What is a megapixel? And for that matter, what does it mean for a phone to have a 10 megapixel camera, or for a monitor to have a 1080p resolution? We’ll be answering all of these questions and more. By the end of this post, you will know everything you need to know about megapixels.

What is a Megapixel

Let’s start with a megapixel definition

Having an understanding of what a pixel is will make it easier to understand what a megapixel is. A pixel is the smallest unit of measurement used to calculate a digital image. 

If you encounter any other unfamiliar terms in the wild, our ultimate guides to filmmaking terminology and cinematography vocab are great resources for looking things up.

MEGAPIXEL DEFINITION

What is a megapixel?

A megapixel is a unit of measurement equivalent to 1,000,000 pixels. Megapixels are often abbreviated as MP. A single pixel is a tiny square of visual information, and digital images or videos are composed of numerous pixels arranged tightly together. Pixels are often quantified as megapixels in the same way that meters may be quantified as kilometers. Megapixels are commonly used to describe the resolution of a digital camera and still images. And they are important in maintaining the resolution of printed images. The resolution of digital video, display monitors and screens can also be calculated in terms of megapixels, but this is less common. When scanning and printing images, the pixel count shares a relationship with the scanner or printer’s Dots Per Inch or DPI.

Megapixel Characteristics:

  • 1 megapixel = 1,000,000 pixels
  • MP may be rounded up or down
  • More commonly used in relation to stills vs. video

Camera Megapixel Range

Megapixels explained

You’ve probably heard a camera described as having a 10-megapixel resolution or seen a camera advertised as taking 15MP images, but what do those numbers really mean? Here's a quick explainer.

How to calculate megapixels  •  What does megapixel mean

Megapixels are most commonly used to calculate the resolution of stills. Digital video is still calculated in terms of pixels, but the megapixel quantity is used infrequently. Instead, video resolution is typically calculated as width-times-height. When you see a video’s resolution described as 1080p, that really means that the video’s pixel count is 1920 X 1080.

This means that a 1080p video has a total pixel count of 2,073,600 in each frame. Presented in terms of megapixels, this would be rounded down to 2MP. It is important to note that the “p” in 1080p does NOT stand for “pixels.”

Learn more about both video resolutions in this breakdown of progressive scan vs. interlaced video.

What are DPI and PPI?  •  Megapixels explained 

Pixels may also be expressed as the number of Pixels Per Inch, or PPI. An image’s PPI indicates how many pixels are packed into each square inch. This is especially important for images that will be enlarged several times over and/or for images that will be printed in large sizes.

The display resolution of screens and monitors is commonly expressed in terms of PPI or by the same ratio as video, i.e. 1920 X 1080.

Camera Megapixels Meaning

Why do megapixels matter

So, why do megapixels matter so much anyway? If a 1080p video is only equivalent to 2MP, why would you need your camera to shoot 50MP stills?

The following video breaks down why a difference in megapixel count matters, breaks down the pros and cons of high MP images. And it even offers some offers some tricks to maximize your image resolution.

How important are megapixels?  •  Why do megapixels matter

To put it simply, the more megapixels, the higher resolution an image has. The larger an image is blown up, the more megapixels are required to maintain the visual fidelity of the image. 

If you find that a small image looks pixelated or “chunky” when you enlarge it, that means the image’s resolution is insufficient for the size you are viewing it at. Or, to put it another way, the megapixel count is too low for the size.

Digital photography technology has come a long way in recent years. These days, it’s relatively cheap and easy to find a camera with enough megapixels to take care of all of your photography needs. 

Take a look at our buying guides to find the best 4K cameras, the best mirrorless cameras, and the best digital video cameras on the market. Many cell phones come with high resolution cameras these days, so check out our list of the best cell phone cameras for photographers and filmmakers.

UP NEXT

What you should know about sensors

You now know everything you need to know about megapixels, but there is still plenty more to learn about film and photography. In particular, since pixels are such a big part of digital image capture, you should understand how sensors work. In this post, we'll cover everything you need to know to get started.

Up Next: Camera Sensors Explained →
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  • Sam Kench is an internationally-awarded screenwriter, independent filmmaker, and film critic. Lover of foreign films; hater of American remakes.

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