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best choice of resolution, image size on camera

Marc B (Montreal) , Dec 08, 2008; 07:55 a.m.

As a novice digital shooter, I've heard that it is best to set the image size (e.g., S, M, L) on the camera in order to best accomodate the final use for the image.  So, for example, if you know that you will not be enlarging the image more than 4X6, choose a size that is less than full resolution (e.g, 2MB file for a 6 megapixel camera).

But is this the best way to proceed assuming wants the best image quality?  In otherwords, if I'm sure I'm always going to be reducing the image in final prints, is there any advantage in shooting at full resolution in terms of tonal rendition, grain etc.?  Or am I just taking up extra space on the memory card, given that the final image will be reduced anyway.

My camera is a Fujifilm F31fd.  There are no sharpeness settings on this camera, only choice of image (file) size. My objective is to try and get the best possible image quality at high iso settings (like 800, which is why I selected this camera).

Thanks in advance for the advice.


Ellis Vener , Dec 08, 2008; 08:07 a.m.

'I've heard that it is best to set the image size (e.g., S, M, L) on the camera in order to best accomodate the final use for the image."
If you intend to only make a 4x6 I guess you could do that but it seems very limiting to me. There is also an advantage in noise reduction by down sampling.

Derek Kennedy , Dec 08, 2008; 09:39 a.m.

I always set my digital cameras to shoot at the best resolution, ie: large. You can always resize down, but it will be harder to resize a smaller image to a larger image without loss of  quality. I also (now) also shoot RAW+jpg.
Far as I'm concerned setting your camera to S/M just gives you more capacity on your memory card. Shoot at the best resolution you can as far as I'm concerned.
As far as the iso setting, I personally use 400iso (Canon 40D) as I shoot moving trains and planes and need the extra shutter speeds but when I am able to get away with a slower iso, I lower it. WIth that been said, I find that shooting the 40D at 400iso doesn't prove to be too noisy unlike some other DSLRs I have (totally not happy with the noise form the Maxxum 7D or the Sony A100 for example).

Edward Ingold , Dec 08, 2008; 10:43 a.m.

S, M and L on a digital camera usually refers to the amount of compression applied to a JPEG image, L(arge) being the least, hence the best quality.

My position is to select the best possible quality from the camera, which is RAW if that is an option. When you use film you can order big prints or small prints, but the film stays the same. With a digital camera the choices you make up front usually permanently alter your "digital film" - you can't change your mind afterwards. Image cards are cheap and, unlike film, can be reused indefinitely. Be sure to reformat the card in the camera, once you have downloaded and backed them up on CD/DVD, rather than erasing selected images. That restores the card to its original capacity, and forces you to follow a secure digital workflow.

You should select the lowest ISO value which works in the particular environment. The image quality in most digital cameras falls off rapidly above ISO 400, and most P&S cameras don't work well even at 400. Even with film, ISO 800 is too grainy and contrasty for general photography. As a rule of thumb, I use ISO 100 (or lower) only when I can work with a tripod, for lowest noise (finest grain) and sharpest results. ISO 400 is a good compromise for speed and quality when you shoot hand-held or with flash. Most DSLRs work well at 400 (or higher), but few P&S cameras are as accommodating.

Charles Becker , Dec 08, 2008; 10:47 a.m.

Hi Marc-hello from Toronto! I suggest that you keep your camera set to its highest resolution; that way if you get a shot that you had intended to be 4x6 but it's so good you want 8-1/2 x 11 or larger, you'll be able to do it and get the best image possible. The only downside is larger file sizes but memory cards are cheap (my 1 GB SanDisk compact flash card cost me $360 5 years ago!).  regards, cb :-)

David Seaton , Dec 08, 2008; 03:10 p.m.

Edward-I think your understanding is off here, or atleast confused by another brand. Fuji uses L, M, S to differentiate actual pixel dimensions. They use "Fine" and "Normal" to distinguish different levels of JPEG compression.

see the "File Write / Display and Sizes" heading under this review: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/FujifilmF31fd/page4.asp

To the OP--Memory cards are cheap and its easy to batch resize in post processing (google faststone photo resizer)., I would shoot at Large Fine at all times, you never know when you'll get a keeper. You will not gain anything by having you're camera downsize the photo off the bat. You may be thinking of the (still conceptual?) idea of pixel binning, in which the camera treats 4 pixles as one pixel to improve noise/DR. However, your camera doesn't do this, its just resizing a jpeg and gives you no benefit.

Marc B (Montreal) , Dec 09, 2008; 08:55 a.m.

Hi All,
Thanks for the responses.  Actually David's response addresses precisely the issue I was thinking about.  He writes:
You may be thinking of the (still conceptual?) idea of pixel binning, in which the camera treats 4 pixles as one pixel to improve noise/DR. However, your camera doesn't do this, its just resizing a jpeg and gives you no benefit.

I do understand that there is an advantage to shooting at full resolution in terms of being able to get a higher quality enlargement later on.  But since my camera writes a 6 meg file a bit slow, and I always find handling a larger file makes for unnecessarily large files for emailing etc. I was wondering how much real quality gain I get on this camera.

I guess the only thing I'm gaining is saving a little hard drive space.  I now understand that the best thing to do is to shoot at full resolution and then resize later on. 

However, I'm going to do some tests and see how much of a real benefit this gives and whether you can actually see any difference in low light conditions, where, for example the ISO is set at 800.   The Fujifilm F31fd is quite good, but I just want to see how far I can push the camera and still come out with a good image quality.


Patrick Lavoie , Dec 10, 2008; 09:04 a.m.

dont loose your time playing with ISO (or do it anyway so you will see the poor result for fun) any other setting higher than 100iso with this camera is not good.

As for the resolution, i will suggest you set it to is full capacity, meaning setting it at L. Yes its a bigger file size, but since that you already not getting a 8x10, dont loose any chance you may have to get it. Setting your camera to a lower quality setting make you wondering why did you buy such a camera instead of a quick share Kodak at 120$ ?! It like having a canon 5D and shoothing in Jpeg...my oppinion.

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