Pixel Dumping

Why most pixels are thrown away

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The Megapixel Myth


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While camera makers like to keep hobbyists terrified that they don't have enough pixels, very few people realize that most of the pixels for which we pay are simply thrown away!

Even a 30" Apple Cinema Display has barely four megapixels, and projectors have much less than that.

The Cinema Displays aren't available anymore; the current 27" Thunderbolt display has less than 3.7 megapixels — less than a digital camera had over ten years ago!

No matter how many megapixels you have, most of them are simply thrown away since you're limited to the screen's resolution.

A laptop typically has only a one megapixel display, so there's no way it can display more pixels than it has.

Operating systems of computers, tablets and phones simply throw away the extra pixels. They can only show as many pixels as they have on their screens.

If you're a mathematician, of course you realize that there are various clever ways, like bilinear interpolation or bicubic convolution, to reduce the pixel count, but they're still doing the same thing. The technical name for simply throwing away extra pixels is called nearest-neighbor resampling, while bilinear interpolation and bicubic convolution do the same thing, but more smoothly and elegantly.

What this all means is that we never can see all the pixels we have at one time. Yes, we can zoom-in at 100% or more to see all of them in a small region, but we can't see more than our display or projector supports at one time. If we zoom-in, we only see a fraction of the image.

If you print big, you might be able to see them. A typical photo print engine runs at about 300 DPI and actually resolves about 150 DPI on paper.

If you have a 50 MP (9,000 x 5,555 pixel image) and print it at 60 x 40 inches, you'll get all 50 MP. 40x60 is over 3 x 5 feet or 1 x 1.5 meters; when was the last time you printed anywhere near that size?

The only high resolution displays today are Apple's Retina displays.

If you do photography on your computer, you need a 5k iMac, which actually can display 15 megapixels.

Unless you have a 5k iMac, every other display has only a few megapixels at best.

This has been going on since the 1990s or before, and do know that you'll probably never see all the pixels you have — so don't worry about pixel counts.

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12 October 2015