The Nikon D3400 DSLR has a number of options you can choose relating to image quality and size. Here’s a rundown of what they mean and which is best for what.
These options are all accessible through the camera’s menu system on the back screen.
With the Nikon D3400, you have a choice of two image types: RAW and JPG.
RAW offers the bet image quality, but it’s less convenient because the files require post-processing to use them. JPG is far more convenient because of its wide compatibility, but it doesn’t offer the same quality benefits.
The RAW file format saves all the information from the camera’s sensor without processing it and applying filters. Think of it as a digital negative.
Nikon cameras use Nikon’s own proprietary RAW image format that has a file extension of .NEF.
With the D3400 you don’t have any options with the RAW files–they’re either on or off, and they’re all compressed. With some of the higher models in Nikon’s range you can choose levels of compression or turn RAW compression off–you don’t have that option with this camera.
The RAW format is best if you want both maximum image quality and maximum flexibility in editing the images. Just like an old film negative, it’s the master, original photo.
The catch is that you really need to process the images before you can do much with them. Just as it doesn’t make much sense to be handing people film negatives and expecting them to do much with them, you wouldn’t, in most instances, share the RAW file. Typically you’d use something like Lightroom or one of the other alternatives to create derivative versions. If you try to send someone else an NEF file, they might not be able to do much with it, and you can’t share them directly to social media or even most websites.
RAW + JPG
This setting creates two image files every time you take a photo. One is a master RAW file, and the other is a JPG version of the same file. It’s the best of both worlds, but creating two files instead of one takes up more space on your memory card and slows things down a bit.
But it can be a handy option to use if you might want to share JPG versions without processing as well as retain the option to come back to them later and edit them.
It’s also a handy option to have in those instances where you want both maximum image quality but also need to preserve a version that can prove that the image is unadulterated and hasn’t been tampered with, such as working with photojournalism wire services, forensic photography, or insurance claims.
JPG Quality Settings
JPG is a de facto standard and can be used pretty much anywhere. They’re easy to email and share on social media. And while their quality isn’t as high as what’s possible with the RAW format, they can still have excellent image quality, especially at the higher quality settings.
You can choose from three different JPG quality settings: Fine, Normal, and Basic. These don’t refer to the pixel dimensions–they refer to the aggressiveness of the JPG compression.
The more aggressive the JPG compression, the smaller the files but the lower the quality.
Because JPG compression is lossy compression, it means that information is discarded as part of the process. The more aggressively the compression is applied, the more information is discarded. While the difference between them might not be immediately visible with first-generation images straight out of the camera, it will become more noticeable if you edit the images in something like Lightroom and generate second- or third-generation versions. In extreme cases, you can see JPG artifacts and blocks of colors that visibly detract from the image.
The Fine setting, therefore, is best if you’re looking for the highest image quality, and especially if you plan to edit the files in something like Lightroom. The Medium and Basic settings have slightly lower quality, but they save space on your memory card and can be more convenient for sharing the images directly out of the camera without any post-processing.
JPG Image Sizes
In addition to choosing the quality setting, you can also choose from three different JPG size settings. They are:
- Large: 6000 x 4000 pixels, which comes to 24 megapixels
- Medium: 4496 x 3000 pixels, which comes to 13.5 megapixels
- Small: 2992 x 2000 pixels, which comes to 6 megapixels
Here’s a visual version. Click on it to open a full-size version.
The Large setting will give you the maximum flexibility and potentially the highest quality, but the images take up more space on your memory card (and computer) and will take a little longer to save and download. Most users will probably want to use the Large setting to make best use of the camera’s capabilities. It’s better to take a large file and make a smaller copy if you need it than be stuck with a small file with less detail and try to make it larger.
The smaller settings do have their uses, though. One example is if you need to share the images right out of the camera and need a manageable filesize for email, etc. Another example is if you’re shooting timelapse and want to be able to fit thousands of images on the memory card.
By combining the image quality setting with the image size setting you can get quite a lot of flexibility.
Filesizes and How Many Photos Will Fit on a Memory Card
You’ll notice that in the filesize column I give ranges. That’s because the images generated on a Nikon D3400 are compressed, and the effectiveness of the compression varies from photo to photo depending on factors like the colors, tones, and detail of each individual photo. A photo with few colors and tones and little detail can be compressed much more than a photo with many tones and colors and lots of detail. It’s just the way that most image compression algorithms work.
For the last column, showing an estimate of the number of images at each setting that will fit on a 32GB memory card, I’ve used the upper end of the range because for something like this it’s better to underestimate than overestimate. So the numbers in this column, in particular, are very much approximations and should be read as rough guides but not absolutes.
|Quality Setting||Size||Filesize in Megabytes||How Many on a 32GB Memory Card?|
Best Books on the Nikon D3400
If you're looking for a book to help you make the most of the Nikon D3400, these are the ones I consider the best. Both manage to combine good, detailed information, clear explanations, and logical organization.
Despite the series title, The Nikon D3400 For Dummies, by Julie Adair King, is a thorough reference guide that talks you through the process of setting up your camera, shooting photos, and editing the photos in the camera. It includes good illustrations showing where the buttons, dials, and ports are, as well as quite a few before and after photos that show the effect various settings have.
David Busch has created quite a career in writing DSLR how-to guides, and David Busch's Nikon D3400 Guide to Digital SLR Photography is another excellent addition to his library. It is comprehensive, with everything explained clearly, and the writing style reflects his own distinctive voice.