While we can probably agree that the number of megapixels a camera has often been the reason people bought cameras in the past. But this is changing. The reason? Camera sensor sizes.
Although the pixel range does impact photo quality, there is a limit, which is set by the camera sensor.
What exactly does the sensor do?
The sensor’s job is to get as much light into the camera as possible. This highly impacts image quality and you can often get a better picture out of a camera with less megapixels, but a larger sensor. A good example for this are the small travel cameras, often declared with 16MP. If you compare them with a camera that has a large camera sensor, such as a DSLR with 12MP, you can be sure that the DSLR will deliver much better photo quality. Light matters!
At the moment, cameras solve some of this light issues with crop factor, meaning that a camera crops what it records to improve quality. The center of the image is the best lit, so this does make sense.
Camera sensors are made small or compact cameras due to the cost requirements. A larger sensor dramatically increases the cost of the camera, requiring not only a larger area for capturing light, but a larger lens as well!
A larger sensor is more expensive, requires additional, expensive equipment. But is it worth it?
Well, depends on your skill level and requirements. Once you are able to leverage the equipment you have available, you can move to more advanced stuff and make it work for you. So understanding the basic photography concepts will help, as well as having a lot of practice. At that point you will feel when you “need” to transition to a larger, more expensive camera.