I recently responded to some questions about the importance (really lack thereof) of Mega-pixels. It will shed some insight as you think about making your next digital camera purchase.

Q1 – Does image quality really go up with more megapixels on digital cameras?
A1 – This is a common misconception. Image quality may go up with more MP, but it’s not the whole story. There are three components to having top quality images, (a) the quality of the optics, (b) the size of the digital camera’s sensor, and (c) the number of MPs. They are listed in order of importance. Therefore, if you take the same camera with the same sensor and the same optics, the image quality won’t go up! Something else has ‘gotta give’ or improve first.

Q2 – Do you really get a better 8×10″ print, for example?
A2 – You will get more data to play with if you only increase the MP count. Let me explain. Some of the best advice about taking photographs came from Robert Capa who said, “if your photograph isn’t good enough you’ll probably not close enough.” Consumers often times take photos of people and are too far away. If there are more MPs in a camera, then the non-essential areas around the subject can be cropped. For example you can have an 8MP camera and take an image of a couple from far away. When the extra area is cropped away, you might end up with the equivalent of 3MP. This 3MP will usually be enough data to give a decent 8×10 … but then you need to remember that the optics will have a play and so will the sensor.

Q3 – Do consumers care (that dynamic range is reduced, with muddy shadows and washed-out highlights, but that in-camera image-processing is harder and consumes more power.) ?
A3 – It’s been my experience that consumers want good quality photographs that are relatively easy to take. They want to have enough data to share their images and to enlarge a few. Some want to enter contests even, but they won’t stand for sub-optimum images that are grainy, washed out or not very sharp. What consumers don’t like is the next shot delay when taking photos of their friends and family and some of the grainy images from consumer digital cameras. They won’t care if the processing is taking place in the camera, but then this means that manufacturers need to be conscious of the type of batteries … in almost all cases the batteries should be NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) rechargeable AA’s.

Q4 – Can camera makers afford to stand up against the marketing momentum?
A4 – I’m not sure I understand this question, but let me add a review about my latest book that might shed some light here …
” … The knowledge gained from this text (Snap) allows the photographer to take control of the medium in a manner that best fits her/his personal, professional and financial photographic goals. Marketers are happy to fill in the knowledge gap with their mission. Mark empowers readers by helping us understand and focus on what equipment and software we need to accomplish our photographic goals. He provides a type of check and balance viewpoint that is refreshing in a market-driven digital world. …” – Diane Bugeja, Photography Instructor, Iowa State University

The bottom line is that there is a lot of marketing hype with respect to Mega-pixels, the meaningless digital zoom factor and manufacturers not really talking about the next shot delay problem. What manufacturers need to start doing is practicing honesty in what their cameras can realistically deliver. In my programs I have people who want to take candid’s of people. I say get a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) with a good quality lens (not the kit lenses). Basically, my mission is to empower the serious consumer and photography enthusiast with quality information to increase their self-confidence. This allows them to make the best choices for their respective situations outside of the influence of manufacturers or sales clerks on a specific product incentive.

About Robert Valle