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Top cameras with 16 megapixels or less

New cameras are coming with higher-megapixel image sensors, but that doesn't mean they take better pictures

Published: February 25, 2015 03:15 PM
The Samsung NX1 has lots of megapixels, but it's not why it topped our mirrorless ratings.

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For years, camera makers have waged war with each other, engaging in what many in the industry have called the megapixel wars. Their strategy? Get you to buy a camera simply because it had a high-megapixel image sensor. And it seems the battle is back on again.

The market is being flooded with 20-plus-megapixel cameras right now. The Samsung NX1, a mirrorless camera that costs $2,800 when paired with its 16-50mm kit lens (the body-only price is $1,500), has an APS-C-sized image sensor with 28 megapixels. And recently Canon announced two new pro-level SLRs, the Canon EOS 5DS ($3,700) and the Canon EOS 5DSR ($3,900), that will both ship with 50.6-megapixel full-frame CMOS image sensors.

What's the relationship between megapixels and picture quality? We’ve always pointed out that simply cramming lots of pixels onto a sensor does not mean your camera will take great pictures. What really matters in picture quality are other factors, especially the quality of the camera lens and the size of the sensor, as opposed to the number of megapixels it has. A great lens will provide you with sharp, distortion-free images, while a large APS-C or full-frame sensor will help you capture better quality images in low light when you’re not using your flash.

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Some of our advanced camera Ratings charts reveal just how false the megapixel myth really is. For instance, three of the top six advanced point-and-shoots, including the top-scoring Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II, have just a 13-megapixel sensor. In fact, the Canon is one of the only advanced models that had excellent image quality for photos with and without a flash and for video.

Of course, a camera that has a high-megapixel count can top our Ratings, as the Samsung NX1 did. But it’s not because of the number of megapixels. The NX1 stood out for the high quality of the 16-50mm kit lens we tested the camera with. Additionally, the camera’s internal processing performed very well. And of the top 10 mirrorless cameras in our Ratings, eight have 16-megapixels sensors. Meanwhile, the 20-megapixel Sony a3000, which costs $350, scored a low overall mark for its class.

This isn’t true just for advanced cameras. It goes for basic models, too: In our Ratings, two of the top three compact cameras, the Canon PowerShot N100 and the Canon PowerShot S120, both have just 12-megapixel sensors, while the compact with the second lowest score, the Nikon Coolpix L30, is a 20-megapixel camera.

So, what should you do with megapixel counts? Most photographers can just ignore the number. But lots of pixels will help if you want to create large prints, the kind you might see in an art gallery. And they will also help if you want to crop in a lot using photo-editing software. On the downside, these cameras tend to make image files bigger, eating up storage space on your camera and on your computer hard drive.

These five top-quality advanced cameras have 16 megapixels or less and are cheaper than the NX1 too, although all are a bit pricey.

—Terry Sullivan

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II

The 13-megapixel Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II advanced point-and-shoot, $750, stands out for its excellent image quality across the board: photos taken without a flash, flash photos, and video.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100

The 13-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 advanced point-and-shoot, $900, takes top-quality still photos and can also capture ultra-high-definition video (3840 x 2160) at 30 frames per second.

Fujifilm X30

Although the 12-megapixel Fujifilm X30 advanced point-and-shoot, $600, has the look and feel of an old film camera, it’s a high-performing digital camera that shoots very good photos and flash shots.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7K

The 16-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7K mirrorless camera, $1,100, is thin and light for its class, and also has an excellent quality swiveling LCD.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5K

The 16-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5K mirrorless camera, $900, is among the smallest, thinnest and most lightweight mirrorless cameras in its category.

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