Glossary definition of megapixel

A megapixel (MP) is 1 million pixels, and is a term used not only for the number of pixels in an image, but also to express the number of image sensor elements of digital cameras or the number of display elements of digital displays. For example, a camera with an array of 2048×1536 sensor elements is commonly said to have "3.1 megapixels" (2048 × 1536 = 3,145,728). The neologism sensel is sometimes used to describe the elements of a digital camera's sensor, since these are picture-detecting rather than picture-producing elements.

Digital cameras use photosensitive electronics, either charge-coupled device (CCD) or complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors, consisting of a large number of single sensor elements, each of which records a measured intensity level. In most digital cameras, the sensor array is covered with a patterned color filter mosaic having red, green, and blue regions in the Bayer filter arrangement, so that each sensor element can record the intensity of a single primary color of light. The camera interpolates the color information of neighboring sensor elements, through a process called demosaicing, to create the final image. These sensor elements are often called "pixels", even though they only record 1 channel (only red, or green, or blue) of the final color image. Thus, two of the three color channels for each sensor must be interpolated and a so-called N-megapixel camera that produces an N-megapixel image provides only one-third of the information that an image of the same size could get from a scanner. Thus, certain color contrasts may look fuzzier than others, depending on the allocation of the primary colors (green has twice as many elements as red or blue in the Bayer arrangement).

In contrast to conventional image sensors, the Foveon X3 sensor uses three layers of sensor elements, so that it detects red, green, and blue intensity at each array location. This structure eliminates the need for de-mosaicing and eliminates the associated image artifacts, such as color blurring around sharp edges. Citing the precedent established by mosaic sensors, Foveon counts each single-color sensor element as a pixel, even though the native output file size has only one pixel per three camera pixels. With this method of counting, an N-megapixel Foveon X3 sensor therefore captures the same amount of information as an N-megapixel Bayer-mosaic sensor, though it packs the information into fewer image pixels, without any interpolation.

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