Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Digital Photography - File Size Matters

Digital Photography: File Size Matters

Are you just starting out using a digital camera? Did you just get your first digital camera over the holidays? Are you unsure of how to take the best photographs with it? Here's one tip that may help end up with better results - set the file size setting on your camera to the largest file size possible.

With most digital cameras, you have a choice of what size files you want to save your images as. The larger the files - the fewer files you can fit on your storage media (compact flash, smart media, etc). So the temptation is to set you files as small as possible, so you can fit more images on your camera before you download. For example, on my Nikon Coolpix 775 (set on minimal compression) with a 128 MB compact flash - I can fit 780 of the smallest file size on the card, 318 of the medium size and only 133 of the largest size. The largest images on my Coolpix are 1600 X 1200 pixels - or a 650-700 KB JPEG file. The smallest images are 640 X 480 pixels - or about 130 KB JPEG file.

The reason you want larger files is that it gives you more options down the road in editing and printing your images. If you need to crop out parts of your image - you'll end up with a smaller file. And the size of your file, determines how large of a print you can make.

With the large files on the Coolpix 775 - I've printed images as large as 11 X 14 inches. This happened to be an image that filled the frame - so I didn't have to do any cropping. If I had tried to print larger than 11 X 14 - the image wouldn't have looked very good. Usually, even with some cropping of the image, the 650 KB JPEG files from the Coolpix can easily be printed in an 8 X 10 size.

The small files from the Coolpix 775 are a completely different story. A full frame image of one of these files will look good only up to about a 4 X 6 inch print. If we do any cropping of the file, it's hard to get a good print any larger than 3 X 5 inches.

So imagine you take a fantastic photograph that you really want to hang on your walls. Let's also assume you have to do a little cropping to get the framing of the image just right. If you've set your camera to create the largest files possible - you will likely have a lovely 8 X 10 inch print to frame and hang on your walls. If you've set your camera on the smallest file size - that same picture will only be 3 X 5 inches. Which would you rather display on your walls.

So remember - set your digital camera to create the largest files it can make. You'll be much happier with the prints you can create if you have bigger files. The downside is you will need to download your photos more frequently, but even with our Coolpix 775 at its highest resolution, we can get almost as many photos as 4 36-exposure rolls of film.
Copyright by Patty Hankins & Bill Lawrence 2003

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