Well, they do, but it’s just that we’re way past that.
Nokia has a smartphone (from mid-2013) with 41 megapixels. It uses the preposterous resolution to provide a kind of zoom. The full-size image is saved, but any image you can share or edit is downsized to 5 megapixels. If you “zoom in” from the full image, you can take that part of the 41-megapixel image and create another, new 5 megapixel “zoom.”
Of course, this is implicitly telling you that 5 megapixels is enough for any normal task. Uploaded to Facebook or emailed to someone? They’re just getting 5 megapixels, and it’s going to look great.
It will even look great on your 1020p (full HD) TV, because full HD is about 2 megapixels. Have a brand-new, super-expensive, 4K TV? The ones that are so high resolution that you can’t buy a blu-ray that will actually use that many pixels? Well, that’s 8 megapixels.
A year-old phone has a camera that is more than five times as high resolution as the most impractically sharp televisions.
So why aren’t there screens that are as high-resolution as our cameras? Why haven’t TVs or tablets or monitors caught up? It’s actually simple – past a certain point, you can’t see the difference. Megapixels don’t matter. And the further you are from the screen, the less and less it matters. This works the same for prints – a big print made from a 10 megapixel image will be viewed from a farther distance than a 4×6.
But surely, people can see the difference… right? Not on their phones, or TVs, or computers, or laptops, or tablets, because those screens don’t even get close to what a high-resolution file actually is… But you can see the difference on a large print, right? (You do make large prints of your photographs all the time, right?)
Well, actually, no. David Pogue from the New York Times put it best. And don’t forget that a big print is viewed from further away than a 4×6, much like a TV is viewed from further away than a phone. Generally, things that are closer require higher resolution to pass the point of “good enough,” so even large prints will probably turn out fine.
Don’t get me wrong – I have a DSLR with 20 megapixels. I love it. There’s lots you can do with extra resolution, and there’s situations where I’m jealous of the 36 megapixel D800, from Nikon. But it boils down to this:
Between 8-10 megapixels is more than enough for large, professional prints.
Beyond that point, it is just a tool – and like any tool, can be useful to help fix mistakes and provide more opportunities. But it’s not making a great picture any better.