What are Megapixels and Why are They Important?

Dive into the world of megapixels and how they impact photos and videos.

by O. Rikin
on June 14, 2018

So you’ve been shopping around for the right kind of camera and keep seeing the word “megapixels”. Or perhaps you have heard about the iPhone X’s superior megapixel upgrade over any of the previous models. So what exactly does this word mean and why should you take it into account when it comes to making your own content? In this article, we’ll go over what a megapixel is and how it impacts the photos and videos you are shooting. Plus we’ll discover what kind of content works best with the number of megapixels you have.

What is a Megapixel and How Does it Impact The Image Quality?

According to the dictionary, a megapixel is a unit of graphic resolution that is equivalent to approximately one million pixels. Breaking this down even further we learn that a pixel is a basic unit of color or smallest element on a computer display or image and serves as a sample of the original image. The more pixels you have, the more accurate your representation of the original image. Also, the more pixels you have, the more ability you have to zoom in on details after the picture is taken. Pixels influence screen image sharpness which is sometimes described as dpi or dots per inch. Naturally, the more dots or pixels we have in an inch, the higher the resolution of the overall image. The color that a pixel represents is based on three components of the color spectrum including red, green, and blue.

We can go deeper into the specifics of color depth determined by pixels but the key takeaway here is that the more pixels you have, the sharper or truer-to-original image you will have. For example, the iPhone X is 12 megapixels. Compare this to the Galaxy S5 from Samsung with 16 megapixels and you get a difference of approximately four million megapixels. The resolution quality is equal for still photos and moving video which is likely a reason why many filmmakers will opt to go with the higher video resolution of the Galaxy S5. On the other hand, the iPhone X selfie side camera has 7 megapixels while the Galaxy only has 2.1 megapixels, making it more suitable for Instagram-able content or vlogs that have to be created in a pinch.

What Kind of Content Works with The Resolution?

Depending on the type of content you are creating will give you an idea of the resolution required to properly create it. Using an extremely high-resolution camera with flip screen for selfies can come off as unnatural to most audiences while using one with a lower resolution for YouTube content might look unprofessional.

The vast majority of established YouTube vloggers use 20 to 22 megapixel DSLR cameras to create products that are neither too low or too high in resolution. Because of this, these videos strike the balance of being relatable enough to an audience without dipping into unprofessional, cell phone shot footage.

Professional cinematographers, on the other hand, will use cameras with a more complicated sensor and recording settings that facilitate with the color correcting and post-production processes. However, award-winning films have also been shot on iPhones with post-production playing a larger role in the completion of these films.

It is important to understand what a megapixel is and where it is derived from before embarking on your filmmaking journey. Creating content with a high image resolution camera might turn off your audience while the opposite can lose their attention. Another possibility is mixing high and low-resolution cameras with the effect on the audience in mind. Horror films that make use of webcams as part of the mise-en-scène come to mind. Mapping out your vision and the kind of resolution you want to end up with will save you time and money when deciding on choosing what kind of camera to invest in.