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Shopping for a new camera? Don't get caught up in the "Megapixel Myth"

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams Realty

Every year, the camera manufacturers bring out their latest models touting an ever increasing number of pixels.  In theory, the greater the number of pixels, the higher resolution the image.  But there's a lot more to it than that.  

The size and price of a camera is, in great part, determined by the size of the sensor.  Smaller sensors used in most point and shoot camera are about 1/15 the size of those used in the typical DSLR cameras. Cramming the same number of pixels into a smaller sensor means smaller pixels.  The smaller pixels just can't absorb the same amount of light as the larger pixels so you end up with noise (graininess) in your photos, particularly when taken under low light conditions.

The chart below is a comparison of sensors sizes used in various cameras - the three smallest sizes are those typically used in point-and-shoot compact cameras:

Comparison of digital camera sensor sizes

Here's a great video that explains the megapixel myth by "Pete the Gadget Guy".

In short, when shopping for a digital camera, don't go by the number of megapixels (regardless of what the clueless salesperson tells you).  Look at the features, lens quality and how it feels in your hand.  Don't buy into the megapixel myth!

Glenda Cherry Photography

Myrl Jeffcoat
Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Realtor - Retired

Glenda - I fully agree with you about this.  It likely takes a lot of homework to determine which have the best sensors, etc.  I have had a total of 5 digital cameras since 1999.  My first was one of those Kodak 1 megapixel cameras that looked like a brick.  It took good pictures.  My second one was a Sony 3 megapixel, which also took reasonably good photos.  My favorite of all time, was a Canon point and shoot, that was 5 megapixels.  It took great pictures, and was easy to use.  I dropped that one and had to replace it.  I bought another Canon - a SX200 IS 12.1 megapixel with 12x zoom.  It took good pictures too, but not as good as the ole 5 megapixel did.  One of the great drawbacks for me, was that it relies totally on the LCD screen, and has no view finder.  I miss cameras without viewfinders.  I bought a Nikon D90 SLR a year ago.  I like it too, but still miss that ole 5 MP Canon point and shoot.

Jan 19, 2011 08:33 AM
Glenda Cherry
Keller Williams Realty - Herndon, VA
Realtor / Photographer

My first was also a Kodak 1mp - I think it was a DC220 (it's still around here somewhere).  The second was a Nikon Coolpix 8400, the third was a Panasonic Lumix FZ18, then a Nikon D60, and now a Nikon D300s - I still have all of them.  Hard to believe we ever got by with 1 megapixel and an 8 mb memory card!

Jan 19, 2011 09:06 AM
Peter den Boer
Atlanta Communities - Woodstock, GA
MBA,GRI, Associate Broker, Realtor

Glenda - Very good post! I have this conversation daily in the office. I am, however in the market for a new camera. How do you like your Nikon D300?

Jan 20, 2011 12:34 AM
Glenda Cherry
Keller Williams Realty - Herndon, VA
Realtor / Photographer

Thanks, Peter!  I love the D300s ... I moved up from a D60 because I needed some features that the D60 lacks.  The D300s has a commander mode so I can fire my strobes off-camera using TTL; it takes two cards (1 SD, 1 CF) so my photos are being backed up as I take them; it can bracket up to 9 exposures (the D60 doesn't even have auto-bracketing).  The controls on the D300s allow you to change things like ISO, white balance, resolution and others without having to go through the menus.  It even does video!

Jan 20, 2011 03:55 AM
Aaron Seekford
Arlington Realty, Inc. - Arlington, VA
Ranked Top 1% Nationwide 703-836-6116

Thanks for the objective post, Glenda. I checked out your photography Web site and you have some really beautiful pictures!

Jan 21, 2011 12:43 AM
Glenda Cherry
Keller Williams Realty - Herndon, VA
Realtor / Photographer

Thanks, Aaron!  I'd love to work with you sometime!

Jan 23, 2011 11:48 AM
Douglas Belcher
Chateau Realty - Nanaimo, BC

Nice post thank you. My next camera will be a full frame Canon.

Jan 27, 2011 10:43 PM
Eric Brickley
Zenith Mortgage Advisors (Milford,MA) - Framingham, MA

My wife wants a new camera and I hadn't a clue what to base my decision on. This blog has shown me the "light". Thanks


Feb 04, 2011 02:49 AM
Glenda Cherry
Keller Williams Realty - Herndon, VA
Realtor / Photographer

You're welcome, Eric!  So what did you decide on?

Feb 05, 2011 03:25 AM
Christopher Johnston
The Johnston Team - Metairie, LA

Not only do megapixels not matter, not all megapixels are the same. Each camera sensor has a certain dynamic range that it is capabe of capturing. Something like a Nikon D7000 which has a 16.2 MP sensor and cost $1,499 has better dynamic range than a Canon 1D Mark IV with at 16.1 MP sensor and cost $4,999. You really don't NEED anything beyond 10MP for real estate work. With a Canon Rebel, a good tripod, and some decent glass(here is where you spend the money, lenses!) you can take some phenomenal shots. Take a look at this blog post, Dynamic Range varies from Sensor to Sensor, by Michael James and you start to understand how confusing this can be.

Mar 12, 2011 02:02 AM
EC, JF, Double R and Zoey the Cool Cat
Russel Ray Photos - San Diego, CA

Isn't it fun to debate what each of us thinks is the best way to start looking for a good camera and then to actually buy it, too!

May 03, 2011 06:24 PM
David Gibson CNE, 719-304-4684 ~ Colorado Springs Relocation
Colorado Real Estate Advisers LLC - Colorado Springs, CO
Relocation, Luxury & Lifestyle residential

Glenda thanks for the great chart. I’m looking to upgrade but my old pocket point and shoot still does a great job and is easy to carry in the car and hide.

Sep 05, 2011 10:35 AM
Kevin J. May
Florida Supreme Realty - Hobe Sound, FL
Serving the Treasure & Paradise Coasts of Florida

I have to laugh Glenda because I'm relegated to relatively inexpnsive point & shoots.  For some reason they never liked to go swimming with me.  Today I can have both waterproof and reasonable performance.  I maxed out at 14MP and am on board with your sentiment here.   

Aug 01, 2014 02:06 AM