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Why You Shouldn’t Just Judge Cameras by Megapixels
In the digital cameras of today, the megapixel issue of yesterday is a non-issue. Unless you are going to be making extreme enlargements – 16” x 20” or larger – a camera having a low double-digit megapixel capability (10 or 12 megapixels) will more than meet your needs.
Instead of worrying about megapixels when selecting a camera, spend your time researching features that do make a difference in your photography, such as:
- Sensor Size
- ISO Range
- Metering Modes
- Optical/Digital Zoom Ratio
Fact: the larger the sensor size, the larger the pixels on the sensor, the sharper the image. As far as pixel size, not all pixels are created equal, nor are sensors for that matter.
Today there are three basic sensor categories:
Four Thirds is generally 13.5mm by 18mm and commonly used in point and shoot cameras. APS and Full Frame are used in both DSLRs and bridge cameras. The APS sensor measures from 14mm by 21mm to 16mm by 24mm.
Full frame is just as it sounds – the same size as a full frame of 35mm film, 24mm by 36mm. DSLRs with full frame do not need a multiplication factor (1.5x by Nikon or 1.6x by Canon) as do those that use the APS size (because they are already at full frame which is what the multiplication factor does.)
ISO is a measure of sensitivity to light. The higher the number, the better able the camera is at taking acceptable exposures in diminished light. However, high ISO settings can also impart “noise” into images. Look for a camera capable of producing low-noise images at 1,600 or higher ISO.
Metering measures the brightness of a subject and can be controlled by the photographer through the selection of the metering mode used:
Evaluative reads the light from all parts of the scene and then selects the right exposure overall. On the other hand, Spot takes most of its light reading from a very small portion of the scene – usually the 9% in the center of the viewfinder. Center-weighted is a combination of evaluative and spot. It reads the whole scene, but gives more “weight” or value to the information in the center of the viewfinder.
Optical/Digital Zoom Ratio
First, let’s define the difference between the two. With optical zoom, the image is enlarged before you press the shutter button. Typically, it involves moving from one focal length to a longer one.
With digital zoom, the image is enlarged after pressing the shutter button and involves spreading the pixels out over a greater area. At large print sizes, this results in a softening or slight blurriness of the photo.
Most of the digital cameras now are at least 12 megapixels or larger, so basically any of them will do the job you need them to do from the megapixel standpoint. However, by focusing (no pun intended) on the four features discussed in this article, you are well on your way to choosing a digital camera what will meet your needs.
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This article was a huge help to me because choosing a camera is always a difficult task for me. I want to take high quality photos, but the camera itself doesn't really interest me. Because I don't really care to learn what the different specifications mean, I've been hung up on the megapixel number. Now I know better. Thanks!
Thanks for writing this article. I was like most people when I bought my last camera (7 years ago) and just bought the highest megapixel camera I could afford. I never really knew what any of the other specs meant, though. I will definitely look at more this go 'round when we buy a new camera.
You are absolutely right. Especially if you do specialty shooting like I do in caves. I needed a camera that not only had a wide ISO range, but also had adjustable shutter speeds.
This article opened my eyes to a few things. I don't know much about cameras, and plan to take some kind of basic course to change that. Megapixels are something I hear about a lot, so I assumed stats on those were a good way to measure performance. It's good to know there are other things to think about.
Thanks for this article. I wish more people would do research before buying something. This article should also be illuminating to the people who think just because a phone has a 10 megapixel camera it's as good as an DSLR.
I wish I had known this as well. I bought a point-and-shoot digital camera a few years back and spent everything I had to spare on it, but even though it's a high MP camera, it's really not that great. I've seen pics taken with other less expensive cameras since that were better than mine, even though the MP capacity was lower.
I wish I had read this before I had bought my last camera. I was dumb - didn't know anything about digital cameras. Bought one that had 14 mp, thinking it would take good pictures. My sister's Canon, with only 10 mp, took way better pictures. I'm getting one like hers coming up.