Do Megapixels Really Matter?

Today what most mobile manufacturers advertise about their cameras is their megapixel count and people believe that higher the megapixels, the better will be the camera. I remember back in 2018 I stumbled on a Tecno mobile phone, Tecno Camon X. Going through its specs I discovered it had a 16MP rear camera and a 20MP front camera. I then looked up Apple’s flagship at the time, the iPhone X, which has a 12MP rear camera and 7MP camera. Considering the price difference between the two products, I began to wonder, Are iPhones overrated or has Tecno stepped up their game?

When I saw the quality of the images from the two devices, the Tecno camera comes nowhere close to that of an iPhone, not even an iPhone 6 from four years back. So what is actually going on? Are Chinese brands like Tecno lying about their smartphone camera specs?
Basically, megapixels refers to the resolution or size of the image. So a 12MP photo has a total of twelve million pixels, and a 48-megapixel photo will have forty-eight million pixels.

How do Megapixels Affect an Image?

With higher megapixels, you get more details in your photo. Meaning that when you zoom in so you can either crop out or you can print out in a larger size.

Does more resolution imply better image quality?

As you might guess, no, it does not, but it is just one of the factors affecting the quality of a photo. There are other factors to should consider such as,
  • colour quality,
  • dynamic range,
  • highlights and shadows handling,
  • low-light performance,
  • noise performance (especially in low light), etc
For a device to produce a high-quality image, two major aspects have to be into consideration;

  • The camera hardware
  • The image processing software

Camera Hardware

A camera’s hardware consists of components like the lens and sensors. These component determine how well a camera can handle colours and lighting. And the sensor in a camera is so important that increasing the megapixels will do more harm to the final image quality (especially low-light images)

Image Processing Software

The software that handles image processing is as important as the hardware in a camera. The software is what translates the raw image into a JPEG file. Google Pixel phones are good in this regard. They have one of the best (if not the best) image processing software on their phones. Google doesn’t focus on presenting high numbers for megapixels but the image processing level is awesome. There is a clear difference between what you see when capturing and the final image result. Apple and Samsung also have very excellent image processing systems. And this enables the camera to render the final image to a high quality.
Image processing software is also responsible for producing high-quality photos in harsh conditions. The quality of a camera’s night-mode feature rests mainly of the quality of the image processing software. The iPhone’s image processing software is also good at amplifying colours, that’s why it can produce better images than some other devices having higher megapixels than itself.
In a video by Marques Brownlee, he compared the 108-megapixel camera of the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 with the 12 megapixels camera of an iPhone 11and surprisingly, the iPhone 11 with just 12 megapixels performs better in low-light, as you can see below.
Image comparison between iPhone 11 and Xiaomi Mi Note 10
Source: MKBHD

Having high number of megapixels is not all that useless though. Having higher megapixels gives more detail(if there is sufficient lighting), more sharpness and enables you to zoom into the photo while maintaining clarity. Like in the image below, though both photos looked very similar on the surface, when you zoom in multiple times the Xiaomi with the higher megapixels wins.

iPhone x vs Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Camera test
Source: MKBHD
So, when looking out for a device with a good camera, remember to consider the other factors other than the number of megapixels. Unfortunately, majority of these factors cannot be expressed in terms of numbers. You can always look up the internet for reviews for whatever device you want to buy.

Personally, I feel like smartphone brands should even stop putting up those numbers, cause it can be very misleading to people who do not understand.
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