The megapixel count of a smartphone gets a lot of attention among smartphone makers.It is one of the most emphasized specifications on a smartphone product label.
For some people, deciding how many megapixels are good enough can be confusing.So aside from the smart marketing ploys that manufacturers promote about megapixel counts, how many megapixels do your current phone have and how many do you actually need?
Debunking the megapixel myth
The marketing campaigns of smartphone makers have created a very simple image of what megapixels mean.They make it seem like megapixels are all about how good your photos can be.For example, the Samsung Galaxy S20, S21, and S22 Ultra all feature 1.08-megapixel sensors.
Samsung is very proud to highlight the strengths of its 1.08-megapixel sensor and how it makes its smartphone cameras far better than rivals with fewer pixels.You might think that more megapixels automatically means better cameras.
However, this line of reasoning breaks down when faced with devices like Apple's iPhone 13 Pro Max and Google's Pixel 5. The iPhone 13 Pro Max has a modest 1200-megapixel main camera.Surely a 1200-megapixel sensor has no chance against a 10800-megapixel sensor?
You are wrong to think so.Of course, the iPhone 13 Pro Max has one of the best cameras of any commercial smartphone.It surpasses the Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra in several camera metrics.Likewise, the Google Pixel 5 Pro's modest 1600-megapixel main camera doesn't necessarily make it any worse than a device with a 52-megapixel sensor like the Samsung Galaxy A4800.
So if more megapixels doesn't necessarily mean a better camera, how does the megapixel count affect the camera and picture quality?How many megapixels does your phone need to take good pictures?
To answer this question, you need to understand what a megapixel means.
What is a megapixel?
To understand a megapixel, it is important to understand its smaller unit - the pixel.Pixels are tiny light-capturing blocks on the surface of a camera's image sensor.Or you can call them very tiny building blocks that contain the visual data used to build the image.
A megapixel is a collection of one million of these tiny pixels.So when you say 100 million pixels, you mean 100 million pixels.And 1200 million pixels means 1200 million pixels.But how do these numbers affect the camera and picture quality?
How megapixel count affects camera quality
Light is very important in photography - it is critical.Pixels capture light on the sensor surface of a camera, which makes them very important.Typically, the larger the pixel size, the more light it can capture.The more light your pixels capture, the better your images are likely to be.Conversely, the smaller the pixel size, the less light it can capture, resulting in a potentially poorer image.
It's not all black and white, however, and there are some nuances, but fundamentally, that's how things work.
To be clear, pixel size is not the same as megapixel count.They are two different things.Pixel size refers to the size of those small pixels on the surface of your camera's sensor.Megapixels refers to the number of those tiny pixels mounted on a sensor, in the millions.But what exactly is the size of a pixel?How does it relate to megapixel count?
Now, think of the two images below as your camera's sensor, and those gray boxes are individual pixels.
For this first image, the pixels (gray box) are bigger.Because the pixels are bigger, there are only a few pixels that can fit into the image (camera sensor).
For this second image, even though the image size (sensor size) remains the same, more pixels can fit because the pixels (gray box) are smaller.
The implication is that with the same sensor size, more "small pixels" can be packed in, but more large pixels can be packed in.Remember that larger pixels are usually better because they capture more light.So when making a camera, a manufacturer may be faced with a choice: pack in 1200 million big pixels to get a 1200-megapixel camera, or pack in 1.08 million small pixels to get a 1.08 million camera sensor.
However, that doesn't automatically mean fewer megapixels are better.Yes, in some cases it's better, but it depends on several variables, one of which is sensor size.But what is the sensor size?
Simply put, sensor size refers to the size of the camera sensor where those small pixels are located.The image sensor itself is part of the camera and uses the light captured by the camera to produce an image.The size of the sensor introduces a new impetus to the subject of how close you are to megapixels.
Take, for example, a 200-megapixel camera.A large sensor can fit comfortably in 200 million large pixels without sacrificing pixel size.Yet another 200-megapixel camera, with a smaller sensor, would have to use smaller pixels to fit the full 200-megapixel.Simply put, the size of an image sensor determines how many pixels its surface can fit, and how big those pixels can be.
Forcing more megapixels on a small sensor can be counterproductive.On the other hand, if you have a larger sensor, you can push in more pixels if you want.That's why Samsung uses a very large sensor (by smartphone standards) on its Galaxy S22 Ultra, which has a 10800-megapixel camera.
How many megapixels are enough?
At this point, it might be easy to think that more megapixels don't do much.Well, not quite.More megapixels means more resolution or room for higher definition images.This can be useful when printing images or viewing them on large screens.Plus, more megapixels ensure your images can hold as much detail as possible.
Also, higher megapixels are very important for zoom, especially digital zoom.Since digital zoom is basically a crop, higher megapixel cameras capture enough detail to ensure that the image doesn't appear pixelated when you crop the image manually or when your camera does it with digital zoom.This could be useful for smartphones that rely heavily on digital zoom rather than optical zoom.
Therefore, the higher the megapixels, the more detail it is possible to capture.But, of course, you don't have to be excited about the high pixel count.Higher megapixel counts don't automatically translate into better photos.You can fancy more megapixels if:
1. A large sensor is involved.
2. It involves a good shot.It's hard to define a good lens, but now the definition of a good lens is based on the brand.Brands like Leica and Zeiss are associated with quality lenses.
3. Good software is also involved.Samsung, Apple and Google have great computational photography software.Good software can squeeze the best value out of a high-megapixel camera.
4. Use pixel binning.This technique digitally combines adjacent pixels, simulating larger pixel sizes.
The number of megapixels is not as simple as it seems
While we'd love to get excited about the latest megapixel flagships, it's important to ask, "What's their underlying technology?" If the underlying technology isn't good enough, then more megapixels aren't worth the extra money .
If the underlying technology is good enough, then by all means, if you have the funds, go for higher megapixels.However, making a buying decision based on megapixel count is not entirely advisable.
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