Photo Image Quality Settings

Find the Best Settings for Each Photography Situation

The LCD screen of the Nikon D5300 allows you to set image quality through the box in the lower left corner (marked with FINE) and image resolution in the box to the right (marked with L). Kyle Schurman

When it comes to adjusting the settings for your camera to achieve the best possible images, one aspect that many photographers forget about is setting the image quality and image size to the best possible levels.

This isn't always as easy as just using the maximum settings for image quality and image size. There are particular instances where coming up with the right combination of image quality and image size settings requires a bit more consideration than just going with the top settings.

For example, if your memory card is starting to fill up, you may want to shoot at lesser image sizes or quality to save as much storage space as possible. Or, if you know you're only going to use a particular set of photos in 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.

Use these tips to help you find the right settings for your varying photography needs.


  • One confusing area for photographers migrating from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR is in trying to only use megapixels to measure image quality. DSLR cameras and advanced fixed lens cameras typically use a much larger image sensor than point and shoot cameras, 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.


  • To see the current image quality settings with your camera, press the Info button on your camera, and you should see the current settings on the LCD. Because Info buttons are typically limited to DSLR cameras, if your camera has no Info button, you might need to work through the camera’s menus instead to find the image quality settings. More often with newer cameras, though, you'll find the number of megapixels at which you're currently shooting will be displayed in the corner of the LCD screen.


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


  • With the JPEG file types, you sometimes have a choice between two or three JPEG 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.


  • 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, however, this will cause you to need a lot of extra storage space for a single photo than shooting in JPEG only.


  • 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. More precise pixels will result in a better overall image, but they'll also require more storage space on a memory card, resulting in larger file sizes.


  • 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." Selecting large as the image size might result in a photo with 12-14 megapixels, while selecting small as the image size might result in 3-5 megapixels. Some beginner-level cameras only list the number of megapixels as part of the image size menu.
  • It's also worth remembering that when shooting video, many of these same guidelines apply in terms of video resolution and video quality. 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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