How Many Megapixels Do You Need for Sports Photography?

You can easily get away with having a moderate megapixel count in sports photography. The range from around 15-30 megapixels is perfectly fine in this niche unless you plan to make large prints of your pictures.

I’m Caleb, and I’ve been a sports photographer for more than four years. During that time, I’ve shot several sports at multiple levels, ranging from semi-pro to college.

In this article, I’ll talk about megapixels and whether they matter when buying a camera for sports photography. If you’ve ever been confused about just what those numbers mean, keep reading for the full info.

What Are Megapixels Good For?

To put it simply, megapixels measure resolution. The more megapixels a camera’s sensor has, the higher resolution you can expect.

But a higher megapixel count doesn’t necessarily mean a better picture. Truthfully, you don’t need many megapixels to get a good-looking photo for digital platforms.

For example, it only takes roughly 8.3 megapixels to shoot a photo in “4K” quality. And thanks to technological advancements, even low-end cameras now have more megapixels than that.

The Sony a7S II, as one example, has a lower than usual resolution for a high-end camera, and it still has 12.2 megapixels.

Are Megapixels Still Important?

Should you worry about megapixels at all if most cameras these days have enough of them to take good-looking photos?

Well, resolution is still relevant for a couple of reasons. One of these is prints. Basically, prints tend to require high resolutions to look good.

An 11×14 inch print will ideally have a resolution of 13.9 megapixels or higher to look good. One that’s 16×20 inches will require an even higher 28.8 megapixels.

The other main concern is cropping. In sports photography, it’s usually a good idea to crop your pictures. This lets you frame the action better by focusing on the key areas and cutting out clutter.

In fact, most sports photos you see in publications like ESPN or Sports Illustrated are cropped to focus on specific players or moments.

If your photos are shot in a high resolution, you can crop them during editing and still get print-quality results. 

That’s because even the smaller, cropped version of the photo will still have more pixels and a higher resolution than a photo taken on a low-resolution camera.

How Many Megapixels Do You Need for Sports Photography?

The answer to how many megapixels you need depends on your type of photography. If you focus more on making large prints, you should definitely aim for a higher megapixel count, perhaps above 25.

If your photos are mainly for digital use, or if you only make smaller prints, you don’t have to worry much about megapixels. 

However, avoiding going too low in resolution is still a good idea. Even if you’re only using your photos on digital platforms, having a good resolution will help when it comes time to crop.

Anywhere from the 15-30 megapixel range is probably fine. For example, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is one of the best sports photography DSLRs on the market and has an 18.1-megapixel effective resolution.


Here are some other questions about resolution.

How Many Megapixels Do Professional Photographers Use?

There’s no minimum megapixel count for professional photographers. Different photographers use different cameras based on their needs, and not all photographers need high megapixel counts.

How Many Megapixels Is 4K?

4K UHD quality is roughly analogous to 8.3 megapixels. It’s worth noting, however, that things like lens quality and sensor size matter more than resolution when determining quality.


Megapixels aren’t everything, and sports photography doesn’t need high megapixel counts as much as some photography niches. 

However, a good sports photography camera will usually have at least a medium resolution, as this allows you to maintain quality when making prints or cropping your photos.

Do you look for a high megapixel resolution when shopping for a camera? Is print resolution something you’re concerned with at all? Let us know in the comments.

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