In the world of digital photography, megapixels are a key specification used to determine photo resolution and overall camera quality. Megapixels specifically refer to the number of pixels a camera sensor has. More megapixels equals a higher resolution photo with more detailed imagery. This is an important factor for professional photographers who need to capture extremely high quality images. But how many megapixels exactly constitutes a “professional” camera? There is no definitive threshold, but generally professional DSLR and mirrorless cameras today have sensors over 20 megapixels. Understanding megapixels and camera resolution helps professionals select gear capable of meeting their photographic needs.
What are Megapixels?
Megapixels specifically refer to the number of pixels present on a camera’s image sensor. The image sensor is the digital equivalent of film in a traditional camera. It captures light particles and converts them into photographic data to form images. More pixels on a sensor provide more imaging information to create photos.
Pixels are the tiny dots that compose a digital image. More pixels mean each photo contains a greater level of fine detail. Megapixels are simply the number of pixels present in one million pixels. So a 20 megapixel camera has a sensor with roughly 20 million pixels ready to capture intricate images.
The number of megapixels directly correlates to the maximum resolution and print size possible from a digital camera. More megapixels mean the camera can produce larger, more detailed photos. Prints can also be cropped or enlarged significantly without losing image quality. Understanding this relationship is key for professional photographers who require high resolution imagery.
Minimum Megapixels for Professional Cameras
What then is the minimum megapixel count to look for in a professional camera today? There is no universally accepted threshold, as camera technology continues advancing. But most current professional DSLR and mirrorless camera models have sensors with resolutions of 20 megapixels or higher. This provides sufficient resolution for most professional photography applications.
Here are some examples of leading professional cameras and their megapixel counts:
|Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
|Sony a7R III
|Fujifilm GFX 50R
As shown above, most current professional cameras have sensors over 30 megapixels. Mid-range cameras designed for advanced amateur photographers may have sensors in the 20-30 megapixel range. Entry-level consumer cameras generally fall below 20 megapixels.
So while there is no definitive rule, most photographers consider cameras with 20+ megapixel sensors to meet the professional threshold. This provides sufficient resolution for most professional uses. But higher megapixel counts above 40 or 50 megapixels give additional flexibility for situations like:
– Large photographic prints (billboard size and beyond)
– Significant cropping/enlargements from a portion of the image
– Detailed landscape or architectural photography
– High end commercial product photography
Ultimately the needs of each photographer dictate the ideal megapixel count for professional work. But sensor resolutions around 20-30 megapixels offer a good balance for most general professional photography.
Factors Beyond Megapixels
It’s important to note that while megapixels determine maximum possible resolution, the actual image quality depends on several other key camera factors. A camera with more megapixels won’t necessarily produce better photos than one with fewer megapixels. Other vital factors include:
– **Sensor Size:** Physical sensor dimensions, usually larger for higher end cameras. Impacts light capturing ability.
– **Sensor Technology:** The sensor’s design quality and manufacturing process. Affects noise, dynamic range, color accuracy and low light performance.
– **Image Processor:** Powerful processors render finer details and improved color.
– **Lens Quality:** Resolution potential depends on the clarity and sharpness qualities of the attached lens.
– **Image Stabilization:** Reduces blur from camera shake, especially useful for high megapixel count.
– **Shooting Technique:** Careful shooting and development process helps maximize resolution potential.
So when assessing overall image quality, megapixels are just one piece of the puzzle, albeit an important one for measuring maximum resolution. Professional photographers look at the complete imaging pipeline.
Megapixels Required for Print Sizes
Another way to look at megapixels is to determine the print sizes possible at various resolutions. In general, more megapixels translate to larger possible print sizes while maintaining a high level of detail. Here are some examples of print sizes attainable at different megapixel counts while maintaining a 300dpi resolution standard for high quality photographic prints:
|16 x 20 inches
|22 x 30 inches
|24 x 36 inches
|28 x 42 inches
|34 x 50 inches
|44 x 66 inches
|55 x 82 inches
As shown above, megapixel counts in the 20-30 range allow for poster and magazine size enlargements. 40+ megapixels support even larger professional grade enlargements at high resolutions. This gives an indication of print sizes attainable for a given megapixel count.
Megapixels in Smartphones vs. DSLR/Mirrorless
Smartphone cameras today like the iPhone 11 Pro or Google Pixel have megapixel counts competitive with some dedicated cameras. But it’s important to note smartphone megapixels don’t directly correlate to a standalone camera due to the much smaller sensor size. Most smartphone cameras max out around 12 megapixels. While the megapixel counts are similar, a 12MP full frame DSLR will generally capture higher resolution photos than a 12MP smartphone. But smartphone quality continues improving with advanced processing.
For professional work, a larger high end sensor in a DSLR or mirrorless camera is recommended to maximize resolution. Smartphones are suitable for casual use but lack the advanced capabilities required for professional photography.
High Megapixel Medium Format Cameras
At the very high end of pro photography are medium format cameras with megapixel counts from 50 to 100MP. Top models include:
|Phase One IQ4 150MP
These ultra high resolution cameras provide enormous flexibility for commercial photography applications like:
– Extremely large fine art print sizes
– High end fashion photography with a need to capture intricate fabrics/textures
– Advertising photos for outdoor billboards or building wraps
– Highly detailed product photography for advertising
The medium format name indicates these cameras utilize a larger sensor size compared to full frame DSLR/mirrorless cameras. The extra large sensor is necessary to effectively utilize the 100+ megapixels while maintaining a high image quality.
The higher costs of medium format gear plus slower shooting speeds limit most photographers to 50MP full frame cameras at the top end. But for some elite professionals like commercial fashion, product and landscape photographers, medium format megapixel counts over 100MP provide ultimate image resolution.
Megapixels measure the resolution potential of a digital camera. While there is no universal standard for professional gear, most pro DSLR and mirrorless cameras today have sensors in the 20-30 megapixel range. This provides sufficient resolution for most professional photography applications. Higher megapixel counts provide additional flexibility for large print sizes, cropping ability and commercial work. But a variety of other camera factors also affect overall image quality. Megapixels are an important specification but not the sole measure of image resolution. For most professionals, camera sensors in the 20-50 megapixel range offer a versatile sweet spot balancing resolution, quality and camera performance.