Take Better Pictures – Lesson 2

Look for the Quality menu on your camera

Image Quality

Image quality has to do with the how much your jpg photos are compressed when you take your pictures. Jpg is a lossy compression method. The more compression, the more image quality you lose, and the smaller the file.

However, there is a big price to pay when you compress your images. The more you compress the crappier your picture looks! How's that for a descriptive term?

Jpg compression may produce artifacts. The more you compress the more artifacts you will see. This happens in when saving jpgs from software too. 

You will notice the artifacts more if you have solid colours in your photo. In a picture of a leafy forest you will not see the artifacts as much as a photo with a deep blue sky, especially if there is a slight gradation in the colour. If got a sample image further down the page.

All cameras allow you to set different image qualities of the photos you are about to capture. These settings are named differently by various camera manufacturers. Here are a few examples, but there are many more:

  • normal, fine, superfine
  • good, better, best
  • basic, normal, fine
  • Canon cameras use a smooth or jagged 1/4 circle icon
  • Lumix cameras use a boxy symbol – More boxes means better quality

Lumix Quality symbols

So which setting should you use?

For best results always capture your images using the best possible file quality. Memory cards are much cheaper now than they used to be, and if you are trying to preserve card space on a holiday, then choose a smaller file size instead of a lower quality.

If you can't figure out which one is the best quality, compare how many photos you can fit on the memory card with each choice. The more photos, the more compressed, and the more image quality you will lose.

Extra Tips: What do compression artifacts look like?

Artifacts are commonly mistaken for pixelization. 

Pixelization occurs when your image is really low resolution and, for example, you stretch that image to fill the screen on your PowerPoint presentation. You might notice jaggies, another technical term!


Pixels are evenly spaced, solid boxes

 Artifacts on the other hand will show up in solid coloured areas and also occur when the colour or contrast changes from one part of the photo to another. They are un-even in size and shape compared to pixels.

Artifacts are un-evenly spaced chunks of colour

What about RAW Files?

If you capture camera raw files instead of jpgs, you don't have to worry about file quality. It will always be the best because raw files have no compression at all!

And, in most cases you won't have to worry about choosing a file size until you do your post processing. 

Now here's the fine print: Some newer high megapixel cameras allow you to capture a large or small raw file. So if you need to save space on your memory card, choose the smaller raw file, especially when practicing. It will save space on your computer hard drive as well.

I will be going over RAW files later in the lessons.

Want more info on these topics?

I have a presentation called Setting up your Digital Camera which is a slide show version of the lessons you are currently viewing. 

Download the full presentation here.

Next Lesson: ISO – Sensitivity

Have a look when you're ready.