PMA Analysis: The Megapixel Myth

The "Megapixel Myth" could quickly replace the "Megahertz Myth" of old if current trends continue. Digital camera makers are offering consumers an increased number of features and more technology in their cameras than ever before, but consumers are calling for higher megapixel cameras, sometimes without even knowing if there are benefits in having it.

In fact, many camera manufacturers released five and seven megapixel consumer models at this week's Photo Marketing Association International trade show in Orlando, Fla. This, says one analyst, is a trend that will likely continue.

"We are seeing more megapixels in smaller packages with lower price-points," NPD analyst Ross Rubin told MacCentral. "We see in our data that five megapixel cameras will become more mainstream in 2005."

With more affordable five and higher megapixel cameras readily available to the consumer market, there is no doubt they will sell, but will those that purchase the cameras actually see a noticeable improvement? Camera manufacturers say that depending on what you want from a camera you may not notice a difference going to a higher megapixel model.

"If they just want a 4 x 6-inch print, then they won't see a difference [going to a five or seven megapixel model] -- a four megapixel camera would do just fine," said Charles De Luca, Nikon product manager, Consumer Digital Products & Compact Cameras.

"We try to get people to think about pictures instead of megapixels," said Olympus Product Manager, Sally Smith Clemens. "You need to think about the application; what will you be doing with the camera."

Both companies agreed that megapixels only matter if you plan to print very large pictures or if you crop and blow up a section of a picture to print. So why are the new consumer cameras coming out with a higher megapixel rating? Competition.

"It happens because of competition," said Nikon's De Luca. "Consumers are demanding it and there are always those consumers that want the latest camera available.

Much the same as the megahertz myth in computer processors, there is more that goes into image quality than megapixels.

"That [the megahertz myth] is a great analogy," said Michael Corrado, Nikon senior product manager Digital SLR Systems. "We rely heavily on optics and so many other things -- it's not just about megapixels."

While megapixel rating is certainly become increasingly important to consumers, NPD analyst Ross Rubin notes a couple of other things that consumers look for when purchasing a camera.

"Price is definitely a driver," said Rubin. "Before that was a trade-off; price versus quality. In-camera modes like red-eye reduction also help people -- for the consumer it's all about taking a better picture."

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