What does a megapixel mean to your camera phone?

Woman taking a photo using her phone

The megapixel is one of the most famous yardsticks used to rate the quality of a camera without actually witnessing imagery through the lens. File picture: Shannon Stapleton Reuters

Published May 19, 2023


More than 1.5 trillion – that's the number of photographs captured in 2022 alone, according to the statistics by consulting firm Rise Above Research.

By 2030, this number is expected to increase to 28.6 trillion.

Each year that passes marks another to say: “More images were captured during this year than ever before in history, thanks to smartphones.”

According to Statista, since 2010, smartphones have changed the digital camera industry by obliterating their sales by 87%.

With the mobile world ever-changing, it is challenging to imagine a life without smartphones, as these devices quickly grew to become many users’ everyday cameras.

Users may as well get used to it since it will be around for a while. That said, smartphone cameras can be as complex to operate as a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera while displayed in a more user-friendly format at default.

Given the advances in camera technology, the infamous megapixel is one of the most famous yardsticks used to rate the quality of a camera without actually witnessing imagery through the lens.

But what does it actually measure? And can it tell you how good a camera really is?

History of the megapixel

The idea of the megapixel was birthed in the ’60s but only popularised during the adoption of the digital camera during the late ’80s and early ’90s when the megapixel became the standard measurement.

The mid-’90s finally saw digital cameras reach a single-megapixel resolution, which slowly became commonplace among all digital camera manufacturers, as it allowed for a much higher resolution than regular film cameras at the time.

Early 2000 saw digital cameras growing in size to 2 megapixels and above, allowing for digital zoom capability, until in 2004, the first 10-megapixel digital camera was released.

Of course, the launch of smartphones spawned a war among electronics manufacturers, feuding over who has the better camera while matching the consumer demand for better phones with bigger and better cameras.

Despite this, without many admitting guilt to not fully understanding what a megapixel means to a camera, telling a friend how many megapixels your smartphone has over theirs has earned one the bragging right.

Today some of the most powerful smartphones boast camera capability reaching up to 200 megapixels.

What is a megapixel?

A megapixel is a unit of measurement used to describe the resolution of an image taken by a mobile phone. It equals one million pixels or very minute dots of colour.

The higher the megapixel count, the higher the resolution of the image, meaning that more detail can be captured, which in turn, also increases the file size of the image captured on a device.

Megapixels are one of the most important factors when it comes to buying a smartphone, based on its camera capability, as they determine the quality of the pictures taken, with a higher megapixel count means more detail can be captured in an image, which will appear sharper and clearer than those taken with a lower megapixel count.

A smartphone with a higher megapixel count also means that the images can be printed out in larger sizes without losing any quality, or even in rare cases, used by graphic designers to create artwork for out-of-the-home advertising seen from billboards.

Despite this, a smartphone with a high megapixel count doesn’t necessarily always mean the best image. Higher megapixel counts can help capture better photos.

However, the quality is still affected by numerous other factors in conjunction with a megapixel count.

Factors such as the environment lighting, the camera’s lens, aperture size to control light intake, and the camera’s image sensor to control how much light enters the lens all play a role in the result of an image.

While electronics manufacturers around the world steadily improve camera quality, we can see megapixel counts in smartphones increasing.

Thankfully, it isn't too much to think about, as most camera settings are automatic at default.

IOL Tech