Megapixels still matter to me, just not as much

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| June 19, 2013


Alright, so I kinda sorta have a confession that I feel like I need to get off my chest: Despite all that has been said about the subject, megapixels still matter to me. It’s taken me a little while to realize this, but it’s true. I have a total bias against cameras that don’t have at higher megapixel count, despite the fact that we’ve recently found out that it’s really not so much about the megapixels that make a good image, but more so the type of features that a camera uses.

Taiwanese company HTC recently attempted to debunk the theory that just because a camera has a higher megapixel count doesn’t necessarily mean that the resulting pictures have better quality. They did this by releasing a 4-megapixel “UltraPixel” camera, which ultimately (to make a long explanation short) means that a sensor in the camera is bigger in order to help capture light better in a photo and help reduce noise. There’s a far more technical way of explaining it, but without knowing much about photography myself I’m fairly certain I would butcher the terminology into oblivion. I initially applauded HTC’s execution of showing the world that megapixels don’t always mean “better”. However, even comparisons show that the HTC’s low megapixel count can sell itself short in some aspects of a photo.

I can’t shake the opinion that megapixels still mean something, and I know that it has something to do with the fact that the word ‘megapixels’ have been drilled into my head since the very early days of camera phones. The first camera phone that was introduced to the market was the Nokia 7650 in 2002 – that’s just a little over ten years ago. It featured a 0.3-megapixel camera, and if you asked anybody what they thought of a camera phone at the time, they’d probably tell you it was the bees’ knees. Phones with a camera included would quickly become an industry standard from that point on.

As time passed, the shooter on the back of a phone only seemed to get better: 0.3-megapixels, 1.3-megapixels, 3.2-megapixels, 5-megapixels, 8-megapixels, 13-megapixels, and even 41-megapixels. Up until the point where the HTC One arrived on the market we had primarily been focused on increasing the megapixel count. Did the images really improve from the 0.3-megapixel cameras of the early 2000’s to the 8 or 13-megapixels we have today? Of course they did. If you compare any 0.3-megapixel image with a 13-megapixel image you’re going to notice a world of difference: less “noise”, easily identifiable objects, and clearer images are what you’re going to find. Megapixels aren’t entirely irrelevant – I believe there is still a pretty big importance to them to an extent.

While megapixels still matter to me, I think we have passed the point where they really need to expand for the average user. There is a finite point where megapixels provide any relevance to how good an image turns out; the rest depends on other features. That being said, I think HTC is on the right track with the One in getting the most out of a smartphone camera (we do have to realize that these cameras are not meant to offer us a professional experience - they will have flaws). Through most comparisons I’ve seen between the HTC One’s camera and other cameras of higher megapixel count you can see that the UltraPixel camera does something right, especially in low-lit situations. Many tests determined that the HTC One has even matched up with the highly-praised Nokia Lumia 920 camera (which has impressed me in almost all types of photographic situations). It’s when you start to crop and zoom with the UltraPixel camera where the real problem becomes evident. Phones with higher megapixel count will give you better detail with crop and zoom compared to the UltraPixel, and as a person who often crops and zooms on images, that becomes somewhat of a problem for me.

My point here is that smartphone cameras like the UltraPixel, which does a decent job of proving that other features of a camera are also important, also show that megapixels still have an advantage in ways that sensors alone cannot enhance. So instead of me saying that megapixels don’t matter, I’m going to change my stance and rephrase it by saying that megapixels don’t matter as much as I once thought they did. They still matter, but megapixels aren’t the only thing that make a camera take good pictures.

Readers, what is your stance on a camera’s megapixels? Do you still take megapixel count into consideration when comparing smartphone cameras?  Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!


Thumbnail Image via Digital Trends

Products mentioned