Is it Good to Have a High Megapixel Count on a Smartphone?

01/10/2020     Author: Billy Gray

With some smartphone makers going so far as to add cameras with 108MP onto their devices, just how much does the MP count actually matter on a smartphone?

 

So many companies are releasing smartphones with 48MP cameras, or even 64MP cameras – and now Xiaomi has released the Mi Note 10 with a whopping 108MP camera! Samsung is rumored to be following suit with the Galaxy S11. But does a really high megapixel count actually make for a better photo overall?

Many photographers are giggling at the smartphone industry for attaching so such significance to the megapixels in their smartphones, because the actual sensors in the cameras are so small that the numbers don’t necessarily improve the overall quality of your photography. Still, it’s very good marketing to jump on the camera hype and throw higher numbers at people, even when they don’t actually have a clue what those numbers mean.

So, what is the hype around the megapixel count on smartphone cameras? In fact, what even are megapixels and how to do they effect the overall image quality? In this post, we’ll take a look at these questions and ultimately explain why having a high megapixel count in your smartphone camera doesn’t mean that you’ll get a better photo – and might actually mean you’ll get a worse photo.

What is the megapixel count in a sensor?

The amount of megapixels in a camera sensor is the millions of pixels that are present in the sensor. So, if your camera has a 24MP sensor, then it’ll have 24 million pixels, which can capture light and create your final image. A higher megapixel count means that when you zoom into the photo, you’ll be able to maintain a really clear image. This makes for a sharper image overall.

The thing is, the sensor size also has a lot to do with the overall quality of the photo. For example, an entry-level DSLR camera from Canon or Nikon will have an APS-C sized sensor, which is 1.6 times smaller than the full-frame sensor present in a professional DSLR. This means that the 1.6 times larger full-frame sensor will get better photos, because it can capture more light. If you have 24 million pixels in each sensor, then those pixels will actually have to be bigger in the full frame sensor. Bigger pixels can absorb light more effectively, making them better overall and certainly better in low-light conditions.

Do smartphone cameras work better with more MP?

The thing is, most smartphones use really small camera sensors, which means that the 48 million pixels they’re using are absolutely tiny and thus can’t absorb light properly. This is why the Google Pixel 3, with just a single 12MP lens, still captures better photos than a OnePlus 7 Pro with its 48MP camera.

It’s also why Apple and Samsung stick to 12MP, rather than chasing the competition into the 48MP mark. You probably noticed that the iPhone 11 has larger lenses on the back as well, right? This likely means that they’re using a larger sensor in those lenses, which will make it a much better camera.

In short, it’s not the megapixels in the sensor that counts – it’s the megapixels, plus the size and quality of the sensor used that work together to make a good photo. The aperture of the camera also comes into play here, as a smartphone that is capable of using a lower aperture will be able to shoot better in low light conditions.

There’s a lot more than megapixel count that comes into making a good camera, but smartphone companies are well aware that most people don’t even know what megapixels are and no even less about cameras. They’re using the MP count to market their phones as being somehow better, but in reality, a 48MP camera will often take photos that are over-saturated and pretty crappy overall. You’re generally better off just sticking with a 12MP camera on a smartphone, as the high counts don’t actually mean anything other than more pixels crammed into a tiny, cheap sensor.

If it was any other way, then the top performing Sony A9 mirrorless camera – with a 64MP full-frame sensor that costs some $4,000 for the body alone – would just have a 108MP sensor. But it doesn’t, because Sony know that this would compromise the quality of the images the camera takes.

Should I buy a smartphone with a high MP count?

In short, probably not. You’ll notice that the big players like Samsung, Apple, and Google all stick to 12MP sensors in their cameras. They do this because they value quality over the appearance of making a good marketing product. The Chinese phone companies, on the other hand, tend to go for 40MP and 48MP cameras because they want to give the appearance of making superior phones. They’re not actually doing that – they’re just flaunting irrelevant numbers, and most of their 48MP sensors can only actually shoot 12MP photos, anyway.

These phones generally have a ’48MP Mode’ in the camera app, and this does draw on the full range of pixels, but it often creates disastrous results, with photos appearing over-saturated and having poor light recognition. They’re also rubbish in low-light settings.

The verdict

If you really want a great camera, then the iPhone 11, with a 12MP camera and a larger sensor in that camera, is probably the way to go. Apple don’t jump onto trends when it comes to these things – they go for quality because they know what they’re doing, and they know that people will ultimately wise up and figure out that they’re making the superior product. This is respectable, to say the least. It’s also a very wise move in the long run.

Let the kids and suckers play with their silly high-MP cameras on their teeny-tiny little sensors while you go for a phone with a respectable 12MP sensor that actually shoots good photos. Don’t believe the hype. Stay real.

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