision and quality of each of those pixels will deteriorate. So you get more mega pixels but of less quality.
That's why the sensor size of your camera is such an important parameter. The first digital cameras had a sensor size 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 mega pixel numbers in their sensors without the quality suffering that much.
Therefore when you are thinking of your next camera, consider the importance of having a full frame sensor camera. But also consider that full frame cameras typically weigh more and take more space. So if you do not need that extra plus in quality you may in fact do better with the smaller sensor.
The key, the lenses
The second element are the lenses. This is often surprising to hear but your lenses are just as important or often much more 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 lenses that provide the miracle of bringing that light into your camera. The only thing the sensor of the camera 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 are 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 food photography, or of the time you spend taking photos, finding the right tool for your job is a process that will always be very related to the lenses that you will bring in your kit.
Nowadays, mega pixel counts are very high in every camera coming out so whatever camera you choose will be fine in regards to that parameters. It is therefore easier nowdays to think more carefully about your lenses and get the right set that will take your photography to the best heights.