Why 24 Megapixels Are Enough for Most Photographers

Cameras today boast an impressive range of megapixels, with some models offering 60 megapixels. But do you really need that many megapixels? For most people, a 24-megapixel camera might be more than enough. Let's break down the different scenarios to help you figure out which camera fits your needs, potentially saving you money.

Coming to you from Peter Lee of Street Photography China, this informative video explores the necessity of high-megapixel cameras. Lee starts with a historical perspective, showcasing his Kodak DC280, a 1-megapixel camera from the year 2000. Technology has drastically improved since then. By 2005, Lee upgraded to a Canon 5D, a full frame camera with 12.7 megapixels. Despite its lower resolution by today’s standards, it served him well for many years.

Lee points out that many people primarily view their photos on computer screens. A typical HD monitor displays 1080p resolution, equating to just over 2 million pixels. Even a 3-megapixel camera surpasses this resolution. For most viewing scenarios, anything beyond this resolution won't be noticeable on the screen. The 60-megapixel cameras available today offer far more detail than what is necessary for standard digital displays.

Printing photos is where higher megapixels can matter more. However, even here, the need for extreme resolutions is limited. Print resolution is measured in dots per inch (DPI), and 300 DPI is the accepted standard for high-quality prints. For a 6x4 inch print, you only need a 2-megapixel image. A 10x8 inch print requires 7 megapixels. Even a large 20x16 inch print can be done with around 28 megapixels. Viewing distance also plays a crucial role. Larger prints are viewed from farther away, reducing the need for high DPI. Hence, a 24-megapixel camera can handle most printing needs effectively.

Lee highlights another aspect: the downsides of high-megapixel cameras. Raw images from such cameras demand significant storage space. This necessitates additional costs for SD cards, hard drives, and cloud storage. Higher megapixel sensors, unless larger in size, have smaller pixels that don't gather light as effectively, potentially reducing image quality in low light and increasing noise at high ISOs. Processing these large files also requires more computing power, which can be a burden on older hardware.

The video underscores that for most users, a 24-megapixel camera suffices. It offers ample resolution for digital viewing and printing, without the excessive storage and processing demands of higher megapixel models. Lee advises considering your actual needs before opting for a high-megapixel camera. This approach can free up your budget for other essential accessories like lenses or flashes, enhancing your overall photography experience. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Lee.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

Log in or register to post comments

This is why I was able to happily shoot weddings, corporate events, and travel/landscape with 16MP and 20MP Micro Four Thirds exclusively for 7 years. I switched to MFT when I discovered that image quality equalled that of my 16MP Canon EOS-1Ds MkII and my 21MP MkIII was only marginally better. I've made and sold 24" prints that were as crisp and detailed as I could ask for. FWIW, I find 240ppi almost indistinguishable from 300ppi when printing with proper file prep.

I now have 33MP and 61MP cameras, but I bought these more for use in very low light than for extra detail. Another big draw of the 61MP camera was the ability to use Crop Mode to get a second focal length from a prime while still capturing 26MP.

Two days ago, on FStoppers: The Case for 12 Megapixels: Do You Need More?

Article on Thursday: 36MP do we need it? 😉

Saturday - 45MP do we need or a waste?

If your printer can do 600, or 1200 DPI, then it is best to use it's highest quality print. Higher DPI is especially needed for larger prints, since most people when viewing a photo, will look at it closely to examine the fine details.

For sharing photos on the web, then there is essentially no limit to resolution. For example, the vast majority of users prefer to be able to zoom in and explore an image, for example, looking at a squirrel in a nearby tree that is in a landscape image.

Given current internet connections, a good middle ground (provided the camera has enough resolution) would be 100-400 megapixel images, as in a format like png, the size is still relatively small, and there is a decent amount of resolution for people to do a small amount of exploration of an image.

DPI and PPI are units of measure. They have nothing to do with the size of the printed picture. 300 PPI is ideally the same, regardless of whether you make a 4x6 print or a 40x60 print. Same for DPI. You might want to read my comment below which explains the difference between PPI and DPI.

What makes a difference with larger prints is the overall number of pixels, and that's where the issue of a camera's megapixels comes into play. More pixels from a 45 megapixel compared to a 24 megapixel camera allows you to print at a larger size while keeping the PPI, or pixel density, the same between the two comparative camera files. The same concept applies to print resolution. Yes, you want to print pictures at 1200 DPI or higher, but that's equally true of small and large size prints. In other words, you would not change either your PPI or DPI based on the size of the print.

Although you can make a case for a lower PPI on very large prints because that's the size which most people will not be viewing closely... a floor-to-ceiling wallpaper print, for example. High PPI is also overkill on some types of print media. Printing equipment used for vinyl, canvas, fabrics, and most dye-sublimation products like metal prints utilize lower DPI settings either because of the printing device's limitation or capacity of the print media's surface to render detail.

I was not claiming that DPI had anything to do with size, I was more pointing out that many printers will offer 600+ DPI, and if they offer the higher quality then it is best to use that higher quality. For example, many lower-mid range printers will list a print resolution of "Up to 4800 x 2400 dpi" in such a case, even if printing a 4x6 image, there is no point in lowering the print to 300DPI if the printer will allow for 600DPI and the source image is a high enough resolution to allow for a 600DPI print at 4x6 inches. So long as the printer and the medium printed on can deliver on that DPI, then it should be used.

