If you are like me and don't know the first thing about cameras then you are probably falling for the same marketing scheme. Well not scheme really but, well I used to fall for it too. Megapixels.
When I was in college, I had a computer hardware engineering class and the instructor was very annoying about the things he believed in. He talked about how most CMOS image sensors were crap and that's why you can buy a 16 megapixel camera and still have poor quality images.
The number of pixels your camera supports is irrelevant.
I bought a 16 megapixel camera for under a hundred dollars recently and I couldn't wait for it to arrive. When I got it, I took a few sample pictures of the surrounding and I instantly noticed the poor quality. The worst was taking pictures in low light. Not even night time, just indoors without flash. It was horrible. How can cameras with so much pixels be very bad?
I am not an experts in photography and I knows as much as the next person can google. But I can tell when an image produced by a camera is bad. Cameras that blur with the slightest vibration, very high chromatic aberration, or can't focus when you need them to.
We like looking at numbers. The higher the number the better. The iPhone 5 is certainly better then the iPhone 4. Web 2.0 is better than 1.0. Same for Internet Explorer 9 vs Internet Explorer 8. So obviously a 12 megapixel camera should be better than an 8 megapixel one. But it depends.
When shopping for a camera, the clueless customer can by no means understand the very long list of features each camera comes with. You grab a $500 dollars camera, and a $99 one and they are just as confusing. If you ask a sales person you will only end up saying "OK thank you" without understanding a thing he talked about.
The other thing you will probably do is research online. The one problem with this is, the web will overwhelm you with information. You will read about aperture, ISO, depth of field, shutter speed, all types of zoom lenses, and the funny thing is that you will have a bigger yet useless vocabulary.
It takes a while to understand those things. You will need to be shown in person or even take a class to really get a good grip.
But, there is something that we can all agree that is easier to understand. And that is the Megapixels.
The first selling point of any camera is this Mega number. The greater it is, the better it is supposed to be. That's why when I read about the Nokia Lumia 1020's 41 Megapixels, my jaw dropped to the floor. But there is no way a camera with this much pixel density be cheaper than a beginner's DSLR camera. Yet it is. Don't get me wrong, I still believe that the phone has a fantastic camera but the number of pixels is not the most impressive part.
MKBHD review of the 41 Megapixels phone.
A cheap camera with 16 megapixels will take very poor quality pictures for many reasons. It will have a very slow processor, meaning it will take time to process each picture you take. It will require very steady hands to take non blurry pictures. The sensor will perform badly when you are not in the perfect lighting conditions. You have very little control over the interface. Your pictures will look nothing like what you expected.
Yes, I complain but I still think we live in privileged times. The poorest quality camera you can buy in the market today will do better than anything you could have purchased less than a decade ago. Note that, never before you could buy such a convenient device for the prices we have today. The simple fact that you don't need a film anymore is on its own a revolution.
So yes, comparing to the past the cameras we have are great. But if we want to step it up a notch and compare apples to apples, the number of megapixels printed on the front of the camera should not be part of the criteria. If you want to get a nice camera, search the web for beginner courses. You will be surprised how much you can learn without moving from this very sit.
There is a whole lot more to learn about photography other then how many megapixels the camera supports. Hey, a good place to start is lynda.com. We owe it to the world to stop posting bad tourist pictures on the web.