How Do I Determine the Best Camera Settings?

Digital Camera FAQ: Questions on Working With Images

best camera settings
With an advanced camera such as the Fujifilm X-A2, you'll be able to fully control the camera's settings. Courtesy of Amazon.com
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Q: How do I determine the best camera settings?

When it comes to figuring out which are the best camera settings to use, as a photographer you need to take into account quite a few different aspects of the scene you want to record. Although nearly every modern digital camera allows you to make some changes to the settings, including even the most simple point-and-shoot digital camera, selecting the correct settings does take a little knowledge and practice.

To start using the camera settings in a simple manner, you can set aspects of the image such as resolution, image formatting, and image quality. Resolution refers to the number of pixels in the image, and larger resolution images will look better when printed or displayed at large sizes. Quality involves the amount of compression used on the photo, where settings such as Fine and Super Fine provide the highest image quality. And image formatting allows you to select between JPEG and RAW, where RAW images have no compression applied to them. (Not all cameras can record in RAW.)

Once you've mastered the basics, you may be ready to change some more advanced settings in the camera, including the shooting mode or settings such as ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Inexperienced photographers will nearly always choose to allow the camera to automatically create those settings, simplifying the process of using the camera.

But to gain the most control over the final image, you may want to learn about how to use the best settings for these advanced categories too.

Let's break all of these settings down into a little more detail.

Resolution

Resolution is the setting most photographers start with when attempting to choose the best settings for the camera.

 

Most digital cameras give you the option of shooting at best/high, normal, and Web/computer quality, although some cameras have more options. You can change the quality settings through the camera's menu. You also usually can select from a variety of resolution amounts through the camera menu. Photos with higher resolution will have more pixels and should be of higher quality.

Images with more compression and fewer pixels will have less overall image quality, requiring less storage space. Images with less compression and more pixels will have more image quality, but they will require more storage space. Because memory is so inexpensive these days, you'll rarely want to shoot at settings that results in low image quality. Once a photo is shot, you can't go back and add pixels, after all. Images that you plan to print should be of a high image quality with the highest image resolution you're camera allows.

However, the one time you may want to consider shooting at a lower resolution is when you know you'll only be sharing the photos on social media. To cut down on the time required for uploading the images to the social media site, a lower resolution photo is a better option.

To learn more about how resolutions relate to the sizes of prints you can make, see the "What camera resolution do I need" chart.

Advanced Settings

To change settings such as shutter speed, ISO, and aperture, you'll need to have an advanced camera that can shoot in Manual mode. Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes give you the option of changing some of these settings too.

ISO, shutter speed, and aperture settings work in tandem to determine the exposure level for the photograph, which plays a key role in overall image quality. Using a higher ISO setting allows you to shoot at a faster shutter speed, for example. These advanced settings require some practice on your part to use well, but you'll appreciate the great quality you'll end up creating in your photos!

Find more answers to common camera questions on the camera FAQ page.