Today’s Question: This is just a simple question, but one that confuses me. I have a Nikon D7100, and have always used an image size of “Small/Fine”, as I do not need any prints larger than 8”x10″. Someone told me that increasing the image size to Medium would give me a better print, as it gives more information. I’m not sure if I received the right information on this. Does increasing the image size to Medium actually give me more information and better colors?
Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule, if you’re going to be using JPEG capture instead of RAW capture, I recommend using the highest resolution and quality settings available for your camera. This will ensure both the highest quality and the largest potential print size.
More Detail: I should hasten to add that I highly recommend using RAW capture to ensure the highest image quality and greatest overall flexibility in your workflow. That said, I realize there are situations where JPEG capture may provide benefits that are more meaningful for a photographer than the potential benefits of RAW capture.
In terms of the quality setting, I highly recommend always using the highest quality option available when employing JPEG capture. This setting directly relates to the compression being applied to your images right from the moment they are captured, and with JPEG images the compression always causes a loss of detail and quality in the image. Therefore, I consider it very important to use the highest quality setting to minimize the negative impact on the quality of your photos.
The size option relates to the overall resolution of the photos being captured. In theory you can use a lower resolution setting if you tend not to print your photos at a particularly large size.
For example, the Nikon D7100 that is the subject of today’s question provides a native resolution of 4,000 x 6,000 pixels. At an output resolution of 360 pixels per inch (a common output resolution for a photo inkjet printer), that translates to a potential output size (without enlarging the image) of about 11 inches by 16 inches. The lowest resolution setting in this case is 2,000 by 2,992 pixels. At 360 pixels per inch that still provides a print size of about 6 inches by 8 inches.
As you can see from the numbers above, the “small” size for a JPEG image in the case of the Nikon D7100 provides fewer pixels than are actually necessary to produce an 8×10 print. The “medium” size is well suited to an 8×10 print, providing output dimensions of about 8×12 inches.
However, I think it is also important to keep in mind that you may want to crop your images from time to time. Therefore, I consider it critically important to capture at the highest resolution available in most cases (and most certainly in this example). Unless you are using a camera with an extremely high resolution that far exceeds any output size you’ll ever produce (taking into account potential cropping), I would not recommend using anything other than the full resolution of your camera when capturing photos.