The aim of this study was to demonstrate the ability of conventional radiography to detect bone erosions of different sizes in metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as the standard reference. A 0.2 T Esaote dedicated extremity MRI unit was used to obtain axial and coronal T1-weighted gradient echo images of the dominant 2nd to 5th MCP joints of 69 RA patients. MR images were obtained and evaluated for bone erosions according to the OMERACT recommendations. Conventional radiographs of the 2nd to 5th MCP joints were obtained in posterior-anterior projection and evaluated for bone erosions. The MRI and radiography readers were blinded to each other's assessments. Grade 1 MRI erosions (1% to 10% of bone volume eroded) were detected by radiography in 20%, 4%, 7% and 13% in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th MCP joint, respectively. Corresponding results for grade 2 erosions (11% to 20% of bone volume eroded) were 42%, 10%, 60% and 24%, and for grade 3 erosions (21% to 30% of bone volume eroded) 75%, 67%, 75% and 100%. All grade 4 (and above) erosions were detected on radiographs. Conventional radiography required a MRI-estimated bone erosion volume of 20% to 30% to allow a certain detection, indicating that MRI is a better method for detection and grading of minor erosive changes in RA MCP joints.