This is a guide covering camera resolution in photography.
Camera resolution is a measure of the number of pixels that make up an image or video, and higher resolutions can result in sharper, more detailed photos and videos.
There’s a lot of technical jargon that often pops up when talking about camera resolution.
Terms like megapixels, aspect ratios, and pixel density all come into play.
Whether you’re a professional photographer or a casual user, understanding camera resolution is essential to capturing high-quality images and videos.
Table of Contents
What is Camera Resolution?
The camera resolution is the total amount of pixels captured. It is also called the “Number of Recorded Pixels” by the CIPA DCG-001 (an organization based in Japan that handles photography-based technology).
In the context of cameras, the term resolution will be closely linked to spatial resolution.
It describes the size of the image taken by the camera. We define it with the term megapixels (x million pixels) that can be recorded in a single shutter release.
The concept itself is built upon pixel information and megapixel count. Both of these aspects will determine the quality of your images.
The higher amount of pixels in a camera, the better the resolution will be.
Camera resolution is one of the foundations of creating a sharp image.
At the simplest level, you may think that the more pixels used, the better the whole image will become.
Images that contain small amounts of pixels will look jaggy and square-ish.
They will also become less flexible for photographers who want to crop their images for a better composition.
Cameras with higher resolutions are always sought after. Manufacturers are always racing to produce cameras with higher resolution, although resolution is not always necessary.
How Important is Resolution in a Camera?
Well, in the world of photography, resolution is everything, but only to a certain point.
Photographers who will have their images zoomed in for the many details and are closely observed will surely need a high-resolution image.
But sometimes, you can get away with blowing up a 12MP iPhone photo into a 38ft x 21ft image without making it look pixelated.
In reality, high-definition images shot on a 100mp camera aren’t for everyone.
Even if you shoot a high-resolution image but print it in a small image, you will miss out on its qualities.
Your resolution will determine how sharp your images can be and how far you can zoom in on your image before it becomes pixelated.
Having a super high resolution isn’t mandatory in photography, but it’s always better to have a little more resolution than too little.
What Does Camera Resolution Affect?
Camera resolution is well known to be associated with a couple of factors.
Starting from the various print sizes that they can dish out (in high quality), the various cropping options that you are given access to, the ease of up-sizing and down-sizing, display size, and finally, the sharpness.
Let’s go through them one by one, shall we?
1. Print Size
Print size is one of the most critical factors that come to mind when thinking about resolution.
The larger your resolution, the larger the print size you can achieve.
Printing digital images is done by squeezing the PPI in. The size of your potential print can be calculated by dividing your image width and height by the selected PPI.
Although you can use the exact image resolution for larger print sizes, you risk ruining its quality.
Lowering your pixel per inch or using specialized third-party tools to up-sample/upscale your image is recommended.
High resolution lets you print larger images that will still look perfect.
2. Cropping Options
Higher-resolution images give you more room to crop images.
While it is true that most photographers will avoid heavy cropping, some images need a little cropping to re-establish focus on their subjects.
Wildlife and sports photographers opt for heavy cropping to get the viewer closer to the subject. They will also crop to reduce unnecessary details that clutter the subject’s surroundings.
Since this action reduces the overall resolution, it becomes their main reason to go for cameras with high resolution. It helps them at their job, and it is also convenient.
3. Down Sampling
Down-sampling is basically resizing or resampling high-resolution images to reduce needless image clutters and reduce visible focus errors.
The higher your resolution, the better options for your down-sizing or resizing needs.
Modern high-resolution cameras don’t perform differently from their lower-resolution brothers.
Their biggest advantage is the ability to decrease noise, shoot in low ISO, and access larger prints.
4. Display Size
High-pixel cameras have seen many improvements in offline and online media.
The increases in resolution and space on technologies such as monitors, TVs, phones, billboards, and many others have led to the demand for higher-resolution images.
You can now see the 4K monitors and TVs getting increasingly popular these days.
Forcing photographers and media to produce high-quality images with astonishing detail.
5. Increase Sharpness and Picture Quality
Cameras with high pixels will generally have a high-pixel sensor. This helps them capture more information that makes their pictures more flattering.
The sensor will process all of the information and create a sharper image.
What is Megapixel Resolution?
As mentioned earlier, a megapixel is one million pixels. This is often used to categorize how many pixels a camera can capture. The more pixels, the better.
To put it into perspective, a camera that can capture 1200 x 1600 pixels will present you with an image of 1.92 million pixels. Such a camera will be referred to as the 2 Megapixel camera.
The 1.92 million pixels result from the multiplication of horizontal and vertical dimensions and will be rounded into two, for marketing reasons.
Have you ever wondered what 72 PPI means? It’s short for pixel per inch, if it’s 72 then there are 72 pixels for every inch of screen space.
Therefore, your 720 pixels wide image will take 10 inches of screen space (72dpi x 10 inches = 720 pixels).
