Megapixles, Memory Cards and Speed

Knowing your megapixels and data can be a little confusing when you first start looking at cameras. You end up flooded with questions about how many megapixels you want, what kind of lens, what sort of photos you will use the camera for, and that’s before the upsell for extra equipment.

how many megapixels - example 1 - www.darkphotography.orgWhen looking at the sales pitch for a digital camera, it’s easy to understand why it can seem like an endless stream of information on all of the specs, particularly about the megapixels.

However, this is a critical aspect of any camera. Here, we will consider how many megapixels you’ll need. All digital cameras contain sensors, sometimes referred to as CCD or CMOS. The job of the sensor is to capture the light.

The sensor replaces the photographic film used older the cameras. The sensor is comprised of numerous tiny photosites that collect the light and convert into an electrical form, and then feed it to the cameras onboard computer.

How many megapixels?

how many megapixels - ultrapixel - www.darkphotography.org

A pixel is a tiny location on the sensor that contains the photosite, a microlens, and other electronics. The number of megapixels in your camera directly refers to the millions of pixels your sensor contains. A megapixel is a common term for 1 million pixels which is often abbreviated as 1MP.

The number of megapixels is important because the more megapixels your camera has, the more detail it can capture in the photographs you want to take. This also helps with high resolution, which is particularly handy if you want to print your pictures in larger formats.

How many megapixels should you get?

So how many megapixels should you get when you buy a digital camera? That answer depends largely on your budget, and what you want to do with your images. You’ll need fewer pixels to post your images on the Internet, so for snaps to go on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll get away with a low-cost option, maybe even just stick to using your phone.

how many megapixels - comparison - www.darkphotography.orgIf you have a need for higher quality images, then this is where you’ll see the expense begin to increase. Something to keep in mind is that large file sizes used online take a lot longer to load than compressed file sizes, so the amount of data in your images will need to be reduced for efficient online loading.

An interesting side note; a single frame of the 35-millimeter film contains the equivalent information of around 30 megapixels of data if it was translated across to a digital format.

When considering the file size of your images, sometimes you don’t need all that data. Optimizing your images to load quickly online is the trade-off to high-quality images, which your camera will only be capable of producing if you have sufficient megapixels.

Once you’re happy with how many megapixels you’ve got, the next consideration to make when purchasing your camera is the selection of a memory card has the capacity, and the speed for the images you are taking. Memory cards can seem very complex, but really they’re quite simple. All the memory card is, in basic terms, is a small computer chip that retains the data that makes up the image.

Select a memory card that has both a reasonable capacity and a fast write speed. The faster the write speed the quicker your camera will be able to process the images and move on to your next photo.

While traveling through Central America some years ago I was relying on a memory card that wrote at 45 megabits per second. This presented some challenges while taking photographs of lightning storms, where the camera was unable to be used between frames.

The speed at which the camera was able to write to the card limited my ability to shoot images quickly. Incidentally, I missed out on numerous lightning strikes as the camera wrote the data from the previous photo to the memory card.

For a faster memory card, you will pay more, but I consider this more of an investment than an expense when you consider the cost of not catching the photo you want to.

Faster and larger memory cards are relied upon particularly when shooting dual formats as JPEG and RAW. We will look At the benefits of shooting dual formats in the coming posts.