What Camera Quality Settings Should I Use for Photos and Video?

Mar 12, 2017

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

What Camera Quality Settings Should I Use for Photos and Video?

Mar 12, 2017

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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Camera Quality Settings For Photos and Video

One of the questions I get most often from people who have just picked up a new camera is: What camera quality settings should I use for photos and video?

I usually answer that question with another question: Have you ever desperately wished that you only had a low quality version of a specific image or video clip? No? Me neither.

So the short answer is: The highest quality setting your camera has.

Continue reading for the rational behind this, and tips for archiving high quality photos and video while saving storage space…

But Don’t High Quality Photos and Video Take Up More Storage Space?

Yes they do – a lot more storage space!

But is that really a problem?

I mean, you can get a 128 GB UHS-I SD card from B&H for less than $70.

That’s over 1500 full resolution RAW photos or roughly 3 full hours of 4k video footage (depending on your specific camera). I rarely come close to using that much in camera storage on a single professional shoot – and a recreational user should never even come close to needing that much storage.

OK – but what about computer storage?

Well, you can get a selection of 8TB internal and external hard drives in the $200 – $300 range.

That’s a crazy amount of storage for a pretty damn low price.

Camera Quality Settings For Photos and Video

But I Still Want To Save Space and Computer Resources

OK – fair enough. The more data you generate, the more space and computer resources you need.

This can be a problem if your computer hardware isn’t up to the task of editing RAW files or full resolution 4k video clips. However, if your computer isn’t capable of these tasks, there are probably a whole lot of other tasks that its not capable of either – so is the solution really to generate lower quality source material because you have a crappy old computer?

Where storing a large amount of full resolution RAW image files and full 4k video is a problem is during backups – especially cloud backups. The more data you have, the larger backup infrastructure you need and the longer it will take.

However, there is a super easy way to save storage space – and it’s much better than recording images or video at lower quality settings: simply delete everything except your best photos and video, and trim your video clips!

If you need some incentive, this article “Delete Your Sh!t: Why You Should Trash Most of Your Photos” should get you started.

Man (40) jumping off of top of sand dune in White Sands National Monument, New Mexico with pure blue sky.

How To Trim and Cut Video Clips Without Re-Encoding

Culling and trimming your trash video clips is a little more complicated than working with image files.

Video files take up a massive amount of space – so you should definitely trash individual clips that don’t contain usable content.

The big problem is video clips that contain some usable content, but most of the clip is trash (aka: every single video clip ever recorded).

The easiest way I have found to cut or trim video clips without re-rendering (re-encoding) is to use Apple Quicktime Pro.

With Quicktime Pro, you can cut your video clips (and/or delete the audio tracks), and then save the remaining portion of the video clip in it’s original format – without re-rendering the clip.

This is very different from using a video editor like Adobe Premiere Pro to trim video clips: in Adobe Premiere Pro you can trim your video, but then you have to re-encode and export your trimmed clip as a new video. Re-encoding wastes a significant amount of time, and can alter the quality of the original video (or actually increase the storage space depending on your export settings).

Quicktime Pro just cuts out the bits you don’t want to keep and saves the rest in it’s original format. Culling and trimming video clips with Quicktime Pro is my first step before I import video into Lightroom.

(I really wish that Adobe would incorporate the ability to trim video clips without re-encoding right into Lightroom – it seems like such an obviously useful feature – but for now, while you can trim your video clips in Lightroom – the entire clip is retained unless you export it and re-encode the portion you want to keep.)

Since Quicktime 7 Pro was discontinued by Apple in 2016, getting a working installation can be a challenge. You can still download and install Quicktime 7.7.9 for Windows directly from Apple but you will need to find a working register name and serial online to upgrade to the Pro version.

We never encourage piracy, but in this case it was Apple who discontinued support and sales for Quicktime Pro, so if you want to continue using this tool (Apple, please take my money!) there is currently no choice. I am not sure of the process for Mac users – please leave a comment below if you have any insight.

Further, Quicktime 7 Pro does work with some 4k footage (although playback is choppy) but it may or may not work with your specific 4k footage – (HD clips work great).

Quicktime Pro is the best tool I have found for trimming video clips without re-encoding, but I’m sure there may be others available. If you know of a video editing application that is capable of this – please leave a comment and share your recommendation!

Woman (40) walking in White Sands National Moument, New Mexico in late afternoon with vibrant blue sky (polarized).

What Camera Quality Settings Should I Use for Photos and Video?

For photography: RAW…along with a solid RAW image editor like Adobe Lightroom, or full resolution jpeg (if your camera doesn’t support RAW capture) at the highest quality setting. I think we’re past the RAW / jpeg debate, but there are isolated situations where a full resolution, top quality jpeg might be preferable to RAW (such as action sports images that are uploaded to a wire service).

For video: the highest resolution and lowest compression setting that your camera can record internally. If you plan on doing any color grading, recording in log is a good option (if possible). For regular video, a frame rate of 23.976 frames per second is usually preferred.

Quality options for video are a lot more complicated than with still photography (codec options, frame rates, raw/log/bit-depth) and vary depending on the capabilities of each camera, so you’ll have to choose video quality settings that apply to your specific camera and workflow – but generally speaking – highest resolution, highest quality.

What Camera Quality Settings Do You Use?

Do you have preferred camera quality settings for still photography or video? Why not share what you use!

Do you prefer jpegs and SD video? Leave a comment and let us know why!

Have you ever desperately wished you had a better resolution or higher quality image or video when you deliberately chose to use a lower quality setting – share your experience with us.

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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2 responses to “What Camera Quality Settings Should I Use for Photos and Video?”

  1. James Quinn Avatar
    James Quinn
  2. Brianna Jackson Avatar
    Brianna Jackson

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