Friday, September 11, 2009

To Pixel or not to Pixel at 6?

Bells and Whistles
I hate to admit it, but I tend to be the kind of person that wants the latest and greatest in technology. In marketing terminology, I would be classified as your trend setter (wanna be).

But fortunately, my career is also in marketing and I know that a lot of the gizmos in the market place are outfitted with "bells and whistles" that an average person will hardly ever use. Corporations market products with extra features for one to warrant a price increase from its lower models. In many cases  consumers will not need these extra features.

6 Pixels?
You are asking yourself where is she going with this? Well, after I bought the SLR Nikon 40D with 6 pixels, I soon wondered if 6 pixels was enough for my purposes. For an additional $200 I could have purchased the Nikon 60D with 10 pixels instead. Consumers nowadays relate higher pixels to image quality. Hence it has become the industry norm for manufacturers to promote higher pixels in order to position cameras into higher price points. But does a 10 pixel camera really take noticeably better images, or is it just a myth? 

(Mega) Pixels Explained
Pixels refers to the millions of pixels available on a camera's sensor. For example, an 6 mega pixel camera contains 6 million pixels on its sensor to formulate a picture.  The more mega pixels a camera has, the more pixels make up an image.

"It is quite important to understand that it isn't the AMOUNT of pixels on a sensor (E.g. 4MP or 8MP), but the sensor size itself, which creates a bigger and better enlargement. For example, the 8 mega pixel CMOS sensor on the Canon EOS 20D (Digital SLR) will produce better results than the 8 mega pixel CCD sensor on a smaller compact digital camera. Why? I hear you ask! Simply because it is bigger." - Source:

Average Digital Camera User
Certainly the amount of pixels will have an effect on the quality of the image, as does the sensor size. So, do I still believe I need more then 6 pixels if the sensor size on my camera remains the same? I researched the matter in detail and I came to the conclusion that it depends on whether or not I see myself as the "average" digital camera user. 

Let's define what the mainstream user does: a) He/she takes images and posts it on the web, b) sends it to contacts via e-mail, c) and/or prints on photo paper no larger than 11 x 17.

I have no doubt that if we consider the above three average uses, a 6 pixel camera will visually (to the human eye) provide the same image result as a 10 pixel camera. I tested it myself: a) and b) I took 2 images using a 6 pixel and a 10 pixel camera at the same settings for use on the internet/e-mail. And....there is no noticeable difference!  

See photos below:
Taken with a Nikon D40 (6 pixels):

Taken with Nikon D60 (10 pixels):

c) I also printed the above shots on 11 x 17 photo paper and there is NO visual difference in photo image. You will have to trust me on this one.

So when will I need more than 6 pixels?
If you print beyond 11 x 17 images, the more pixels you will need to get an acceptable picture. Also, you will need more pixels if you zoom into an image and crop to enlarge a specific portion of the picture. The above are often used by professional photographers and designers for commercial uses.  But ask yourself how far you will really stretch your digital photography needs before you go out and spend extra $100s for more pixels.

If all else remains constant, I believe a 6 pixel camera is in fact good enough for most users. Save yourself the money and don't buy into the pixel hype. Unless of course you know for sure that you will print large photos and/or you will use your imaging tools to zoom in and crop selected areas into new images. At the end of the day it comes down to being true to yourself and accessing your needs.

I am happy to say that I will keep my Nikon D40!
Additional information and sources used for this blog:
1) Highly recommended reading from the NY Times - setting the record straight. Check out this link for more info:

2) According to the Image Engineering team, an independent testing laboratory, the best compromise is 6 megapixels between number of pixels and image noise. Check out this link for more info:

3) Detailed explanation why more megapixels isn't always better. Check out this link for more info:

4) The mega pixel myth explained. Check out this link for more info:

I hope this blog is helpful. Please let me know if you have any feedback. Thanks! Katrin.