A camera’s megapixel rating will help you determine the largest size of prints you can expect to make without sacrificing the quality of the image. It also will help you determine how much flexibility you will have with photo-editing software after an image has been captured.
The following guide will help you know what size of high-quality print you can expect from each megapixel rating.
It’s important to remember that these measurements are for professional-quality prints. You can print any image at any size, and in many cases it is very difficult to see a significant decrease in quality as you enlarge images.
This photo was taken at three different megapixels and resulted in the following image sizes:
1.6 megapixels — 1536 x 1024 2.8 megapixels — 2048 x 1360 6.3 megapixels — 3072 x 2048
When each of these is printed at 4” x 6” you will hardly notice a difference in the prints. If you print them each at 8” x 10” you will begin to see a slight difference in the quality of the 1.6 megapixel image.
According to most photo developing services, an image that is 1600 x 1200 pixels can be printed with good results up to as large as 8” x 10”. Therefore, you can actually use a 2.0 megapixel camera and have prints made as large as 8” x 10” with very little loss of quality.
The higher the number of megapixels your camera has the more flexibility and options you will have when editing, cropping and printing your pictures. A larger original image will allow you to crop a smaller portion of the large photograph and still have a high quality print at 4” x 6” or larger (as shown below).
In the next two images (below), the same section of the photograph was taken from the 6.3 megapixel image as well as the 1.6 megapixel image. The higher megapixel image on the left does have a slightly crisper image than the lower megapixel image, but at a small print-size, it’s barely noticeable.
Choose a camera with a megapixel rating that will allow you to meet your photography needs. While it’s probably better to buy more than you need rather than less, it’s not necessary to spend extra money on a 6.0 megapixel camera if all you require is 3.0 megapixels.
If you don’t plan to print larger than 4” x 6” and aren’t interested in cropping or editing images, a 2.0 megapixel camera is probably sufficient and will give you great prints. If you’d like more flexibility with cropping and enlarging prints to 8” x 10”, a 3.0 or 4.0 megapixel camera will give you that option. If you want to be able to print a poster-sized print–just in case you get a photograph that turns out fantastic– a 6.0 megapixel camera might be more what you’re looking for.
The bottom line: More megapixels equal more detail. While you can print an 8” x 10” from a 2.0 megapixel camera with good results, the same photo printed from a 3.0 or 4.0 megapixel camera will be sharper and more detailed.
What size photos will I be printing? Can I tell a difference between 2.0 and 4.0 megapixels? Are the additional detail and original image size important to me?