Part I: Get the Best Images that Your Digital Camera Can Produce

Use the Best JPEG Options for Optimal Quality

by Peter K. Burian

PowWow Competition - Brothers
PowWow Competition - Brothers
© Peter K. Burian
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Typical JPEG Options

The available JPEG settings can vary from camera to camera, even within a single brand. A few digicams keep the process simple, providing only three options: Best, Better, and Normal. But most other digicams list many choices, in two distinct categories: Quality and File Size. Here are the options provided by one popular 4 megapixel digicam:

Quality: Superfine, Fine and Normal.

The term quality actually relates to compression. A Normal quality image is extensively compressed so the file size will be very small. To achieve that goal, in-camera processor discards numerous pixels: a major loss of image data. Later, when you open the JPEG in a computer, pixels are added but this process cannot restore lost image quality.

Size: Large, 2272x1704 pixels; Medium 1, 1600x1200 pixels; Medium 2, 1024x768 pixels; Small, 640x480 pixels.

The more pixels in a JPEG image file, the more data that is stored. Your Large/Super Fine images will allow you to make 8.5x11-inch prints with great clarity and definition of intricate details. A Medium size JPEG is fine for 5x7" prints, although the quality may not be excellent. A Small image file is useful only for Internet or e-mail use.

Note: Each camera manufacturer uses its own terminology for image quality and file sizes. Read your instruction manual closely to determine what specific options your digicam provides.

Factory-Set Default: Our "typical" 4 megapixel camera was pre-set to produce only a Fine quality JPEG with only 1600x1200 pixels (Medium 1 size). That combination provides 2 megapixel resolution with acceptable quality. It will not provide the best quality 4 megapixel resolution that you paid for.

A JPEG image made at the default settings should make for a very good 4x6” print and an acceptable 5x7” print. But it will not allow you to make a richly detailed 8.5x11” print of superb photographic quality.

Why is the default Size/Quality Low? Because the camera is packaged with a low capacity (16 megabyte) memory card. It would hold only a few images at the (superior) Large/Super Fine JPEG levels. That makes sense, but the manufacturer also assumes that you will buy a high capacity memory card in future. And that you will then change the Size and Quality settings to higher levels for better results.


Printer 8.5x11
Printer 8.5x11
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

Recommendations

1) Buy a high capacity 256MB memory card that will hold many photos. (Shop around and you’ll find such cards for under $35.) Then, you won’t need to use the low Size/Quality recording options.

2) Access your digicam’s Menu and change the settings to the best Quality and largest Size levels.

3) Regardless of the card capacity, review your images frequently, using the camera’s Playback option. That function is usually denoted with a [>] icon on a button on the camera back. Delete any photos that are obviously unsuccessful to make space for new, better pictures.

4) If you shoot numerous images on a trip, the 256MB memory card will soon fill up. That’s why it’s wise to carry several cards.

If all of your cards are almost full, try this. Shoot Large JPEGs, but select a slightly lower Quality level: Normal, for example. The JPEG image will be extensively compressed but the high pixel count should still assure excellent quality in a 5x7-inch print.

Hint: After transferring the JPEG’s from the camera to a computer, convert them to TIFF format. Your image editing software allows you to do so, with a SAVE or SAVE as function. A TIFF file will maintain optimal quality even after extensive image enhancement. You can then delete the original JPEG image files and work with the TIFF files.


Memory Cards
Memory Cards
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved
5) For Internet use, you’ll need much smaller image files, in JPEG. Open a TIFF image and re-size it to a smaller size with image editing software. That feature is often accessed with FILE … SIZE or RE-SIZE. A suitable size is 640 pixels x 480 pixels, or something similar, at 72 dpi.

Hint: To avoid confusion with the large TIFF file, re-name the small JPEG file. If the large image file was called Mary_Party.tif, re-name the new small file Mary_Party_Small.jpg.

The Bottom Line

Take advantage of the maximum quality that you paid for when buying a digicam. When you need pics for Internet use - for a BetterPhoto Gallery or email, for example - downsize a large file and select the 72dpi option.

When making prints, use the large TIFF file, re-sized (in image editing software) to the print dimensions at 300dpi for small prints, and 240dpi for large prints.

Avoid using the camera’s default settings for JPEGs, and you should be happier with the superior image quality in your photo prints.



Article by Peter K. Burian. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.