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Basic Digital Camera Shooting Techniques IV

Camera Settings That Seriously Impact Quality

by Robin Nichols

Digital Noise
Digital Noise
© Robin Nichols
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Film Sensitivity - ISO Settings

Generally, keep to a low ISO setting where possible. Though 400 ISO is "sort of" more sensitive to light, it can also produce spotty-looking or "noisy" pictures (a phenomenon called, funnily enough, "digital noise").

I always ask students to use the high ISO settings in emergency only! If it's a point-and-shoot camera, you can have a range of ISO settings from 100 to 400. If it's a DSLR, this range is pushed up to 1600, and beyond.

In poor light, set the camera to 200 ISO (for the former category) and 400 ISO for the latter category, to keep the picture quality 'clean' and relatively free of digital noise.

If it's left to Auto ISO, when the light level drops off, the camera will automatically set itself to the fastest ISO setting, producing spotty, noisy results.

In emergency, this is OK, but avoid it if you can.



Pixel Count
Pixel Count
© Robin Nichols
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Image quality - Setting Resolution

I advise using all the resolution (pixels) available in your camera! No point in spending all that cash and NOT using what you paid for!

You can always reduce the size (resolution) of any picture later, at no loss of quality, but it's nigh-on impossible to increase a picture's resolution once it's shot.

If you run out of space on your memory card, either download the images to the PC or buy a larger capacity picture card. Resolution is expressed in numbers of pixels so, the larger the number, the higher the resolution.

Some cameras make more sense simply by having '1M', '2M', '3M', '4M', '5M', and '6M' as a description of one-megapixel resolution, two-megapixels, and so on.

Other models might have labels such as 'L' (large), 'M' (medium), and 'S' for small (check the manual for your camera).


Too Much Compression
Too Much Compression
© Robin Nichols
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High JPEG Compression = Poor Quality

When shooting JPEG files, always choose the least amount of file compression. We no longer need to squash files to get them onto a small-capacity card because large-capacity cards are now quite cheap!

So there's no excuse for not having enough space on your cards!


Least Compression
Least Compression
© Robin Nichols
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Low JPEG Compression = Good Quality

Here's an example of the same image compressed at the best quality setting. To complicate things, you can also set the compression again or reset the compression in photo-editing software. Photoshop for example has 12 levels of compression.

If you have shot your pics at a high compression, producing a poor, squashed quality, you cannot repair the damage by resaving in a better quality once in Photoshop.

However, doing this stops the JPEG compression damage from getting worse ...


Canon Resolution
Canon Resolution
© Robin Nichols
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Quality Settings

Typically, compression levels might be denoted as ***, ** and *, where three stars are the best quality (least squashing) settings.

Other cameras use different symbols: Kodak uses 'Good', 'Better' and 'Best'; Olympus has 'SHQ', 'HQ' and 'SQ'; Nikon has 'Fine', 'Normal' and 'Basic', while Canon uses a quadrant symbol to denote its compression levels.

Always choose the best quality settings. Never compromise on quality because you'll likely regret it later.

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


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