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Megapixels: The Size of a Digital Retina
One of the digital camera's most varied features, megapixels, is also one of the most confusing. Clarify your understanding with our guide to these important dots.
Smashing your nose up to a digital photograph might help you make out a tiny facial blemish or a hummingbird photobomb, but what you won’t see are the millions of infinitesimal dots—the pixels—that make up the image itself. Whereas a regular camera creates a picture by exposing film to light directly, a digital camera encodes the light as information held in these individual pixels, which come together to form a seamless, lifelike image. Put simply, one million pixels make up one megapixel, so the more megapixels a camera has, the more information it can capture, and the higher resolution that camera’s images will be. Higher resolutions, of course, translate into crisper large-format prints and give photographers the flexibility to crop the picture without losing quality.
However, more megapixels don't necessarily translate to better pictures. Good lighting and composition will always play the biggest role in a photo’s quality, and a camera with a shoddy lens and circuitry will ruin even the best close-up of a thumb. In some cases, more megapixels can actually result in worse quality, since the larger file size may need to be compressed just to fit on a hard drive. For most people, five to eight megapixels should be more than enough.