Small Photo Camera Image Quality Settings

Find the best settings for each photography situation

When adjusting your camera's settings to achieve the best possible images, one thing you might overlook is setting the image quality and image size to the best possible levels. Most of the time, shooting at a maximum resolution is the best option, but sometimes, a small photo camera file size is best for a particular shooting situation. 

Happy friends posing in city seen on SLR camera screen
Katja Kircher/Getty Images

Determining the best settings isn't always easy. For example, if your memory card is starting to fill up, you may want to shoot at small image sizes or quality to save as much storage space as possible. If you know you're only going to use a particular set of photos in an e-mail or on a social network, you can shoot at a lower resolution and a lower image quality so the photos don't take as long to upload.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind to find the right settings for your photography needs in a particular shooting situation.

Each Megapixel Isn't Created Equal

DSLR cameras and advanced fixed lens cameras typically use a much larger image sensor than point-and-shoot cameras have, which allows them to create a much better image quality while using the same number of megapixels. So, setting a DSLR camera to shoot a 10-megapixel image should create a much better result than setting the point-and-shoot camera to shoot a 10-megapixel image.

Use the Info Button to Your Advantage

To see the current image quality settings for your camera, press the Info button. You should see the current settings on the LCD. If your camera has no Info button, you might need to work through its menus instead to find the image quality settings. More often with newer cameras, though, you'll find the number of megapixels displayed in the corner of the LCD screen.

Consider RAW Image Quality Files

Most DSLR cameras can shoot in either RAW or JPEG file types. For those who like to edit their photos, RAW file format is preferred because no compression occurs. However, it's important to remember that RAW files occupy quite a bit more storage space than JPEG files. Also, some types of software cannot display RAW files as readily as JPEG files.

Use Both RAW and JPEG Together

With many DSLR cameras, you can save photos in both JPEG and RAW file formats at the same time, which can be handy for making sure you end up with the best possible image. Again, this uses a lot of extra storage space for a single photo than shooting in JPEG only, so make sure you have plenty of room. For beginning photographers, shooting in RAW is probably not necessary, as only photographers who plan to use image-editing software on their photos need to bother with shooting in RAW format.

JPEG Compression Ratios Matter

With JPEGs, you sometimes have a choice between two or three options. JPEG Fine indicates a 4:1 compression ratio; JPEG Normal uses an 8:1 compression ratio; and JPEG Basic uses a 16:1 compression ratio. A lower compression ratio means a larger file size and better quality.

Understand the Difference Between Quality and Size

Keep in mind that image size is different from image quality in the camera’s settings. Image size refers to the actual number of pixels the camera saves with each photo, while image quality refers to just how precise or what size those pixels are. Image quality often can be "normal," "fine," or "superfine," and these settings refer to the preciseness of the pixels. Selecting more precise pixels results in a better overall image, but they require more storage space on a memory card, resulting in larger file sizes.

Picking Large, Medium, or Small

Some beginner-level cameras don't show you the exact number of megapixels in the resolution of each photo, instead calling the photos "large," "medium," and "small," which can be frustrating. Selecting "large" as the image size might result in a photo with 12 to 14 megapixels, while selecting "small" as the image size might result in 3 to 5 megapixels. Some beginner-level cameras only list the number of megapixels as part of the image size menu.

Control Video File Sizes Too

It's also worth remembering that many of these same guidelines apply when shooting video. You can adjust these settings through the camera's menus, allowing you to shoot at just the right video quality to meet your needs.

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