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« Setting up your camera Part III | Main | Setting up your camera to get the best photographs Part I »

Setting up your camera Part II

In our last installment, the importance of correctly setting up a digital camera menu to get the best image were discussed.  Now it's time to go into specifics.

The menus of most cameras are generally organized into a number of tabs, within which there are individual items to evaluate.  The first setting to look at is file size.  Some cameras may say "Recorded Pixels," others may say "Quality".  A good rule of thumb is to always go with the largest file the camera is capable of.  The reason is that the larger the file size, the better the quality of the image, and the larger you can print a photograph without losing detail.  The caveat here is that if you are only sending emails to friends, smaller file sizes are perfectly fine.  But if you think you are going to make a print at some point, go with the larger file, and resize the image later in an editing program to a smaller size more appropriate for email.


All cameras are able to capture pictures in the Jpeg format.  All DSLR's and some point and shoots can also capture pictures in RAW format.  The difference is important.  Jpeg is a compression style of format.  What that means is that the sensor looks for values that are similar and compresses them into a smaller file.  That's great to make things easier to store or email, but detail is lost in this process (you can select the quality of the compression in a separate setting).  Also, jpgs only have whatever information is in the file.  If highlights go pure white, or shadows go pure black, you cannot recover any detail from these areas.


RAW, on the other hand, is like a film negative in that it has more latitude in the highlight and shadows.  Detail in these areas can often be brought back, a real bonus when working in contrasty light like we have here in Colorado.  Further, RAW is an uncompressed format, so it has more detail than a jpg.  The downside is that the files are significantly larger so you will bigger memory cards when shooting, experience slower transfer speeds both in the camera and to a computer, and you will need more storage space for the files you generate.  However, with the cost of memory and storage coming down so quickly, these concerns are much less of an issue than in the early days of digital photography.


In the next installment, White Balance will be discussed.

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