Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, Apple recently announced not one, but 2 new smartphones – the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. They both lived up to the rumours of featuring huge displays – 4.7 inched and 5.5 inches respectively.

However what most fans probably did not expect was no bump in the camera’s megapixel rating. Apple touts enhanced features as justification for keeping the iPhone 6 camera at 8 megapixels . Fans are having none of that

Considering the competition – Samsung Galaxy S5 (16 MP). LG G3 (13 MP), Sony Xperia Z3 (20 MP) and Lumia 930 (20 MP) – one can’t really blame consumers for wanting more from Apple.  So why has Apple selectively succumbed to display size craze while ignoring the demand for more megapixels?

First of all, what’s a megapixel?

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A pixel is the basic unit from which a digital image is composed. Think of it as a dot. 1 MP simply means 1 million pixels (or dots). A phone camera that comes with 8 megapixel has a sensor captures a resolution of 3,264 pixels (across) by 2,448 pixels (downwards). Multiply those 2 figures and you get 7,990,272 which is approximately 8 million – 8 megapixels.

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Naturally, the more megapixels an image contains, the better quality it should be. But it’s not that straightforward. More importantly, the size of the sensor, size and quality of individual pixels, the quality of the lens, shutter speed, available processing power and imaging processing software are amongst many other factors that determine the quality of a digital camera. These are the sepcs you should pay more attention to on GSM Arena. Megapixels can only take you so far.

How many megapixels is too much?

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A typical HD monitor can only display a resolution of 1920×1080 (2 megapixels). So in theory, 8 megapixels already seems like overkill for the average computer user.

If all you want is to view photos on your computer or phone, share on Facebook/Twitter or upload on your blog, you really do not need more than 3-5 quality megapixels. Note the use of “quality”.

As stated earlier, most monitors can’t even display more than 2 megapixels resolution. Which means that after Facebook crops your uploads, you usually end up with a sharp 1 megapixel image at best.

Even for the enthusiast photographer who likes to print shots, a well-shot 8 megapixel photo is capable of producing professional looking 8 x 10″ prints – about the size of the standard N100 photos you snap at owambes.  Again, note the use of “well-shot”.

And don’t forget memory. Those fancy extra megapixels are all good until you realise you need more memory than usual to accommodate the image size. No point of having more megapixels than you’ll ever need.

If your end-game is full-scale prints, billboards and the like, we can start talking about 12 megapixels upwards. But even at that, the relevance of over 12 megapixels is debatable. There’s only so much edge more pixels can get you. In short, the camera can only be as perfect as the technology behind it and the skill of its user.

So why do phone cameras still come with over 5 megapixels ?

You can blame that on the Megapixel Race.

Back in the day, when Android was rapidly growing into the ubiquitous platform that now is, phone makers employed ‘guerrilla tactics’ in an attempt to differentiate their devices. One of the easiest specs to exaggerate was camera quality.

OEMs were cramping more and more pixels into image sensors, without bothering to increase the size of the image sensor accordingly. So a phone would have an image sensor that cramped 8 megapixels into the same space that was meant for 3 megapixels. All the responsibility of balancing out the unwanted effects, produced by such practices, was pushed to the image processing software. Software that was hardly ever developed properly so you ended up with average looking images. So why not just get it right from the moment of capture?

Apple knows this probably better than anyone else. Apple is reputed for giving the consumer only what they think is good for the consumer, and they’re damn good at it. While this approach can often go wrong, in this particular case Apple is spot on. The iPhone 6 comes in 16, 64 and 128 GB variations. That’s plenty more space for all those wonderful selfies you troll your Instagram followers with.

I am not attempting to downplay the quality, or potential superiority, of images produced from the likes of the Lumia 1020 or Xperia Z3, with tons of megapixels. I’m just saying, what are you really looking for in your phone camera because phones like the Lumia 1020 have their primary target audience – hobbyist, enthusiast and professional photographers. Those aren’t exactly the kind of people Apple had in mind when they were crafting the iPhone 6.

This post was originally published as Debunking The Megapixel Myth. It has been rewritten for context. 

Photo Credit:  Songkran / deejustify via Compfight cc

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