The Key To Better Digital Pictures

February 4, 2010

How Many Pixels Are Enough?

If you were to look through all of the ads for digital cameras you would think that the most important consideration in purchasing a digital camera was as simple as simply picking the one with the most pixels. Many people think that megapixels were the most important, in fact the only, factor to use in determining which digital camera to choose.

Where ever you look, print ads, tv ads or internet ads all seem to tout megapixels as one of the best features of the camera being advertised. Go to a local store and the salesperson will start right out by telling you how many megapixels this camera has.

Problem is, megapixels are NOT the most important consideration.

The Secret Is In The Sensor

Sensors are those computer chips that gather in the light through the lens and transform it into an image. Today, most camera sensors are identified by type, and the type is usually a fraction like 1/2.5″ or 2/3″.

How Digital Photographs Are Processed

How Digital Photographs Are Processed

Most point-and-shoot digital cameras have the 1/2.5″ type of sensor, and this sensor has an image sensing area of approximately 25 square millimeters. More expensive point-and-shoot cameras will use a 1/1.7″ or 2/3″ type sensor, which have an image sensing are of 40 square millimeters and 60 square millimeters of area, respectively.

The larger sensors commonly used today are in the DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras and are typically 1.8″, roughly 16 times the area of a 1/2.5″ type, or about 400 square millimeters.

Resolution and Pixel Size In Relation To Image Sensors

A larger sensor has the advantage of providing more megapixels of resolution than a smaller sensor. Now, megapixels are important because these are the small little bits of information which, combined with the rest of the pixels, make up your image. Most of the time more megapixels results in better resolution.

And here is where the rub comes in – in order for manufacturers to squeeze more megapixels into a point-and-shoot camera they have to make them smaller! Smaller pixels can actually hurt your picture quality. Think about it this way: if you have 2 cameras, a point-and-shoot camera and a DSLR camera, both with 10 megapixels of resolution, the size of the pixels created in the point-and-shoot camera could be 400 times smaller than those in the DSLR camera!

Why Larger Pixels Are Important

Think of each pixel as a bucket that holds particles of light, and pixels are created when you expose the sensor to light. After exposure the sensor measures the amount of light captured on each pixel. An empty pixel is black while a full pixel is white.

The color and brightness of your photograph is determined by the amount of light each pixel collects and how quickly it collects it. Small pixels fill up rapidly, often resulting in overexposed pictures. By contrast, larger pixels take longer to fill which gives the camera sensor more time to correctly expose both light and dark areas.

Because of this ability to capture more light it also means that they will produce photographs that are less subject to fuzziness or blurring.

So Is Bigger Always Better?

The biggest disadvantage of larger sensors is their cost, but they carry few disadvantages other than that. They also require bigger lenses to collect the light, but in return provide images that are easy to enlarge with little loss of resolution.

I hope all of this is a help, and when you get ready to purchase your next camera this information helps you to make a better choice.

Remember, keep taking lots and lots of photographs of your kids. You will be glad you did!

Betty Muscott, Child Photographer

Betty Muscott, Child Photographer

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