However, if you try to print this 720-pixel image on a 72-dpi printer, you’ll likely end up with a weirdly choppy and unrefined image.
Flattering photos are commonly printed at 300ppi, this will make the result significantly smaller.
The amount of pixels needed to get a high-quality print is dependent on the pixel resolution, print size, and camera specifications. Here is a little table as a reference when printing.
In this day and age, digital displays won’t require the amount of sharpness that is poured into a physical print of an image. Websites will often use small images that will barely reach 2 megapixels.
With all due respect, yes they can upload their FULL HD or 4K images onto the website if they wished to do so.
But, websites prefer images that load fast and don’t mind if it isn’t extra sharp. Even the full resolution of your TV and monitors fit this HD, Full HD, and 4K.
So how many megapixels that each of these categories has?
- HD resolution has 1366 x 768 or the more common 1280 x 720 pixels. Producing a total of around 1 megapixel.
- Full HD is twice the size of HD, holding 1920 x 1080 pixels. Which roughly calculates into 2 megapixels.
- Last but not least, the 4K resolution is becoming increasingly popular. Standing at quadruple of the Full HD, it has 3840 x 2160 pixels. Round it off and you get a number close to 8 megapixels.
It’s rare to see higher resolutions than the upcoming 4K on digital media.
Do More Megapixels Mean Better Photo Quality?
In a nutshell, yes it does translate into better photo quality.
However! Megapixels aren’t the sole factor behind high photo quality. You could say that only having a high-pixel camera without having knowledge/skills in photography is a waste. It’s like buying an expensive crayon set without knowing how to use it.
Gear and equipment can only bring you so far. Those who have the knowledge and technical skill will always thrive over those who heavily rely on equipment.
Aside from establishing optimal amounts of exposure and composing of the scene, you will always need your technical skills to produce razor-sharp images.
With high-resolution cameras magnifying your every mistake, viewers (yourself included) will start to notice the shortcomings.
Starting from camera shake because your hands are wobbly, poor focusing, motion blur, and many more.
I highly recommend you perfect your techniques and take your time practicing them.
Evaluate your mistakes, get better supporting gear (remote shutter release, tripods, etc), and know the technical details that make images work.
If you’re still struggling to understand, we also recommend this video by Becki and Chris:
What is a good resolution for a camera?
The appropriate resolution for a camera depends on the intended use of the images. For example, if the camera is intended for professional photography, a high resolution of at least 24 megapixels or more may be necessary to capture fine details and allow for cropping and post-processing. On the other hand, if the camera is intended for casual use or social media sharing, a resolution of 12-16 megapixels may be sufficient.
What camera resolution is 1080p?
1080p resolution refers to a video or image that has 1920 pixels horizontally and 1080 pixels vertically, which adds up to a total of 2.1 megapixels. This means that a camera that can capture 1080p video or images has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, which is equivalent to 2.1 megapixels.
Is 12MP better than 4K?
That being said, a 12MP still image typically contains around 4000×3000 pixels, which is higher than the resolution of standard 1080p video (1920×1080 pixels) but lower than the resolution of 4K video (3840×2160 pixels).
With the many intricacies of “what is camera resolution,” it’s time to finally recap the article.
- Camera resolution is the total amount of pixels that you capture. It is affected by both megapixel amount and pixel information.
- It’s very important since it basically affects how sharp your photo will become. This applies to the quality of your photos on digital displays or on their printed form.
Camera resolution affects a few things:
- Print Size: Larger-resolution images can be printed in larger frames while still looking perfectly sharp. Lower-resolution images will quickly become blurry when printed on large surfaces
- Cropping options: Photographers will eventually encounter problems with composition or unwanted distractions surrounding the subject. Photographers fix this by cropping them out despite reducing image quality. But they aren’t bothered since they capture with high-resolution cameras.
- Down-sampling: Cameras with high resolution allow you to reduce clutter, noise, and focus problems.
- Display size: You can display larger pictures without making it look blurry with high-resolution images.
- More sharpness since there are more pixels.
Megapixel resolution is defined as one million pixels. The more pixels there are, the more information can be stored in them.
More megapixels can significantly improve your image as it becomes sharper than before. But, you will still need knowledge and technical skills in photography to use high-megapixel cameras to their full potential.
Camera resolution is very important in determining the quality of your images, but you will also need the skills to correctly use it. I hope that this little knowledge will help you in your future decisions when deciding to print your photos.
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer servicing the Orange County and Los Angeles areas. He specializes in portraits of individuals, couples, groups and headshots. Nate Torres is also a photography writer and content creator and educates other photographers on portrait photography, composition, editing, gear, and business. You can find his content on his personal website, social media, and YouTube Channel, as well as on blogs such as Fstoppers, Photofocus, and Imaginated. Being a former SEO consultant, Nate also teaches other photographers how to use SEO to grow their own photography business on his educational blog, Shutter SEO.