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File Handling and Image Quality

File Handling and Image Quality


Digital photography has come to be quite the mainstream hobby.  With the advent of camera phones and digital cameras of all shapes and sizes, it’s easy for nearly anybody to capture digital photos, anywhere and any time.  The downside to that is the lack of photographic knowledge and image handling skills.  Sure, if all you want to do is take a photo on your phone and send it to a friend to show them where you are, that’s pretty easy.  Taking a photo with the same phone and having a print made from it could present a few more difficulties. 


The first thing to be concerned with is the image quality and the ability to print from that image.  Not all cameras are created equally, so there could be tremendous differences in the quality of the images captured.  When you shoot a photo with your phone, you need to realize how small the image sensor is and therefore how small the printing capabilities will be.  Don’t get me wrong, you can print it any size you want to, but the larger it gets the more you’ll see the lack of quality.  The same is true with point-and-shoot digital cameras compared to single-lens-reflex digital cameras and so on.  What I’m suggesting here is that you recognize the need to use the right camera for the right subject matter.  If you take your vacation pictures on your camera phone, you might not have the ability to get good prints made, if you chose to do so.


 Jeff Cowell - article image for 20100127

The next thing to consider is the ability to get the images from your “camera” to a computer so they can be printed, or displayed elsewhere.  If you have to attach each image to an email and send it from your phone, you might have an awful lot of work to do.  If you have a phone or camera that can interface to your computer, you want to make sure when you transfer photos to the computer that you don’t lose any quality along the way.  That being said, we need to talk a little about the quality settings on the camera.  It’s my principle that you should never shoot at anything less than the highest possible quality the camera is capable of.  The difference between a high-resolution setting and low-resolution setting can be dramatic.  I’ve include two version of the same photo (actually a cropped portion thereof) here to show how much the quality of an image can suffer if you try to save space by using a low-resolution setting.  By the way, “smaller file” means “lower resolution”, and that means poorer quality photos.  Smaller files are created by compressing data and that sometimes means throwing data away because the data next to it was “close enough” to serve as a replacement.  As you can see in the sample photos, that’s not necessarily a good deal.  Sure, you can get more pictures on the memory card, but they will not be as good as they could have been. 


This principle applies to all photography, regardless of the camera device you are using.  The best way to get more pictures on your card it to buy a bigger card, or throw away the junk that is taking up space.  Buy extra cards if necessary so you’ll have enough space to capture all the photos you desire.  These memory cards can be reformatted and reused once you’ve transferred your photos to the computer and made a backup of them.  I do caution you to make sure you have everything backed up before you delete them from your cards.  If you do accidentally delete images from your memory card STOP using the card immediately and put it in a safe place.  You can bring it in to Douglas Photographic Imaging to get your images recovered.  You can not necessarily recover images if you’ve continued to take more pictures and save them on that card.


When it comes to editing your photos on the computer, you should always edit a copy of the original file, just to make sure you don’t accidentally ruin the original image.  Everyone has a learning curve to go through to learn to execute effective edits on digital images, and all of us will make mistakes along the way.  So be sure you have two copies of the image before you start to edit one of them. 


More mega pixels do not equal more quality.  If your sensor is the size of a pin head and you’ve got 10 mega pixels, you have very noisy pictures that will not produce high-quality prints, or displays of any kind.  Those images might look great on your phone, but they are not necessarily going to look good anywhere else.  When you buy a new camera, do not go shopping based upon pixels.  You need to be aware of the sensor size and search for a camera that will give you good resolution for the size prints or displays you plan to use them in. 


Jeff Cowell

Technology Director
Douglas Photographic Imaging