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The Megapixel Myth

This has been banging around on the internet for a few months now, but I think it's important for people to be aware of this sort of thing. …Combats public ignorance, you know. So it seems that Ken Rockwell (and … Read More

By / February 20, 2007

This has been banging around on the internet for a few months now, but I think it's important for people to be aware of this sort of thing. …Combats public ignorance, you know.

So it seems that Ken Rockwell (and David Pogue, subsequently) have uncovered the most sinister consumer fraud conspiracy since the Pet Rock. (Can you believe a generation of suckers paid for that? Nowadays, you can download a Virtual Pet Rock absolutely free! The only qualm is you need a Mac.)

Anyway, unbeknownst to most end-users, more megapixels does NOT a better camera make. They make bigger pictures, sure, but there's a whole lot more involved than size of your MP. Why are we so hung-up on megapixels, as a society, then? Mr. Rockwell explains on his page:

The megapixel myth is also prevalent because men always want a single number by which something's goodness can be judged.

…For example, my Canon handheld is 11 megapixels long and rock hard right now.

But I digress. He also links to these neat "Let Me Explain What Megapixels Are" pages by an unnamed company whose website happens to have the words "Best" and "Buy" in the URL. Unfortunately, their math and logic are all flawed, meaning both that they are misrepresenting the truth to naîve consumers and that God will smite a kitten for their heresy.

David Pogue, in contrast to Mr. Rockwell's academic (and highly mathematical) explanation, took to the streets (twice, actually!) and asked random strangers in Times Square to correctly identify poster-sized images taken from 5, 8, and 13 megapixel cameras. In the end…

…We ran the test for about 45 minutes. Dozens of people stopped to take the test; a little crowd gathered. About 95 percent of the volunteers gave up, announcing that there was no possible way to tell the difference, even when mashing their faces right up against the prints. A handful of them attempted guesses—but were wrong. Only one person correctly ranked the prints in megapixel order, although (a) she was a photography professor, and (b) I believe she just got lucky.

May sound like sour grapes, but you can't make … uh, wine … without … uh … grapes. Sour ones.

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