Megapixels: what are they, what are they for and how important are they in your cell phone?

We are going to explain what exactly megapixels are when we talk about photography, a unit of measurement that is usually used incorrectly.  In general, many believe that the megapixels that the camera of mobile features has to do with the quality of the photographs, when in fact this is something that has nothing to do with it.

Therefore, so as not to make the error of believing that a camera with hundreds of megapixels will take heart-stopping photos, we are going to explain in the simplest and most basic way possible what this measurement means. We will mention what exactly megapixels measure, and then we will tell you to what extent they are important or not in mobile photography.

We will also try to simplify concepts to make them more understandable for people with less technical knowledge. However, you can feel free to leave us your experience in the comments section.

What are megapixels


A pixel is the smallest unit of size in digital photography and is a tiny dot or square that changes color. All images are made up of pixels, including this article you are reading right now on your computer or cell phone. The color changes of these pixels are what draw the letters of the article, the colors of the borders, or the pictures that are there. Everything is made up of dots.


The pixels can be seen if you look closely at the screen, although the high resolutions that many have today make it more complicated. And in a digital photo, there is a simple way to appreciate them, and that is to zoom in on a photo until you see that at the end all you have are squares of colors.

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In the world of photography, the more pixels a photo has, the higher the resolution. Because a photo that is composed of 1000 pixels would look as if you were drawing it on a squared notebook, painting each square with color, but if you have 12,000,000 pixels, then these are no longer visible, and what you see is an image that is practically the same as what your eyes see.

A megapixel is one million pixels, a simple way of talking about image size without having to write so many zeros. So, if we talk about a photo that is one megapixel, then we are saying that the photo is made up of one million pixels or dots. And a 12-megapixel photo will have better resolution than a one-megapixel photo since it has more dots, the image is denser, and looks more real.

What are megapixels for?

In the world of mobile photography, megapixels are used to indicate the size of the photo that mobile is capable of taking. Therefore, if your cell phone has a 12-megapixel sensor, it is because the images you have when you take a photo are composed of 12 million pixels.

Galaxy S21 Camera

The megapixels of an image is obtained by multiplying the horizontal and vertical pixels. For example, a photo of 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels high, a resolution known as Full HD, would have a little more than 2 megapixels.

The more megapixels a mobile camera has, the more pictures it can take. Therefore, if you want to wallpaper a wall in your room, you may need a camera with a lot of megapixels, but for normal photos that you are going to see on your mobile, tablet, computer or that you are going to print as paper photographs, you may not need so many.

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That’s why some manufacturers like Apple continue to bet on 12-megapixel cameras when others have 64 or more than 100, because for the most “normal” or basic use of the camera, that of taking photos that you can save to view on PC, tablet or print, you don’t need much more. Of course, depending on the other uses you want to give to the photos, you may need some more.

To what extent are they important?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

If you want to print a photo in a large size, then it is important that it was taken with a high megapixel camera. However, for photos that you are going to print in the same size as the paper photos of a lifetime, about 12 megapixels is usually more than enough.

If you are going to edit an image, it is to be understood that if it has many megapixels and you are going to crop it in a computer editor, the resulting image will have more quality because it will have more pixels. But be careful, this is not always the case, because the fact that an image has a lot of pixels can make them smaller, capturing colors worse and working worse when there is less illumination.

For this reason, it is important to find a balance. If there is an exaggerated amount of megapixels the photo could be worse with less illumination, like at night, but if it has few megapixels it could be less versatile when working with it. However, some manufacturers have found solutions such as combining pixels, making four of them do the function of one. Therefore, it is a technology that when present helps cameras with many megapixels.

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Nova 9

But there are also many other aspects in which the quality of a photo depends, such as whether there are several camera lenses, the lens and its aperture of each one, the sensors they equip, or even the photographic algorithms of the photo processing, are what determine the quality of the photo. Megapixels determine the size, and that is why it is important not to confuse size with quality.

In short, when looking at the camera of a cell phone you should try to avoid relating the number of megapixels with quality, since other physical aspects of the camera sensors are those that will mark the quality, and these sensors have a price. For this reason, a $100 cell phone with 120 megapixels in the camera will probably take worse photos than a $1000 cell phone with 12 megapixels, because there are many other technologies on which photographic quality depends.

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