Pixels and digital photography

A simple guide to camera capacities


Pixels and digital photography•A simple guide to camera capacities Moonbeams Shop

If you’re buying a digital camera you need to know about pixels. Read on for a simple explanation . . .

Go to: How digital cameras work (the basics)How many pixels do I need?Are pixels the only indicator of camera quality?Pixels and DotsFurther reading

If you have looked at adverts for digital cameras you will have noticed that they usually quote the number of ‘megapixels’ the camera has. In general terms, the more megapixels the camera has, the better the pictures it can take. But should you pay more for more megapixels? How many is enough for your needs? Our simple guide below may help.

How digital cameras work (the basics)

Like all cameras, digital cameras use a lens to focus the image on a screen. In an old-style film camera, this image was burned onto a film and then developed into your picture. In a digital camera it is captured electronically by a device called a photosensor, which actually splits the picture up into millions of tiny dots. Each dot is one pixel. A megapixel is a million pixels.

You can immediately see that, if there are more pixels, the camera is taking a higher-definition picture. The images here show the effect of decreasing the number of pixels on an image:

Illustration of how pixels affect image quality Moonbeams Shop Pixels and digital photography

How many pixels do I need?

More pixels means that your pictures can be enlarged more before the results become distorted. As you can imagine, enlarging a photograph makes each pixel bigger, and if you enlarge the picture too much you start to see the individual pixels. This enlargement of our logo illustrates the effect:

Another illustration of how pixels affect image quality Moonbeams Shop Pixels and digital photography

So more pixels are, generally, better. However, more pixels means that the picture files produced by your camera will be larger (to store all that additional information). This has three effects:

Most personal-use cameras now offer resolutions of between 10 and 12 megapixels. These produce photos which can be comfortably enlarged to A3+ (see here for an explanation of paper sizes) and beyond. This is more than enough for most users.

Are pixels the only indicator of camera quality?

Absolutely not! To be a ‘good’ camera, it has to meet all your needs. Is it easy to use or packed with advanced features you will never need and which make it complicated to operate? Does it have a good quality lens (no amount of megapixels can make up for a poor lens - the extra definition just makes the lens inferiority more obvious!) And, of course, is it a reliable and robust make?

If you need help chosing a digital camere please drop into the shop and discuss your needs with us. We’ll help you find the right camera for you, even if you don’t ultimately buy it from us.

Pixels and Dots

In a camera the individual units of the image are called pixels. In reference to a computer screen or a scanner they may be called pixels or may be called ‘dots’. In reference to printers they are usually called dots. A pixel and a dot are the same thing - an individual point of colour - and the more of them you have the better the resolution of your device. Printer resolutions are usually expressed in dots-per-inch{1}.

Further reading

For a more comprehensive (and technical) explanation of pixels please see the Wikipedia page.

We hope you find these tips useful. If you have any feedback or suggestions please contact us.

Please note: we take customer confidentiality very seriously. We never share any customer photo with anyone else without the customer’s explicit permission.



{1} For those not familiar with imperial units, one inch is 2.54 centimetres.

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