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Photography Glossary

What is Camera Resolution?

October 23, 2022 by

This is a guide covering camera resolution in photography.

There’s a lot of technical jargon that often pops up when talking about camera resolution.

We’ll try to explain it as easily as possible without too much jargon!

With that being said, let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

What is Camera Resolution?

The camera resolution definition is basically 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.

pixels
pixels

What Does Camera Resolution Mean?

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. Pixel size will also influence the camera’s ability to handle noise at high ISO.

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.

resolution on screen

How Important is Resolution in a Camera?

Well, in the world of photography resolution is everything but only to a certain point.

Photographers that 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 a 12mp iPhone 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 just 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 important factors that come to mind when thinking about resolution. The larger your resolution, the larger the print size that you can achieve.

Printing digital images are 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 same image resolution for larger print sizes, you run the risk of ruining its quality. It’s recommended to lower your pixel per inch or use specialized third-party tools to up-sample/upscale your image.

High resolution lets you print larger images that will still look perfect.

photo prints resolution
photo prints

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 just need a little bit of cropping to re-establish focus on their subjects.

Wildlife and sports photographers are known to opt for heavy cropping when they need to get the viewer closer to the subject. They will also crop to reduce unnecessary details that clutter the surroundings of the subject.

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 really practical.

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 resolution you have, the better options for your down-sizing or resizing needs.

The modern high-resolution cameras don’t perform differently from their lower-resolution brothers. Their biggest advantage is mainly the ability to decrease noise, shoot in low ISO, and have access to 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 higher quality images with an astonishing amount of detail.

display size resolution
monitor display size

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 is a result of the multiplication of both 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 10inches = 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.

megapixel table
reference table

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 that 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 a 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:

Final Remarks

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.