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what is the best megapixel for a camera

New camera? How many megapixels? While this used to be how cameras were compared, it just doesn’t matter any more. How many megapixels is good for a camera? And how many do you need? In this post, we break down the megapixels required for different print sizes and for use online.

12 megapixels is sufficient for almost all consumers and content creators. This allows enough resolution to create print a 12″ x 16″ photo. And 12MP is larger than you’ll ever need for online sharing.

how many megapixels is good for a camera

How Many Megapixels Do I Need?

To understand megapixel requirements, we break down common aspect ratios, common print sizes, and common sizes for online use. This post will help you know how many megapixels you need to get the print and online results you want.

The following charts show two of the most common aspect ratios. Not sure which aspect ratio you camera uses? Jump to the Aspect Ratio and Common Print Sizes Chart.

How Many Megapixels Chart (Most Cameras: 3:2)

This aspect ratio (3:2) is found in most DSLR, mirrorless and many point and shoot cameras.

Here are the print size and pixel ratios for 5 to 30MP. Print sizes are rounded down to the most common photo print size.

Above calculations are based on an 3:2 aspect ratio (nominal format of 1.503:1). This aspect ratio is common with DSLR, mirrorless, and many point and shoot cameras, along with vintage 35mm film.

How Many Megapixels Chart (Phones, Other Cameras: 4:3)

This aspect ratio (4:3) is found in GoPro action cameras, most smartphones, and some point and shoot cameras.

Here are the print size and pixel ratios for 5 to 30MP. Print sizes are rounded down to the most common photo print size.

Calculations are based on an 4:3 aspect ratio (nominal format of 1.333:1). This aspect ratio is common with DSLR and vintage 35mm film.

common ratio calculator

How much memory do you need? Here’s how many photos and minutes of video per GB of SD card memory.

Common Aspect Ratios and Print Sizes

To help you make sense of the different aspect ratios and print sizes, this charts breaks down common print sizes for each ratio.

Of course, you can print any aspect ratio in any size. But following this chart means you can avoid cropping or adding additional white space.

Likely your camera (from DSLR to smartphone) will be either a 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratio.

  • What’s the most popular aspect ratio? 3:2 is the most common aspect ratio used today. It is found in most DSLR, mirrorless and many point and shoot cameras.
  • What cameras use 4:3 aspect ratio? The 4:3 aspect ratio is used in GoPro sensors, most smartphones, and some point and shoot cameras.
  • What cameras use 16:9 aspect ratio? The 16:9 aspect ratio is used in video and seldom used in photography. The exception is for some action cameras that allow photos to be shot (actually cropped in-camera) to this ratio.

Changing Aspect Ratio in Camera: 4 Brands

Some cameras allow users to change the aspect ratio in camera. While not every model allows aspect ratio change, these four brands have models that do.

Here’s how to change the aspect ratio in four different camera brands.

  • Canon: Navigate to Shooting Menu > Crop/aspect ratio. Here your can choose between a number of aspect ratios.
  • Nikon: Navigate to Photo Shooting Menu > Choose Image Area.
  • Sony: Navigate to Shooting Menu > Aspect Ratio.
  • GoPro: You can switch between 4:3 and 16:9.

common print sizes

Most Common Photo Print Sizes

The most common photo print size is 5″ x 7″ and 8″ x 10″, according to Etsy sellers and photo printers.

This means that a 12MP camera will capture sufficient resolution for a crisp print up to 20″ x 30″.

Of course, the quality of the photo depends more than just resolution. You’ll need a decent camera and some basic lighting and composition skills.

But assuming that you possess those required elements, as 12MP camera is the minimum you should be looking for.

how many megapixels do i need for certain print sizes

What About Printing on a Billboard?

The measurements above are based on framed prints, posters and signs that you would be physically close to. For them to appear crisp, they need the stated resolution.

But for something as large as a billboard, you can enlarge your photo to a massive scale – and as long as it is viewed from a distance (like billboards typically are) you won’t need a massive image.

Your over-enlarged photo will appear crisp even though it would look it when you are standing directly in front of it.

How Many Megapixels Do I Need for Online?

If you are only sharing your photos online, you don’t need to worry about resolution. You can’t buy a camera with too small of a megapixel rating. I recommend choosing at least 12MP resolution. More on that below.

On this blog, we publish a maximum photo width (or height) of 1200 pixels. So while we usually publish 1200 width and 857 pixels high (5×7 ratio). This comes in at 1MP. Even if we published a square image of 1200 x 1200 pixels (1×1 ratio), it would still only be a 1.4MP image.

So instead of worrying about image resolution, it’s better to focus on buying a quality camera (and lens, if applicable).

The following image is 1000 pixels wide, although the site only allows it to render at 750 pixels (on desktop). On mobile, it is in the range of 400 pixels wide.

Megapixel Basics

The number of megapixels you need in your camera depends on how you plan to use it, with print size a significant consideration. The larger the print, the more megapixels you will need to for a quality image.

In most cases, a 12MP camera will be sufficient for making high-quality digital images and standard prints.

