Apple iphone 6 megapixelsApple The camera section of the Apple iPhone 6s page puts megapixels front and center.

Megapixels don't matter anymore.

But to look at most phone or camera ads you'd think they're the most important stat in the world.

A megapixel is a measure of resolution: 1 million pixels. Pretty much every camera on the market today has several times that. If you're reading this on an HD screen, you're seeing about 2 megapixels. If you're reading this on a top-of-the-line 4k screen, you're seeing a little more than 8 megapixels.

It only takes about 7 megapixels to print a nice big photo for your mantle. Got 10 megapixels? You can print a photo across the top of a page in "National Geographic". Every major smartphone on the market meets at least that standard, let alone any mediocre point-and-shoot camera.

Here's an image shot on my 12-megapixel Nikon D700, a DSLR with just the resolution of an iPhone 6:

rrl9391_8946Rafi Letzter/Tech Insider

And here's one shot on my 36-megapixel Nikon D800:

rrl_2646_9823Rafi Letzter/Tech Insider

There are differences in the lenses on each camera. But can you spot any difference in quality? I can't. If anything, super-high-megapixel cameras perform worse in some situations than low-megapixel models. They tend to show more grain in low light and emphasize motion blur and focus errors.

In fact, both cameras produce photos so large that I had to shrink them in order to make them fit on this web page.

There are only a few occasions when you actually need super-high-resolution photos:

  • If you shoot covers and two-page spreads for glossy print magazines (and even then anything over 16 megapixels should do fine).
  • If you plan on sending your photos to professional printing houses for large (think 2 feet to a side), expensive, high-quality prints you might want 24 megapixels.
  • If you're a professional fashion photographer, or someone else who shoots images designed to look beautiful plastered life-size on the walls of boutiques then 30+ megapixels may be right for you.

One terrible reason to buy (or manufacture) a high-resolution camera is "digital zoom." Digital zoom isn't a thing. Let me say that louder: DIGITAL ZOOM ISN'T A THING. It's a way of cropping your photo in camera that just gives you a low-quality, weirdly compressed version of what you'd see if you got up and walked closer to your subject. A 6-megapixel chunk of a 18-megapixel sensor won't look anywhere near as nice as an image taken on a 6-megapixel sensor.

All of which begs the question: why does this 41-megapixel smartphone phone exist?

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