How Important are Megapixels?

There are times when cameras become lost and just need a good home, and if one can be found, people will often look to someone they personally know to take care of these cameras.  I was recently offered a small collection of cameras that I could not pass up, and in this trove that spanned several decades, was a Nikon D70.  This camera was one of the more modern cameras in the collection.  Though not as advanced as some of the cameras in my personal assortment, it still makes the perfect candidate for a new blog post.  One in which I ask the question: “How important are megapixels?”

What usually comes to your mind when you think of the standard for megapixels?  Is it the twelve megapixels that your iPhone 6s has?  Is it the 20 or so megapixels that your DSLR has?  Do you remember what images look like with 6 megapixels?  Well, let’s find out.

Just to add a note about this post, because of the size of the pictures, and the nature of the experiment, this blog entry will be best viewed on a computer or a tablet.

About the Camera

Released in 2004, the D70 was a direct competitor to Canon’s EOS 300D.  The camera has a 6.1 megapixel sensor (23.7 mm x 15.6 mm), an ISO range of 200-1600, can fire up to three frames per second, and uses CompactFlash as the storage medium.  As the first consumer-level DSLR released by Nikon, it debuted with a price point of $999 USD.  These days, they can be found online for various prices ranging from $70 to $500, all used of course.

I could tell, when I saw the camera, that it hasn’t been cared for in a while, and needed some love.  It had been floating in a plastic tote filled with other random camera gear, and was not in a protective bag.  It was dirty, and the rubber grips were quite sticky.  There was only one lens for it, and it was not the kit lens.  I think the previous owner bought only the body, and made a separate purchase of the lens.  The lens that came with it is a Sigma 28-300mm, that had a couple nasty scratches in the glass.

To care for the camera, I took to the body with a paper towel lightly saturated in Windex.  This allowed me to remove most of the dirt and dust.  The camera was about fourteen years old, and the rubber grips started to return to their liquid state, this left them extremely sticky.  I used a lint free cloth and isopropyl alcohol to clean them up.

I was concerned with the scratches on the lens.  One of the scratches (number one) actually shows up in the viewfinder.  The second scratch, though deeper, actually sits outside of the field of view.

Though this camera is not likely to become my workhorse camera, it still deserves some love and attention.  I have made investments in the form of a new battery, LensPen, and a Nikon brand bag to store it in.  I want the previous owners to know that this camera will be cared for.

The Setup

To conduct my experiment, I needed to pit this Nikon against a more modern camera.  I decided a fitting choice would be the Canon 70D.  That’s right, its the Nikon D70 vs the Canon 70D!  Now, I do realize that the Canon is a better camera by far, however, I should be able to create a controlled medium between the two formats.

The conditions for the experiment will need to be set around the Nikon’s functionality.  In order to pull this off, I’m going to need to capture the same image with both cameras.  I will need to use the same aperture, ISO, and exposure time.  I will also need to use similar lenses, and try to get the same focal length.  A tripod will be used.

Since the lowest ISO setting on the Nikon camera is 200, I will need to match that on the Canon.  The aperture will be set at 6.3 on both, and shutter speed set at 1/1000.  Since the only lens that I have for the D70 is a 28-300mm, the Canon camera will be using 70-300mm USM glass.

These settings were selected and based on the amount of light and what will be needed to get a good exposure.  Please leave a comment if you have any input regarding this process.

The Results

I chose to shoot a single photo that could capture focus, depth, color, and a little bit of shadow, all with natural sun light.  The next few pics in this blog are the two images shot with the cameras.  I hope you, the reader, are as surprised at the results as I am.  Clicking on the image will open the original photos, which will be quite large.  Want everyone to see the originals that I captured to get the most out of this experiment.  Later in the article, I will include a download button so readers can view the original RAW photos if they want to do their own comparisons.

The first image below shows the two pictures side by side and in their original size.  The Canon 70D with the 20 megapixels on the left, and the Nikon D70 with 6 megapixels on the right.

Megepixels can make a difference in image size.

Image on the left is shot with the Canon 70D. Image on the right with the Nikon D70. Click to enlarge.

It is entirely expected that a camera with 6 MP will shoot a smaller picture than a camera with 20 MP.  We know this, but we want to find out how important those megapixels are.  If you had the pictures separated, unlike the image above, and you opened them individually, you wouldn’t be able to see that they are two different sizes.  It isn’t until you set them next to each other in Photoshop, that you can see the difference in size.  What we need to do next, is scale the smaller picture up.

The 6 MP image (right) resized to match the 20 MP image.

The Nikon (right) image has been resized to match the same dimensions as the Canon (left) image. Click to enlarge.

Now we have the two pictures side by side, and the same size.  Even in this condition, the Nikon image still looks really good.  We can also get a glance at the bokeh of the image (leaves of the tree in the background), and the detail in both pictures.  The Nikon picture maintains a lot of detail even after being enlarged!  We’re going to need to zoom in on both pictures.

The right image is still enlarged, and both are zoomed in.

Zoomed in on the same images. The right one still enlarged. It’s easier to see the differences. Click to enlarge.

Above, the Nikon picture is still enlarged, and the two images are zoomed in.  This is when we finally start to see a difference.  The most noticeable difference seems to be with some anti-aliasing around the edges.  We can see this in the edges of the underside shadow, and the outer edge of the right talon.

The Conclusion

After setting up this experiment for my personal research, I have come to realize that the amount of megapixels doesn’t really matter.  You can still get a great picture on a camera that only has 6 megapixels.  I’m sure I could have done some light reading in a Google search to come up with the same answer, but the journey was about the experiment and research.  Sometimes it’s fun to have a project to spend a little time on.

Please leave a comment below, I would like to know if anyone else is surprised by these results or if they expected the same outcome.  I will be including a download button at the bottom of the article if anyone would like to examine the RAW images.  Thank you for reading.


For additional pictures that I took with this camera, visit The Nikon D70.


Click below for a download of the RAW images.



  8 comments for “How Important are Megapixels?

  1. Anonymous
    October 10, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    Nice experiment. I am quite surprised by the results. 🙂

    • October 10, 2018 at 11:36 pm

      Thanks, this is something that I am definitely glad I did.

  2. Jay
    October 10, 2018 at 11:22 pm

    I demand more pictures from this experiment! DEMAND!

    • October 10, 2018 at 11:31 pm

      I got more pictures in the chamber. I do plan to shoot with this camera more often.

  3. Anonymous
    October 14, 2018 at 11:57 am

    That’s pretty cool man. Good info.

  4. December 13, 2019 at 9:16 am

    It doesn’t surprise me at all. The average computer screen can only display 1 MP anyway, so the huge capacity of sensors is lost unless you are doing digital zooming or making very large prints, etc.
    I suspect the Nikon has a CCD sensor whereas the Canon has a CMOS one perhaps? I think the Nikon images look better, with more tonal gradient than the Canon. I’ve done similar experiments with much the same results.

    • December 14, 2019 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Always good to get feedback.

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