As for print size, up to a certain point, higher DPI becomes increasingly important. While you can get away with a low DPI for a billboard image since they are in areas where people cannot easily get close to them even if they wanted. But for more reasonable print sizes, e.g., 8x10 - even large ones like 16x24, then odds are that most people would prefer 600DPI or higher, as most people will look at the entire overall image, but then get close and examine various details in the image. While 300DPI can be acceptable if you are not getting very close to the image, It is common for just about everyone to want to examine details in an image, even in cases of paintings, odds are that just about everyone will look at the overall image, and then do things like examine the brush strokes, pigmentation (to have an idea of how the painter achieved certain colors, and other aspects of the painting.

As for sharing on the web, the point of my post was just overall resolution. A sad trend is often people sharing photos and intentionally shrinking them down to incredibly low resolutions, e.g., 1-2 megapixel uploads. In those cases, people end up with a small image where all fine detail is lost, and people are unable to zoom into the image to examine some details. For example, someone posts a landscape image and in a nearby tree, there is a squirrel, wouldn't you want to be able to zoom into that part of the image and get a better look at how cute the squirrel is?

Wanted to also add an example https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/stories/operation-night-watch/story/ultra-...

A 717 gigapixel image of a painting, allowing people to do digitally what they would normally do when looking at a painting in real life.

I guess we need to tell Hasselblad, Fujifilm, etc. to close their doors because NO ONE needs or should desire a medium format camera.

Someone has a good reason to use a 100 Megapixel medium format camera, someone is happy with a 12Mpix tough compact, or with a smartphone. There is no "best camera" that beats all the competition in all circumstances. All depends on the purpose.

24 is all I need. Also i shoot landscapes at 400 iso...

I commented about the subject of resolution in the article “The Case for 12 Megapixels” from a couple days ago, but the subject of DPI repeats itself so often that I decided to extract some of my comments from there and post them again here. I guess I feel obligated to do so because nine out of ten people misunderstand what DPI actually is and why it matters. Peter Lee appears to use DPI and PPI interchangeably, which is quite common, but can cause confusion at the point of actually making a print. At around the 3:00 minute mark of his video, he makes the statement: “Print resolution is measured in DPI (dots per inch); dots rather than pixels. That’s because paper and ink don’t have pixels; they only have dots.” So far, so good. But then it all falls apart when he says that “It’s generally accepted that for printing high quality, a resolution of 300 DPI is as much as you’ll ever need. Beyond 300 DPI, the quality and improvement is not distinguishable by the human eye.” That’s where terminology leads to confusion. What he means is that 300 PPI (digital pixels per inch) is a sufficient image resolution for printing high-quality photographs. On the other hand, 300 DPI (inkjet printer dots) would not produce a high quality photograph. DPI (dots per inch) and PPI (pixels per inch) are not the same thing. They’re used interchangeably for convenience, but it’s important to know the difference when printing your pictures.

PPI (pixels per inch) is an arbitrary number which is defined by you or me for determining the density of digital pixels in a given space. PPI is shown in Photoshop > Image Size, along with the image’s pixel dimensions, and a corresponding document size when PPI is divided into the overall pixel dimensions. PPI represents pixel density, which is a factor in a picture’s clarity, sharpness and detail. For a 24-megapixel (6,000 x 4,000) image, a user-defined setting of 300 PPI will yield a 20” x 13.33” print size. Change the density of pixels (PPI) to 150 (less dense) and the size of the print would double to 40” x 26.67” assuming no resampling of the image, but the image at the lower PPI would theoretically not be as sharp. The best PPI for any given print job depends on the job. For high-quality inkjet photo printing, 300 PPI is sufficient. For banners, billboards and other large-format print orders viewed from a farther distance, 100-150 PPI works fine. For viewing pictures on a monitor, 72 PPI works fine.

DPI (dots per inch) is actually a printing term. Inkjet printer dots are typically round, and overlay one on top of another in order to print all of the millions of colors from just a few basic ink color cartridges. You don’t actually print pixels on paper, you print dots. If you want white, or the color of the paper, you don’t print any dots, because there is no white ink in most photographic inkjet printers. The key thing to remember is that print resolution (DPI) is much higher than image resolution (PPI). For printing photographs, an Epson inkjet printer will print from 720 to 1,440 or as high as 2,880 DPI. Canon’s designation is something like draft, normal, and best but they also reflect resolution. It’s a setting in the print driver, and in most cases 1,440 DPI is indistinguishable from 2,880 DPI. But you will notice deterioration of image quality lower than that. It’s perfectly fine to have a digital image file of 300 PPI for input to the printer, but you don’t want to tell the printer to print at 300 DPI or you’ll be unhappy with the print. Just remember for printing photographs… 300 PPI and 1,440 DPI are good numbers.

Well done! You must have the patience of a saint.

I have one of those 60 odd megapixel cameras, but do crop down to about 7 megapixels for some of my wildlife shots. The cropping with a sharp lens avoids having to pack a super long 600 to 800mm lens.

A lot of MP has three advantages:
- you can do a big crop and continue having a lot of MP
- you can downsize it and get more sharpness.
- noise AI algorithms work better with the extra detail

So, I think for most people it's more useful to have 45 MP than 120 fps, for example.
And in fact, if you take one second of photos, at 12 fps of 45 MP, are 540 MP, but if you take 120 fps of 24 MP, are 2880 MP. So you are wasting a lot of space and you need a big hardware to move all that information. More than in a "big" MP sensor.