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Buying a new camera: The megapixel blues

By By Kyle Carter / staff photographer
March 10, 2004
Since joining the staff at The Meridian Star in June, I have heard and seen things that I didn't even believe existed.
But from Missouri to Tennessee to East Mississippi, there are two main statements that all photographers hear: "Hey, take my picture" and "I am thinking about buying a new digital camera, can you help me?"
Although I would love to use everyone's picture I've ever met in the paper, I don't think I can tackle that today. But I can help with your camera purchase.
In January, Canon announced the release of its new digital SLR, or super camera. It is an 8.2 megapixel, 81⁄2 frames per second dream. This digital dreamboat is the Super Bowl, the Superman, and the sliced bread of all cameras but it comes with a considerable price as well.
Most folks won't want to dish out the $4,500-$5,500 for it.
If you can still breathe after those figures, never fear, there are great digital cameras out there that won't cost you a second mortgage. There are many digitals for less than $500.
But before deciding on a price, decide on a reason.
What will you shoot with the camera? If it is birthdays, holidays and festive occasions, you will be fine with the rest of this column. If you are looking for more, shoot me an e-mail (at and I will see what I can do to help.
For the average family, a small, compact digital will do.
Here are the ratios. And remember, digital cameras are not like film. A digital camera comes in at a set size (such as an 8-by-10, 4-by-10, etc.) while a negative from a film camera can be blow up to just about any size.
For a general rule of thumb, a 3 megapixel camera is set for a perfect 8-by-10. With the Canon D30 that I have now, I am only shooting 3.25 megapixels. I have had a 24-by-36 blow up from my camera. And although it was a little pixilated, the photo at a "normal distance" looked great.
One of the major secrets of the photography world is the ability to crop. When Wal-Mart or Walgreens prints your photos, they are printed whole, or, you get the entire photo full frame. Many times, the photos that we use in the paper are cropped or they are not the entire frame.
For one reason or another, mainly space and focus, we crop out a piece of unneeded frame.
Obviously when cropping, megapixels disappear, thus reducing the size of the actual photo. Sometimes this means going from the 3.25 megapixels, or the just over 8-by-10 format that I shot the photo, to a two columns, or 3.5-by-5 format.
When cropping, you really don't lose megapixels, but you simply isolate the part of the photo that you want, thus, isolating only those megapixels that are wanted. So if you are planning to do your own cropping, or if you want someone else to do it for you, go more than 3.
Most folks are wanting to go digital, but don't know how. Just remember, for basic use, use a rule of 3 megapixels. There is nothing wrong with going for a 5 or even 6 megapixel camera, but if you pick up something smaller than three, it may not print the way you wanted. Remember, photos can always be shrunk and printed, but they can't always be blown up.
Kyle Carter is a staff photographer for The Meridian Star.