Posted on Feb 03, 2017 by Matt Kline
Don't Buy Into The Megapixel Myth
Picture this. You're the head of marketing at a trail camera company. You're trying to figure out a way to get an edge on the competition. You want to gain some market share, get a raise, ect. The problem is, that as a marketing guy, there are only a few perceived ways you can really get a leg up.
You can either:
1. Advertise like crazy. Endorse "celebrities", air commercials, take out ads in magazines, ect. This is fine and plenty of companies go this route, but it obviously doesn't change anything about the product.
2. Add things to your product so you can put a bunch of s--t on your box... In one way or another. Ever walked into a major retail store that sells trail cameras? It's like a battle field. Cameras stacked side by side, each one trying to tell you why it's better. Specifications highlighted to tell you about all the great things it does. The problem is, some of these specs (like megapixels) just literally do not matter.
What Is A Megapixel?
Before we dive into why they don't matter for trail cameras, let's talk about what the heck megapixels are in the first place. A megapixel (following the metric pre-fix system) is simply a million pixels, and a pixel is defined as "a small area of illumination on a display screen, one of many from which an image is composed." but an easy way to look at that is like this:
A pixel is essentially a light collector. They are built into a cameras sensor (a small square that sits behind the cameras lens) and they read the light waves that come through the lens. They read that light data for color and intensity and work collectively to record that data into an image.
Why Don't They Matter?
There are a couple problems with using megapixels to judge trail cam image quality:
1. Interpolation - Every current major trail camera on the market has either a 2, 3.1, or 5 megapixel sensor built in. The problem is, 99% of them advertise a megapixel rating much higher than that. They're able to do this because of a process called interpolation. Basically, interpolation is a software tool that takes an existing photo and duplicates pixels to reach a higher resolution. This is a useless feature and is only used for marketing... It's gotten out of hand.
2. Size Over Quantity - A lot of consumers these days are starting to understand what interpolation is and why it's not important. Most people get that it doesn't matter, but a lot of people still care about the camera's native megapixel count - or the number of pixels actually built into the camera's sensor. In reality though, this doesn't matter either. The amount of pixels built into a sensor is nowhere near as important as the sensor's size.
Imagine that a camera's sensor is a black slab of asphalt like a basketball court on a summer day. Now take a bunch of square solar panels and stack them side by side on the court until it's completely full. You're collecting light. Awesome.
Now what would happen if you made those solar panels half their current size and did the same setup? You'd have twice the amount of panels... but you'd still be collecting the same amount of light. In fact, you'd actually be collecting less light because of the added small edges between panels. There's no advantage here. It's the exact same story when we look at camera sensors and megapixels.
Trail cameras have a fairly small sensor, typically under 1/2.7" or about the size of a tic tac. That's a small basketball court. Trying to fit a million extra pixels on that space is just a waste. The only way to truly get a better quality setup is through enhancing the quality of those pixels with a higher end sensor, or by making the sensor larger. Most companies should be competing on sensor quality or size... But that isn't quite as easy to put on a box!
Did you know that full HD video is only 3.1 megapixels? That's a lot of resolution... More than most of us will ever need in a trail camera. Almost all companies are selling cameras with interpolated MP specs higher than this. In fact, we do it ourselves simply because a lot of consumers believe that this is a really important category. The problem though is that the market has gotten out of hand. Every year we see the numbers go higher, even all the way to 30 megapixels now in 2017.
We really believe it's time for trail camera companies to focus on other areas to make their photo quality truly better - like sensor size and lens quality, and having an educated market will go a long way!