When you are preparing for a shoot, you want to make sure that you set your camera up properly; ISO, exposure mode, auto-focus and -exposure settings, etc. You should add one more setting to this mix: Image Quality.
I believe that a photographer should do everything in their power to ensure that they capture the best image possible, rather than capture what they can and fix it in post-processing. To this end, you want to make sure that your IQ setting matches the event you are shooting.
In this article I’ll discuss the pros and cons of the various NEF(RAW) format options available in the Nikon D300.
The D300 allows you to choose from six bit-depth and compression algorithm combinations of NEF(RAW), hereafter NEF.
- Compression algorithm: Lossless Compressed, Compressed, or Uncompressed
- Bit-depth: 12- or 14-bit
The Nikon D300 User’s Manual states the following about each of the compression algorithms:
- Lossless Compressed: NEF images are compressed using a reversible algorithm, reducing file size by about 20-40% with no affect on image quality.
- Compressed: NEF images are compressed using a non-reversible algorithm, reducing file size by about 40-50% with almost no affect on image quality.
- Uncompressed: NEF images are not compressed. Recording time increases slightly.
When it comes to choosing from these compression algorithms, you should ask yourself: what is most important?
- File size: If you want to capture as many images as possible for the amount of storage you have, you’ll want to select Compressed. By doing so, you will be sacrificing some image quality due to the compression algorithm and your shots per second will decrease due to the processor having to perform the compression.
- Image quality: If you want your image to contain the most accurate data for each sensor location you’ll want to select Lossless Compressed. This setting ensures that the compression algorithm retains all the information about the image as well as reducing the file size. Why didn’t I select Uncompressed? Well, if Nikon is true to their word, lossless should really mean what it implies.
- Shots per second: If you want to capture many images in a short amount of time, such as at a sporting event or child’s party, you’ll want to select Lossless Compressed. This setting has the best balance of write time to your memory card (smaller file size compared to Uncompressed) and less processing time for compression (compared to Compressed).
My final suggestion is that you use Lossless Compressed, which is the default setting. It gives you the best compromise for all three areas of importance. I, myself, would only switch to Compressed if I knew that I’d had to capture as many images as possible and was concerned that my memory storage would not be adequate.
The Nikon D300 User’s Manual states the following about about the two bit-depth options:
- 12-bit: NEF images are recorded at a bit-depth of 12 bits.
- 14-bit: NEF images are recorded at a bit-depth of 14 bits, producing files roughly 1.3 times larger than 12-bit files, but increasing the color data recorded. Maximum frame advance rate falls to 2.5 fps.
As with the compression algorithm, you should ask yourself: what is most important?
- File size: If you want to capture as many images as possible for the amount of storage you have, you’ll want to select 12-bit. The 1.3x file size of the 14-bit image will significantly reduce the number of images you can collect on your memory card.
- Image quality: If you want to capture the best data possible for your image, you’ll want to select 14-bit. You may read the forums that a lot of people comment that monitors and printers are not able to reproduce the data gathered from 14-bit images… this is true. However, technology is a crazy thing; it is always improving. My answer to this argument is that we should capture the best possible image now because we don’t want to be left out in the cold in the future when technology catches up to our current abilities. Here is a great technical discussion of the 12-/14-bit debate.
- Shots per second: If you want to capture many images in a short amount of time, you’ll want to select 12-bit. The D300 is able to capture about six images per second in 12-bit mode as compared to two to three per second in 14-bit mode.
My final suggestion is to shoot in 14-bit mode as often as possible. The only time I would switch to 12-bit mode is when I am doing any sort of fast-action shoot, such as sports or wildlife photography.
Setting up Your Camera
This section contains various tasks for setting up your camera for accessing the Image Quality settings easier.
Change the Image Quality setting
- Press the MENU button
- Select the Shooting menu
- Select NEF (RAW) recording
- Select Type to change your Compression algorithm
- Select NEF (RAW) bit depth to change your bit-depth
Add the NEF(RAW) Menu item to your My Menu
If you feel that you’ll be switching amongst these modes on a regular basis, I would suggest that you add the Image Quality menu item to your Custom Menu.
- Press the MENU button
- Select MY MENU
- Select Add items
- Select Shooting menu
- Select NEF (RAW) recording and hit the OK button