Short Description

Camera with the highest megapixel rating
Nikon D810 The Nikon D810 has the highest claimed resolution of any camera we've seen at 36.2 MP.

Resolution is a rating of the total number of pixels used by the camera image sensor to capture the photograph. For example if the camera utilizes a 4000x3000 pixel image sensor the total number of pixels is 12,000,000 or 12 million pixels. Resolution rates the number of pixels in megapixels (1 megapixel = 1 million pixels), so a camera with a native resolution sensor of 4000x3000 would be a 12MP camera. Resolution is theoretical maximum that any camera can achieve, unfortunately most cameras, especially digicams, cannot meet this and consequently true resolution is metric to use when understanding what a camera is capable of.

What is Resolution Good For?

The more megapixels used to capture the image then theoretically the more detail you have in the photo. With more detail you can crop the photo and still maintain resolution, you can print bigger and you can zoom in and see your fine wrinkles. Resolution provides flexibility, but typically that flexibility isn't needed by most people - how often do you plan on printing posters of your photos - not just an 8x10 but a 12x18 or 24x36. If all you do is view photos on a computer, Full HD tv, etc then you will never need more than 2 clean megapixels of resolution. If you print photos than even a 3MP camera will print fabulous 8X10 prints. If want 12x18 than an 8MP camera is more than enough. Now there is a big caveat to this and that is the fact that you need clean megapixels.

Clean Megapixels

Birdhouse Photo
tiny camera stored in a pocketThere would be no way to tell if this photo was shot at 14MP or 1/2 MP because the image is being displayed .13 Megapixels. Photo by Alex - Snapsort cofounder.

When we say clean megapixels we're referring to the quality of the pixels, are they actually capturing detail or are you just using a bunch of pixels to capture a lack of detail (motion blur, out of focus, Airy disk limitations, lack of dynamic range, poor color depth, image noise, jpeg and noise reduction artifacts). Many years ago photographers with 5MP high end pro DSLRs were printing giant prints that looked amazing. The reason is every pixel was used perfectly, in focus, great dynamic range, beautiful color, low noise, no blur. Most people think megapixels are important, believing it will actually provide a better photo. The real story is they're not important at all because the rating of megapixels does not indicate the resolution of the resulting photos, most of the time a 6MP image and a 14MP image shot on the same digicam are indistinguishable and to make things worse those 6MP digicam photos have image detail that is not nearly as high quality as an old pro DSLR with a giant but lower resolution sensor that can capture more contrast detail using better lenses with lower noise.

Cameras with Giant Megapixels

A great indicator of how clean a camera's mega pixels will be is its pixel size rating, the larger the pixel, the more likely they will free from noise and blur and be able to produce higher dynamic and color range and avoid built-in detail damaging sharpening and noise reduction algorithms. A primary reason for this is the larger the pixel the more light it receives and the more likely it will be able to accurately determine what the true RGB value should be. Here are the cameras with the largest pixels for less than $1500.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R
from $2,485
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
91.0
Aperture Wide aperture Help
f/2.0
External mic jack External mic jack Help
Record higher quality audio with a microphone

Learn more about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R

Sony Alpha 7S
Sony Alpha 7S
from $2,498
Pixel size Large sensor pixels Help
69.5 µm²
Sensor size Large sensor Help
APS-H 35.6x23.8mm
Light sensitivity (boost) High ISO (boost) Help
409,600 ISO

Learn more about the Sony Alpha 7S

Nikon DF
Nikon DF
from $1,494
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
89.0
Pixel size Large sensor pixels Help
53.1 µm²
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
3,279 ISO

Learn more about the Nikon DF

Nikon D750
Nikon D750
from $2,297
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
93.0
Screen resolution High resolution screen Help
1,229k dots
Screen size Large screen Help
3.2"

Learn more about the Nikon D750

Green arrow See more of the top cameras with large pixels

2 Megapixels - All You Ever Need?

The birdhouse image displayed is .13 megapixels and it looks great, it probably takes up about 3.5" x 5" on a standard monitor - so right of the bat you can see that a .13MP image can look great when shown at a reasonable size - pretty close to a 4"x3" print. If you took the same photo with a clean 2MP you would have 15X or 1500% more pixels. That would be the same as a 20" x 13.5" print with only 2MP! Now think of what distance you'd view such a large print, probably a few feet back - look at how crisp the birdhouse is from a few feet back! This helps you understand how pros can create incredible poster size prints with "only" 5MP. Today's digicams come with outrageous megapixel ratings of 14MP plus and yet they can't compete with a quality 4MP pro DSLR. Don't be fooled by megapixels - they're not as important as you think. If you want to understand some of the science behind why digicams megapixels aren't as clean as a SLR - check out the true resolution property. Don't get us wrong - more good clean megapixels are always welcome, especially if you're a pro. What we're saying is the resolution rating put out by manufacturers doesn't correlate with real world detail capturing performance and most people are served fine by just a handful of megapixels. As you can see 2MP, as long as they're nice and clean, could very well be all most people need.

Close up of 2MP vs .13MP Pixels

Birdhouse @ .13 Megapixels
birdhouse crop shwoing .13MP pixel detailHere is a zoomed crop of the birdhouse photo at .13MP showing the detail of the lower right part of the birdhouse.
Birdhouse @ 2 Megapixels
birdhouse crop shwoing 2MP pixel detailHere is a zoomed crop of the birdhouse photo at 2MP showing the detail of the lower right part of the birdhouse.

Discussion

Showing 4 comments

Johnny Ditco (6:31 AM, February 26, 2014)
It says "here are the cameras... for less than $1500" but every camera listed is more than $1500...
 
Guest (0:37 AM, February 25, 2012)
That will depend a lot on the lens you attach to either. The Sony kit lenses are pretty bad, but they have some high-end primes that are pretty good. The D800 is a full-frame camera, though, so besides having more megapixels, the larger format helps it a lot. With a good lens, the D800 would definitely give you a better picture.
 
Avatar for ELHP8 ELHP8 (5:18 PM, February 12, 2012)
Choosing between the NEX7 and the D800?  Using ISO 100, tripod and a similar lense(s) on both cameras would there be a very noticeable difference in sharpness printing an image 24" x 36"?
Thanks, ELHP
 
GJ (8:50 AM, February 17, 2011)
the sigma's produce the highest true resolution