Should you throw out your old 6MP Digicam?

No! Throw out your new 14.1 megapixel compact instead.

Pull out some photos taken on an older 4MP to 6MP digital camera, then head over to photographyblog.com or dpreview.com and compare your photos to sample shots taken on some of the latest compacts or super-zooms. Take a close look at the pictures, and you may be surprised to find the older cameras, in many cases, produced the better results.

There's no better example of successful marketing increasing the perceived value of a product. We have all been brainwashed to focus on the megapixel number as the ultimate indicator of performance. The best way for a manufacturer to increase their chances of success with a new model is to increase the MP count. Unfortunately, MP does not equate to image quality.

Compact digital cameras have a limited image sensor size. The more megapixels the camera adds, the smaller and closer these pixels are crammed in on the sensor surface area. Smaller, more crammed pixels equate to less light sensitivity, less detail and more noise. Camera manufacturers try to compensate this by adding image processing algorithms to apply post-processing filters to reduce the captured noise, increase sharpness, etc. This usually leads to further washing out of the already reduced amount of finer details (when compared to a sensor of the same size, but less megapixels).

My old 4MP and 5MP cameras (a Pentax and a Cannon) produce better looking shots than all of the samples I've checked on recent review blogs. Technology has actually gone backwards in image quality!

That's not to say old cameras are still the best overall product though. The new superzooms offer 24mm wide-angle lenses, up to 15x Optical zoom, image stabilization, GPS tracking, HD video recording, etc... These features may outweigh the loss of image quality for some users.

It's sad though. If a manufacturer was to release a superzoom with a decent sensor and lense, and say only 5 or 6MP, it would produce the most stellar images ever! It would dominate all the review blogs and I'm sure would become an instant favorite among those that know a thing or two about photography.

A 3MP image by the way has a resolution o 2048x1536, which is significantly more than full HD Bluray quality. You are unlikely to ever find a picture of this size on the internet, unless you specifically go out looking for super-highres images. This means that all those shots taken on 14.1MP cameras that get uploaded to Flickr or Facebook or Twitter, get down-sampled to 2MP or less.

The only advantage of 14.1 MP is if you intend to print out say an A1/A2 size poster, or if you intend to crop the image and 'zoom-in' on a small part, turning that into a full-size photo. I can count both cases where I wanted to do this on one hand. The fact is, most digital photos these days stay digital. If you intend to print out anything bigger than a standard postcard, you'd know better than to use a compact/superzoom anyway. There's a reason why professionals spend $10,000 on say a 10MP DSLR (these by the way have much larger sensors that can accommodate the higher pixel count without loosing any detail or introducing a heap of noise).

Compact digital cameras and super-zooms are for the average consumer taking day to day shots. In these cases, 6MP is more than enough for decent sized, high quality photos. People need to waken up and stop buying into the marketing hogwash.


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