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What Is a Megapixel?

Today’s cameras boast of very high megapixels, but exactly what is it and why is it important enough to fork over an extra hundred dollars for it?

A megapixel means 1,000,000 pixels, which translates to higher resolution. Each pixel is a dot on the display screen. The more dots there are, the finer the detail of the photo. In other words, the proud owner of the camera will get a better image replication. For example, a 3.1 megapixel camera delivers a resolution of 2048 x 1536 – over 3 million pixels.

However, megapixels are not the only consideration in image quality. Many will splurge on a high megapixel camera, but scrimp on the printer. Printers produce the photo according to DPI, or dots per inch. Even with 3 million pixels, if an image is printed with just 300 DPI, the photo will not have as much detail as one would expect.

A large megapixel ratio, however, has the benefit of allowing larger print-outs (even with a low-end printer, this can be done with a professional photo developing company). Low-resolution photos will “scatter” or get blurry if printed in large format. High-resolution photos can be blown up to 8x10 and still render excellent sharpness of detail.

Note, however, that large megapixel photo files are quite big and take a long time to view and to upload from the computer to the web. In fact, photos that are only going to be seen on-screen or on-line need only a 1.5 megapixel camera. A 4 to 5 megapixel image is necessary for photo prints of 8 x 10, or larger. The resolution must be 2500 x 2000 or more, with 12 x 16 photos needing 3200 x 2400 or more.

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