We have all heard photographers complain about the camera manufacturers adding more and more megapixels on tinier and tinier sensors. We've all complained about it, too. I'd include myself in that group of complainers, but today I'd like to make the case for more megapixels.
There are only two reasons not to have more megapixels: First, it fills up our hard drives faster. In my opinion, that's ridiculous. Hard drives get cheaper and cheaper every year for larger and larger hard drives. I don't mind that. Second, more megapixels equals more noise if all else is equal. This is the biggie. Without a question, I'd rather have better low-light capabilities than megapixels. In fact, I take this so seriously that I switched from Canon to Nikon last year just to get better low-light performance. Low light performance matters immensely.
However, I merely want to point out that megapixels can be incredibly convenient… and a lifesaver when you're in a pinch. Telephoto lenses are enormously expensive. A good wildlife or sports lens generally costs more than $5,000. That means that only professional photographers, lawyers, and doctors are able to get the truly perfect images of wildlife and sports without the incredible luck of getting close to the animals and athletes. With more megapixels, other photographers who just dabble in these types of photography or who don't have enough money can play on an equal playing field with the pros and the wealthy.
I'll highlight this fact with a near-disaster that happened to me recently. I decided to shoot burrowing owls in Cape Coral, Florida. I didn't have a great wildlife lens with me, but I thought it would be fun to stop by and do some shooting.
Unfortunately, I couldn't approach closer than 15 – 20 feet without making the bird feel uncomfortable and my 70-200 wasn't nearly long enough to shoot the birds. Fortunately, my camera had plenty of megapixels and I was able to crop and get a good shot of the beautiful burrowing owls. The result of the shoot is the image featured on this page.
Again, don't get me wrong. I'll take ISO over megapixels any day of the week, but I'm just saying that there are also some handy benefits to megapixels that often get over-looked when photographers debate this topic.