In many cases, the first thing you will see about a digital camera is how many mega-pixels it is. It's easy to think that the bigger number, the better the picture, but this is far from true.
Simply, the number of mega-pixels signifies the total number of pixels the camera can reproduce. For instance, a 6MP camera will produce an image that is basically 2000 x 3000 pixels in size. The number of pixels essentially determines the size of the image, and thus how big you can print from it.
You should be able to get good prints at A4 from a 4-6MP camera.
To significantly increase the size of the image, however, you need to double the number of mega-pixels, so an 8MP image is not going to be that much larger than a 6MP image, as the increase will only be a couple of hundred pixels each side.
The important thing to remember is that image quality is not determined by the number of mega-pixels, but by the physical size of the sensor.
Quite simply, the bigger the sensor size, the better the quality.
Most DSLRs have much larger sensors than compact digital cameras. In fact, the sensor in most compact cameras is about 1/5 of the size of the sensors in DSLRs.
If, for example, you take a compact with 6MP and a DSLR with 6MP, the DSLR picture will be better quality, as the sensor is bigger. In the compact camera with a smaller sensor size, the 6 million pixels (6MP) are being crammed into a smaller space, which means they cannot collect as much information, which results in more 'noise' or grainier images. A good analogy of this is if you were to put 20 buckets into an area the size of your living room to catch water, and then tried to put 20 buckets into an area the size of your toilet to do the same. Obviously, to get 20 in there, the buckets have to be smaller, and therefore cannot hold as much water. So too, the smaller sized pixels in compact cameras cannot hold as much colour information.
So, when looking at buying a digital camera, and you want good quality shots, remember to look at the sensor size (dimensions) and not just at the MP number.
The Mega-Pixel Myth
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2 June 2006
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