Why Trail Camera Megapixels Are Not that Important

It is all the craze. Over the past decade the trail camera industry has watched as cameras have gone from 6 megapixels all the way up to 30 megapixels. As a consumer its easy to see that the more megapixels a trail camera has the better the photo quality is right? Not quite.

Trail camera megapixels, that are promoted by the manufacturer are actually the megapixels that an image has after interpolation. The true megapixels that an image has is dependent on the image sensor. Understanding the basics of megapixels, the difference between image sensor and the interpolated pictures, and what makes up a quality trail camera can save you a lot of time, money and frustration.

What are Megapixels on a Trail Camera?

To understand the basics of megapixels in a trail camera, first we must explore exactly what is a megapixel.

The term mega is a prefix that means 1 million. Pixels are simply tiny squares that are put together like a jigsaw puzzle to create a picture. So having a 1 megapixel image would mean that the photo would be comprised of 1 million tiny squares per inch of picture. A 12 megapixel image would have 12 million pixels per square inch, and so on.

The general idea is that the more pixels an image has the better quality the image would be. There would be more detail in the image and would be less grainy when zooming in on a particular area.

What is an Image Sensor on a Trail Camera?

In the photography world DSLR cameras are king (but you can see this on your cellphone camera as well). World class photographers are able to use these cameras to shoot stunning intricate detailed photos in most cases with less than 20 megapixels. So, why is the quality between a trail camera and a DSLR so drastically different? The main reason is what is known as the image sensor.

Image sensors are sensors on the back end of a camera that detects and conveys the information that makeup an image. The image sensor is the technological version of the old style film, and works in a similar fashion.

In a DSLR camera the image sensors are much larger and are true 20 megapixel image sensors, allowing you to zoom in extremely tight, without the image becoming distorted.

Due to the expensive nature of image sensors, most trail camera manufacturers use between a 1.6 and 3.1 megapixel sensor, and use a process called interpolation to make up for the remaining megapixels, giving the appearance of a high resolution photo.

What is Interpolation on a Trail Camera?

Despite what the manufacturer advertises on the box, trail cameras are only acquiring 3.1 megapixels (the very best have a 5.0) of information on their image sensor. In order for the manufacturer to fulfill its advertising promise, they use a software inside the camera that is called interpolation.

Interpolation simply in the software on the trail camera that clones, or duplicates existing pixels.  This process is used to give the appearance of a better quality photo without increasing the native resolution of the photo.

Using the example of a DSLR camera, which creates 20 million unique pixels per square inch, the average trail camera will produce only 3.1 million unique pixels, and through interpolation will duplicate each pixel roughly 6.5 times to acquire the advertised 20 megapixels.

How Megapixels Affect Night Time Photos?

There are a number of different variables that compose of a night time picture, but the most common to date is the use of Infrared (IR) flash. All IR cameras take night time photos in black and white, which means when you receive interpolated photos, the pixels that are being duplicated are only in black and white as well. This creates very little contrast between the intricate details, resulting in frequently blurry photos.

Most cameras have the ability to change the resolution quantity of the megapixels. If you are receiving mostly night time photos, you could turn down the resolution to as close to the image sensor size as possible. This will minimize the amount of interpolation that occurs, but will give you very low pixels per picture.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is a specification that is not often talked about in trail cameras, despite having a drastic affect on the quality of an image. Shutter speeds are the amount of time the shutter to the camera is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. The longer the shutter speed, the more light that is being exposed. This has a big affect on moving objects. The slower the shutter speed the better chance of motion blur. The faster the shutter speed the less amount of light is exposed, allowing the image to capture the movement in almost a freeze Since the fast shutter speed will allow less light in, the image will often appear darker creating some limitations to night photographs.


Any professional photographer will tell you that you can have the best camera on the market, but if your lenses are poor quality, you will get poor quality photographs. Every lens consists of a number of glass lenses called elements. Using multiple elements is based on the idea that it will reduce any defects in a single lens that would prevent light rays from focusing at a single point, that would result in a distorted or blurred image.

Megapixels, image sensors, shutter speed, nor night flash can compensate for a poor lens. Manufactures tend to hold what lens they use tight to their chest, and lets face it, the lens on a trail camera is not going to be the same quality lenses used by professional photographers.

Why Megapixels on a Trail Camera Does Not  Matter

Simply put, the amount of megapixels that manufacturers promote, alone mean very little to the quality of imagery the camera will produce. The size and quality of the trail camera’s image sensor is the best indication of quality photos.

Megapixels are a very effective marketing strategy, and as a consumer the only way to know for sure the quality of pictures that a camera takes is to do your research. Check out the company’s website, look at forum discussions, and check social media platforms that provide trail camera pictures. Real examples of pictures will give you the best understanding of quality, not the megapixels.

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