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Tips for Better Pictures

Today's e-tip:

Getting High-Quality Images
with High-Resolution Cameras


You probably have a digital camera that takes high-resolution images. There is a "sensor" in each digital camera that records your images. As each new model comes out, these sensors are capable of recording more and more data. As sensor resolutions increase, more pixels are recorded. More pixels means finer detail can be captured. More pixels are better, right? Not always. Image quality depends on several things, including:

  • Sensor Quality
  • Sensor Size
  • Pixel Size
  • Pixel Quality
  • Your picture-taking technique
The Technical Stuff
Higher resolution means that more pixels have to be crammed into the same space – which requires smaller pixels.
Here’s an example of the difference in pixel size from an APS-C sized sensor (used on most DSLRs and some high-end point-and-shoot cameras) based on the number of megapixels:

Sensor SizeMegapixelsApprox pixel size
(in square micro-meters)
APS-C2415 µm2
APS-C1230 µm2
APS-C660 µm2

As you can see, the 12 megapixel sensor has a pixel size that is double that of the 24 megapixel sensor. And because larger pixels can capture more light, all other things being equal, means that the 12 megapixel sensor has higher-quality pixels than that of the 24 megapixel sensor.

Sensor Size
The size of the sensor has a direct relationship to the individual pixel size. A full-frame sensor (larger than the APS-sized sensors) has more room to fit the individual pixels, thus, the pixels are bigger - and bigger is better. That's why cameras with full-frame sensors take better quality images (everything else being equal) than cameras with smaller sensors.

The following chart shows the relative size difference between different sensor sizes.

Sensor Sizes
Note: the Canon APS-H is used in the EOS 1D Mark IV, EOS 1D Mark III, EOS 1D Mark IIN, EOS 1D Mark II & EOS 1D

As you can see, there is a significant difference in sensor sizes. All else being equal, the larger the sensor, the better the image quality. This is because the pixel size will be larger on a sensor that is physically larger. Larger pixels means less noise because larger pixels can capture more light.

How your shooting technique affects your images
Higher pixel counts do mean that finer details can be captured. But, when pixels become smaller, errors in “technique” become magnified. “Blurring” becomes much more noticeable, thus your shooting technique may need to improve!

If you were able to hand-hold your camera with a 50mm lens at 1/60 second with your 12 megapixel camera, you may now find that your pictures aren’t as sharp with the same settings with your 24 megapixel camera.

Good shooting technique becomes critical as resolution increase.

What to do about it
Here are some things that can help capture better images with higher-resolution cameras:

Lens Quality
 Lens optic quality becomes more critical. Lower quality lenses mean that they can’t resolve the detail necessary to fill all of the pixels on your sensor. Read multiple lens reviews on the Internet before you purchase a lens - profit by other's experiences. Often, more expensive lenses are best, but not always!
Aperture Size
 Don’t shoot wide-open. Use f-stops at least 2-stops smaller than your maximum aperture. If your lens has a maximum aperture of f2.8, shoot with at least f5.6. If your lens has a maximum aperture of f4, shoot with at least f8. Your sharpest pictures will usually be about 3-stops from the maximum (e.g., f8 for an f2.8 lens; f11 for an f4 lens; etc.) Shooting at really small apertures (i.e., f22) provides greater depth of field, but cause the overall image to be “soft” (an overall blurry look).
 You really need to be VERY careful about how you hold your camera. Use good hand-holding technique: keep one hand under your camera and the other hand on the side and keep your elbows against your body. When you press the shutter, do it in a “rolling” motion rather than pressing down on the shutter. Lean against a tree or building. Better yet, use a tool to stabilize your camera. Use a SteadePod, bean-bag or, better yet, a solid tripod. When using a tripod, consider using the mirror-lock-up (MUP) feature on your camera as well, especially for shutter speeds between 1/2 and 1/30 second.
Shutter Speed
 Use faster shutter speeds than you think you need. The old adage about able to hand-hold a camera at 1/focal length (e.g., 1/100 second with a 100mm lens) in order to get a sharp image is just plain silly – ESPECIALLY at increased resolution! Vibration reduction (VR) or Image Stabilization (IS) can help, but even with these technologies, you need faster shutter speeds to get high-quality images. When having to use slower shutter speeds, put your camera in continuous shooting mode, hold the shutter down for at least 3 or 4 images, and then choose the sharpest one during post-processing.
Vibration reduction (VR) / Image Stabilization (IS)
 Don’t use VR and IS when using a tripod or other stabilization method.
Live View
 Using the “Live-View” feature of your camera (where you view the scene on the LCD rather than thru the viewfinder) can help, as it eliminates the mirror from having to move before the exposure, thus helping to eliminate some vibration during the exposure. Be aware that Live-View can be costly in terms of battery usage, plus it may be harder to hand-hold your camera steadily while looking at the LCD.
Focus accurately!
 Set your AutoFocus correctly (see our e-Tip on AutoFocus here)
ISO Speeds
 Be aware of your ISO setting, especially when using "Auto ISO" (where your camera determines the ISO speed for you). High-ISO settings cause unwanted “noise” (random color pixels). Be aware that the “Noise Reduction” setting on your camera only affects JPEG images. Also be aware that in-camera noise reduction is low quality compared to desktop-computer software, and can cause a significant reduction in overall image quality! Unless you’re completely opposed to computer-editing of your images, we recommend that you shut-off in-camera noise reduction, or at least set it to its lowest setting. You’ll get much better results with one of the many noise-reduction programs available, or with Photoshop, Elements or Lightroom.

Shooting with high-resolution cameras has its benefits and drawbacks! Use good technique to get great pictures.

Related products to help you take better pictures:

The Green Pod
THE GREEN POD is a product I've used for several years now that can be used as an alternative to a tripod to get really sharp pictures.  I find it to be one of the BEST inexpensive ...

The Red Pod
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Fantastic quality combined with a great price makes this your best choice in an industry-standard ball head.

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