Learning about the Mega Pixel myth, the hard way

I can’t remember the first camera I operated but I think it was a Kodak disposable. The first piece of equipment I chose was a Panasonic Mini Dv camcorder that took 1.3 megapixel stills. I started getting excited when my cell phone options began to include image taking capabilities and I made sure I got the iPod Touch 4th gen (the first with a camera) when it came out so I could start capturing pictures and video. The iPod stills weren’t that bad until I found out they didn’t even qualify as one megapixel.

I didn’t pay much attention into what effect a megapixel has on an image until I knew my equipment was deficient. I planned on nabbing an iPhone 4 because I heard that it packed a pretty decent 5 megapixel camera. I was all set and ready to go. It turns out my pictures still seemed somewhat dissatisfying to me. I began looking into a point and shoot pocket sized camera and wondered why anyone would buy one when smart phones could do the same thing. The same thing crossed my mind when I saw Costco stocking super zooms and DSLRs. I didn’t the slight increase in image quality was worth carrying all those lenses and that meaty body. My assumptions were obviously all wrong.

The Mega-Pixel Myth…..ever heard of it? It basically states that anything above 5 megapixels yields photo print quality and the human eye will not easily distinguish the resolution differences. So all those camera ads touting the newest camera punching an extra 2 megapixels actually adds no discernible difference in quality.

Life is about options and the iPhone didn’t give me much. It’s in phone camera app gave me a focus lock, HDR, and that’s pretty much it. Even third party apps that added exposure locks lacked any serious control over basic settings that most pocketable point and shoots came standard with.

My phone did offer zoom though. I thought that was great until I actually used it and wondered why it turned out such shitty images. Turns out the iPhone and other forms of digital zooms relied on a processor to guesstimate what the image would look like closer. Many dedicated pocket cameras and all those Costco super zooms had optical zooms that didn’t require guessing because the actual lenses where at play here not some program.

The biggest problem I had was where I was taking these photographs. Outdoors I could usually produce some decent shots but indoors or at night time these images would become saturated in graininess. DSLRs had the large sensors that are roughly the size of a stamp versus the ibuprofen sized sensors found in pocket friendly cameras. These large sensors were more receptive to low light conditions. They also had many setting options like aperture (controlling how much light passes through the lens), shutter speed (which also affects light entering the sensor once the shutter button is pressed), and ISO sensitivity. I could also select what kind of lighting situation Im under, change white balance (no more orange tinged indoor shots) and the biggest selling point of a DSLR, the type of lenses I could use. Telephoto, 50mm, wide angle, and macro are just a few of the many available lenses that suit all sorts of situations while providing a nice shallow depth of field. These lenses more than megapixels are what produce sharper images.

So I went out and bought a used Sony a300 knowing all of the above and happily new I was going to be able to capture beautiful photos. Then I got caught up in one article after another and started getting bother that my first DSLR only had 10.2 megapixels. I had pixel envy at the newer Canons and Nikons that sport 16, 18 and 20 plus MP. I took my time and pounced when I saw a deal on a brand spanking new Sony a57 sporting a whopping 16.1 megapixels. I popped on my favorite Minolta 50mm f1.7 lens and snapped some pics. I opened Aperture on my Mac and was surprised that I wasn’t blown away. I took my old a300 and took the same shot with the same lens and settings and remembered, the Mega Pixel Myth. See for yourself.

Composition and creativity do more for a photograph than the density capabilities of a camera. Check out the cheap camera challenges of pro photographers at Digital Rev. At the end of the day, I was part right in getting excited over my iPhone. It’s a device that I need to have and Chase Jarvis made famous the saying “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” With the amount of money I’ve spent though, I’m making sure I take my a57 everywhere, including bed. Good night.

Sony Alpha a300 on the left vs. Sony Alpha SLT-a57 on the right
Sony a300 10.1 megapixels
Sony a57, 16.1 megapixels
Sony a300 10.1 megapixels
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