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By default your camera shoots in JPEG format. Established by the Joint Photographic Experts Group, JPEG is a compressed image format; that is, it takes the original image data that your camera captures and it crunches it down so that it takes up far less storage. JPEG compression is a lossy compression scheme; that is, there is a loss of quality when JPEG compression is applied to an image. So the more compression you apply, the more your image is degraded. Most cameras give you a few different JPEG conversion choices. Some of those choices compress more than others and therefore degrade your image more than others.
Your camera also captures a certain number of pixels. When shooting JPEG images, most cameras give you the choice of shooting at lower pixel counts, so you might be able to save an image that's only half size, for example. This is another way of saving space on your storage card. Finally, some cameras also give you the option to shoot in Raw mode, a non-compressed format that offers a lot of editing advantages over JPEGs. There are two ways to set image quality and size on the D800: you can use the Quality button here on the top of the camera or you can do it through the menus.
I'm going to start with the menus because everything is spelled out very clearly there. In the Shooting menu, down at the bottom of the first page, you'll see Image quality and Image size. Image size defaults to Large. And if I open that up, I can see that Large is the full pixel count of the D800 sensor, 7360 x 4912 for a 36.2 megapixel image. I can also go down to a Medium image, which is 20 megapixels, or a Small image, which is 9. So I'm going to leave this set on the Large size.
With any size I can choose different levels of JPEG compression, if I'm shooting JPEG; the default is a normal level of compression. It's a nice trade-off between image quality and file size--it gives you a lot of images on the card-- but I might want to go for better quality and bump up to Fine, or if I really need to cram a lot of images onto my card, I could drop it down to Basic quality. I can also choose to shoot a TIFF file by choosing TIFF (RGB) right here. This is going to look exactly like a JPEG file, but it's not going to have any JPEG compression that might have been introduced.
It's an 8-bit TIFF file, so I'm still going to have the same kind of smaller editing latitude that I get from a JPEG file, as opposed to a RAW. Also, it's going to be a larger file than a RAW file, so it's not the most efficient use of disk space. But if you don't want to hassle with RAW workflow, but you don't want JPEG compression, then go with the TIFF. RAW is, in my opinion and the opinion of many other people, the best way to be shooting. It is uncompressed like TIFF in JPEG, but it's got a higher bit depth.
You're probably going to get 14 bits, 12-14 bits per pixel out of your camera, and that's going to give you much more editing latitude. You're also going to get some editing controls that you simply can't get with JPEG and TIFF, such as the ability to change white balance after the fact and the ability to sometimes recover overexposed highlights. Finally, I can choose to shoot both a RAW and a JPEG, and I have three different compression settings for JPEG. This is handy for times when you need to deliver a JPEG file to a client and you need to work quickly, so you just want to shoot JPEG so you can pull them out of the camera and ship them off.
But maybe you're shooting somewhere where it's a difficult exposure situation or where white balance might be a problem, so you want a RAW backup for those times where there's maybe an image that just needs a little bit of a white balance tweak or a little bit of highlight recovery. You will be able to fall back on the RAW and make that adjustment. Now, note that if I choose to shoot in RAW, I give up my ability to shoot at different sizes. RAW files are always the large size. There's no way to make a smaller RAW file. Also, if I choose to shoot in RAW, I have some additional parameters that I can configure.
If I come down here to NEF (RAW) recording-- NEF is simply Nikon's name for their RAW file. That's the file extension that your RAW files will have. I've got two different things I can configure here. First of all, bit depth: 14-bit or 12-bit. 14-bit is going to give you more editing latitude. And I have a Type here. I can choose a Lossless compressed RAW, a Compressed, or an Uncompressed. Compressed is something Nikon introduced a while ago and never really gave anyone a clear proof that there wasn't an image quality loss in it.
They said there wasn't, but other people found that there was, and so no one's really clear what it means. So they've left that there and given you a Lossless compressed option. So if you've got Lossless compressed, why do you need Uncompressed? The only thing I can figure is that people still don't trust them, so they've got all three options here. Whatever you want to use is probably going to work out fine. I've never seen proof that Compressed really yields any visible loss of data. Lossless compressed definitely makes smaller files. That's the default value, and I think you'll find that you get great image quality out of it.
I'm going to leave it set there. JPEG compression gives me the option of, during the JPEG process, saying within the JPEG quality that I've selected for, either skew more towards size or more towards quality. They're skewing more toward size. The Fine quality JPEG is a really great level of quality for a JPEG file, so you'll probably be fine there. Now, as I mentioned before, you can also change image quality and size on the outside of the camera without digging into the menus.
When you press the Quality button, and right here you can see that I'm currently set for a RAW file. That's where I left it off in the menu. If I turn the main dial, I cycle through Large TIFF, Fine quality JPEG at Large size, Normal quality JPEG at Large, Basic quality JPEG at Large, and then I get a RAW file with a Large Fine quality JPEG, Normal quality JPEG, Basic quality JPEG, and now here I am back to just a RAW file.
So I can cycle through all of these different combinations. If there's a combination that you want that you don't find in here, you're going to have to dial that in from the menu, but most of the things you'll use the most often you can find right there. Once I've chosen the one I want, I just half-press the shutter and now I'm set for RAW shooting or JPEG or whatever I want.
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