Although more megapixels in your camera is typically not a bad thing don’t be fooled by manufacturers who pump higher megapixel count as proof of a superior camera that commands a higher price.

In most cases, lower megapixel cameras will be able to capture plenty to suit your needs.

The following breakdown looks at the common types of digital cameras and their typical megapixel count.

Average Megapixels: (DSLR) Cameras

Because DSLR cameras are often used for making prints, these cameras will benefit from having a higher megapixel count.

Average MP for a DSLR camera: 25 megapixels, but higher for many professional cameras.

Average Megapixels: Smartphones

The smartphone is one camera where megapixels likely do not matter all that much. However, when marketing their latest smartphone generation, many manufacturers can snare more customers by selling them on a camera with more megapixels.

These images often remain digital and don’t typically need high megapixel cameras. As most pictures taken with a smartphone will be shared on social media and/or sent back-and-forth between friends, a camera with basic megapixels should be more than sufficient.

In fact, many people are likely familiar with getting the “image too large” message when trying to email a high-resolution photo digitally, so more megapixels can be frustrating.

The one caveat comes with cropping. If you plan to do a bunch of zooming and editing, you will want a camera with higher resolution to keep your cropped image from turning out grainy.

Average MP for a smartphone: 12-16 megapixels.

Some smartphones have many more. For example: The Samsung S20 has a 64MP camera and the Samsung S20 Ultra boasts an insane 108MP camera.

Average Megapixels: Point and Shoot Cameras

While many people are ditching their point-and-shoot cameras and simply using the camera on their phones, some people take a ton of photos that do not want to tie up storage on their phones.

They find the ease of taking, storing, and transferring high quantities of photographs easier when working with a point-and-shoot camera’s memory card.

As those point-and-shoot photographers are more likely to order prints than those who work from their phones, the megapixel requirements will be a bit higher.

Average MP for a point-and-shoot camera: Around 20 megapixels.

Average Megapixels: Action Cameras

Megapixels are not one of the most important features of a camera used for action photography. In fact, some action cameras do not actively list their megapixel count, with others only listing “still-frame” resolution.

The most important characteristics of a robust action camera are shutter speed, frame rates, and autofocus. They must also be as light and durable as possible. As such, the megapixel count differs wildly for action cameras, with some having counts as low as those used in smartphones, with others as high as those in DSLR.

Average MP for an action camera: From 12 to 20 megapixels.

The new GoPro Hero9 Black features the highest megapixel camera of any popular action camera.

Pros & Cons of More Megapixels

While more megapixels makes your camera capable of capturing more light and producing higher resolution images, there are some definite drawbacks to shooting with more megapixels.

As a photographer, you decide how you’ll use your camera before deciding on a megapixel count.

Pros of More Megapixels

The advantages of a high megapixel count come down to being able to produce larger images. As the world is becoming increasingly infatuated with big-screen, high-definition televisions, it only stands to reason that cameras with similar capabilities are the wave of the future.

High megapixel cameras are beneficial in the following realms:

  • Printing large, clear images that are not blurred or distorted
  • Cropping images without introducing noise
  • Allowing for effective zooming to capture details, such as in online real estate listings
  • Down-sizing images to eliminate noise and create a clearer picture from the original

Cons of More Megapixels

While the advantages of using high megapixel cameras to create large, clear, high-resolution images are numerous, there are some downsides to an increased megapixel count:

  • More megapixels create larger file sizes, which can quickly fill the storage space on your computer and take longer to download.
  • Some online apps and services may not be able to process extremely high-resolution photos, so you may have to spend significant time downsizing or use images from a different camera.

Here are three ways to connect your camera to your computer.

what is a good megapixel for a camera

Want to print your photos wirelessly? Here’s how to connect a Canon printer to WiFi

How Many Megapixels Do I Need?

The number of megapixels you need depends on how you intend to use your camera. As mentioned, your prints’ size is a great way to estimate how much resolution you will need.

A general rule is that a print requires 300 pixels per inch (one megapixel equals 1 million pixels). So an 8 x 10 print would need 2,400 pixels x 3,000 pixels for a total area of 7.2 million pixels, or 7.2 megapixel camera.

A 16 x 20 print would require 4,800 pixels x 6,000 pixels for a total area of 28.8 million pixels, or 28.8 megapixels. So professionals who will be making larger portraits must have a camera with higher megapixels.

Photographs intended solely for an online audience are generally a small file size, meaning that low megapixel cameras can be used to create high-quality digital images.

For example, many Facebook profile pictures use photos of 1.2 megapixels, so if you plan on using your phone’s camera primarily to post on social media, you should not worry about megapixel count when choosing your camera.

how many megapixels do i need

Your Turn

While the number of your megapixel needs will vary based on how you intend to use your camera, with print size a major consideration, any camera of at least 12 megapixels should be suitable for regular use.

While professional photographers will likely want cameras of 20+ megapixels, a 12-megapixel camera will provide high-quality digital pictures and allow you to print every standard print size clearly.

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