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Choosing the JPEG Image Format for a Canon Rebel T3 Series Camera

The Quality settings on the Canon Rebel T3 and T3i determine the file type, which simply refers to the type of image file that the camera produces. Your T3 or T3i offers two file types — JPEG and Raw (sometimes seen as raw or RAW), with a couple variations of each.

File type is also sometimes referred to as file format. Don’t confuse that use of the word with the Format option on Setup Menu 1, which erases all data on your memory card.

The JPEG format is the default setting on your camera, as it is for most digital cameras. JPEG is popular for two main reasons:

  • Immediate usability: JPEG is a longtime standard format for digital photos. All web browsers and e-mail programs can display JPEG files, so you can share them online immediately after you shoot them. You also can get JPEG photos printed at any retail outlet, whether it’s an online or a local printer. Additionally, any program that has photo capabilities, from photo-editing programs to word-processing programs, can handle your files.

  • Small files: JPEG files are smaller than Raw files. And smaller files mean that your pictures consume less room on your camera memory card and on your computer’s hard drive.

The downside is that JPEG creates smaller files by applying lossy compression. This process actually throws away some image data.

On your camera, the amount of compression that's applied depends on whether you choose a Quality setting that carries the label Fine or Normal. The difference between the two breaks down as follows:

  • Fine: At this setting, very little compression is applied, so you shouldn’t see many compression artifacts, if any.

  • Normal: Switch to Normal, and the compression amount rises, as does the chance of seeing some artifacting.

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Given that the differences between Fine and Normal aren’t all that easy to spot until you really enlarge the photo, is it okay to shift to Normal and enjoy the benefits of smaller files? Well, only you can decide what level of quality your pictures demand. For most photographers, the added file sizes produced by the Fine setting aren’t a huge concern, given that the prices of memory cards fall all the time. Long-term storage is more of an issue; the larger your files, the faster you fill your computer’s hard drive and the more DVDs or CDs you need for archiving purposes.

To make the best decision, do your own test shots, carefully inspect the results in your photo editor, and make your own judgment about what level of artifacting you can accept. Artifacting is often much easier to spot when you view images onscreen. It's difficult to reproduce artifacting in print because the printing press obscures some of the tiny defects caused by compression. Your inkjet prints are more likely to reveal these defects.

If you don’t want any risk of artifacting, bypass JPEG altogether and change the file type to Raw (CR2). Or consider your other option, which is to record two versions of each file, one Raw and one JPEG.

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