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What Camera Resolution Do I Need?

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When shooting photos with your digital camera, you can set the camera to shoot at a camera resolution designed to meet your needs. For photos you plan to only use on the Internet or send by e-mail, you can shoot at a lower resolution. If you know you want to print the photo, you'll need to shoot at a higher resolution.

Determining how much camera resolution you'll ultimately need for a print depends on the size of the print you want to make. The table listed below should help you decide on the proper resolution.

Before looking at how resolution amounts relate to photo print sizes, however, it's worth keeping in mind that resolution isn't the only factor in photo quality and print quality. These factors also play a significant role in determining how your digital photos will look on the computer screen and on paper.

  • Proper lighting
  • Lens quality
  • Steadiness of camera
  • Auto-focus on the proper subject
  • Proper shutter speed for moving or stationary subject
  • Clean equipment

The other factor that plays a significant role in image quality -- which in turn will determine how large you can make a print -- is the camera's image sensor. As a general rule, a camera with a larger image sensor in physical size can create higher quality photos versus a camera with a smaller image sensor, no matter how many megapixels of resolution each camera offers.

Determining the sizes of prints you will want to make also can help you when shopping for a digital camera. If you know you'll want to make large prints all of the time, you'll need to buy a model that offers a large maximum resolution. On the other hand, if you know you'll only want to make occasional, small prints, you can select a digital camera that offers an average amount of resolution, potentially saving some money.

This table will give you an idea of the amount of resolution you need to make both average-quality and top-quality prints. Shooting at the resolution listed here doesn't guarantee you can make a top-quality print at the size listed, but the numbers will at least give you a starting point for determining print sizes.

 

Resolution needed for various print sizes
Resolution Avg. quality Best quality
0.5 megapixels 2x3 in. N/A
2 megapixels 3x5 in. 3x5 in.
4 megapixels 5x7 in. 5x7 in.
6 megapixels 6x8 in. 8x10 in.
8 megapixels 8x10 in. 11x14 in.
10 megapixels 9x12 in. 13x17 in.
12 megapixels 10x13 in. 13x17 in.
14 megapixels 11x14 in. 13x17 in.
16 megapixels 12x16 in. 13x17 in.
18+ megapixels 13x18 in. 13x17 in.
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