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Taking Great Digital Photos on Your Next Vacation

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Before you head out for your summer vacation, let digital photography expert Mark Soper help you make sure you’re ready to take the best possible photos and keep your photos and equipment safe. In this must-read article, you'll discover the best camera settings for shooting great photos, preparing your camera for travel, choosing and caring for your lenses and much more.
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Camera Settings for Maximum Image Quality

If you depend upon your camera to help bring back memories from your summer vacation, it pays to make sure your camera and your photographic equipment are ready to do the best job they can to help you remember every special moment. From the best camera settings to use to how to protect equipment against damage or loss, stick around and learn how to make your camera ready for photo opportunities this summer.

Whether you paid just a couple of hundred bucks for your digital camera or have a digital SLR powerhouse that cost over a thousand dollars, making sure your camera set for the very best image quality is important preparation to make before you head out for vacation. Check the following settings:

Resolution

Your camera's resolution is measured in megapixels (often abbreviated as MP). Make sure your camera is set for the highest megapixel rating. With most cameras, you'll find the setting in one of the setup menus, which are often marked with a wrench or tool icon. Some cameras use abbreviations such as L(large), M(medium), or S(small), while others specify the MP rating or the actual horizontal * vertical resolution, such as 3264*2448 (Figure 1).

Figure 1 The Canon A580 displays the current resolution in pixels as well as letter codes for other resolutions.

Quality

By default, digital cameras produce JPEG photos, and most support two or three quality settings. Use the highest quality setting along with the maximum resolution for the best picture results. Keep in mind that the higher the resolution and the higher the quality of the picture, the more space it uses on your memory card. So, if you were not using the best settings previously, you’ll now notice that your memory card holds fewer photos.

What About RAW Mode?

Most digital SLR cameras (cameras with interchangeable lenses) and a few point-and-shoot digital cameras also support shooting in RAW mode. RAW files are sharper than in JPEG files, store a wider range of image information, and enable you to make color, white balance, and exposure corrections far better than you can with JPEG photos. If you want the very best quality photos, shoot in RAW. However keep these factors in mind:

  • RAW files are 2 to 3 times larger than maximum quality JPEG files, so that so your camera stores fewer pictures per card when you shoot in RAW than in JPEG.
  • RAW files must be converted to JPEG or other formats before you can upload them to websites, print them at photo kiosks, or share them with other users.
  • If you want to upload photos as quickly as you shoot them while maintaining maximum editing options, consider shooting RAW plus JPEG if your camera supports it (Figure 2). Note that shooting RAW plus JPEG creates a large RAW file and a smaller JPEG file for each picture, meaning that shooting RAW plus JPEG uses the most space of any picture setting in your camera.

Figure 2 The Canon Rebel XTi supports three JPEG size settings, three JPEG quality settings, RAW, and RAW plus high-quality JPEG.

To learn how to prepare your computer to work with RAW images, see “RAW Codec” later in this article

Date and Time Setting

If your camera’s date and time aren’t set correctly, every photo will have incorrect information stored as part of its metadata. Good luck proving you were in Bora Bora on August 1st if your photos are dated January 1st! When you check date and time, be sure to note that most cameras use a 24-hour clock. So, if the current time is 5:30PM, set the camera for 17:30 (12+5=17).

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