Amazing, isn't it, how a provocative headline in a newspaper can entice otherwise disinterested parties into reading an article. They'll probably keep reading even after the text of the article disputes its own headline, or otherwise says, ha ha, just kidding.
That's something we explained to several readers when they sent us a link to a newspaper article published in mid-February, titled "Breaking the Myth of Megapixels." They asked, what do you make of this?
Since this was a time of PMA-preps, with marketing plans being made, press-releases written, advertisements being approved, it was a critical time to understand what The Newspaper of Record was telling its readers.
The "myth of megapixels?" What is that?
A Big, Fat Lie
The myth of megapixels "goes like this," according to the article. "The more megapixels a camera has, the better the pictures."
That's a myth? I didn't know that. Matter of fact, as a working photojournalist, I have the distinct impression that, all other things equal, the more megapixels a camera has, the better the pictures indeed.
Yet The Newspaper of Record gives us the following, as its entire fourth paragraph:
"It's a big fat lie. The camera companies and camera stores all know it, but they continue to exploit our misunderstanding. Advertisements declare a camera's megapixel rating as though it's a letter grade, implying that a 7-megapixel model is necessarily better than a 5-megapixel model."
And you've been trusting your purchasing decisions to these people. You've been trusting your D&P to them. Pictures of your house. Your kids.
But "the megapixel myth" isn't a misunderstanding. As a reviewer of digital cameras from 1990 to the present, I can say this with some assurance. More megapixels absolutely make better pictures, all other things equal. Of course, "all other things equal" is the qualifying item.
"It seems logical that more megapixels would mean a sharper photo." states the newspaper. "In truth, though, it could just mean a terrible photo made of more dots. A camera's lens, circuitry and sensor...are far more important factors."
Well, they're important factors. But they certainly don't eliminate the value of plenty of pixels. All photographs are created by a combination of factors, and how relatively important each of them is depends entirely upon each photo.
What's Old is New Again
The photo press took-up this issue a decade ago, when digicams were first reaching the consumer market. We objected to the use of pixel-count as the sole delineator of "resolution" because the sharpness of the picture does, indeed, depend on the sharpness of the lens, as well as the noise characteristics of the imager, the processing routines in the camera, and a bunch of factors in addition to the number of pixels.
This discussion continues today, in the print fan magazines, in the online publications, in internet chat rooms and forums.
Everybody knows pixel-count alone is not the basis of "resolution." Or, if they don't, they haven't been paying attention.