New digital cameras have even more megapixels—which still doesn't mean they're better

Consumer Reports News: February 06, 2013 03:08 PM

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Although most new cameras this year won't have the same mind-blowing 1.8-gigapixel resolution of the U.S.-military-backed ARGUS-IS camera, which will be used for aerial surveillance, many new consumer models are showing an uptick in resolution. Most have 16 megapixels, but some are shipping with 18 and even 20 megapixels. One example is the recently announced 18-megapixel Coolpix S9500 superzoom (pictured).

As our tests have repeatedly shown, though, cameras with more megapixels don't necessarily produce better images than those with fewer. A high-megapixel camera isn't always necessary, unless you need giant enlargements or do extensive cropping in your photo-editing software.

In fact, some 10-megapixel point-and-shoot cameras we've tested ranked at or near the top of the Ratings for that category, beating cameras with more megapixels. To achieve this, they had to produce very good images for regular, low-light, and flash photos. If you're buying a new camera, we recommend that you consider image-quality scores as well as megapixel counts.

For more information, check out our buying guide and Ratings for digital cameras.

Also, look for better lenses. One way to tell: Better lenses on basic cameras generally have a maximum aperture setting with a lower number, such as f/2.8, f/2 or f/1.8 (instead of f/3.5 or f/4).

Also take note of what types of other features might make a camera the right one for you: a longer zoom, a rugged or waterproofing exterior, or wireless capability, for example. Also, if you use an older computer to store and edit your images, the huge files a high-resolution camera produces might be harder to work with and will fill up a memory card and computer hard drive faster than files from a camera with modest resolution.

You probably don't need more than 12 megapixels. But consider a camera with 14 or 16 megapixels or more if it is rated highly in our tests, and you want to make very large prints or do a lot of cropping.

Terry Sullivan

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