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I come from the world of film cameras, where larger negatives are generally preferred over smaller negatives because they generally can hold more information and detail.

Now, with digital cameras, they have options that allow the photographer to select how much resolution to use for each photograph. Furthermore, the cameras allow specifying aspect ratio, but this also affects resolution.

On my ultra-portable and waterproof Sony DSC-TX30 digital camera, I can select many different resolutions/aspect-ratio combinations for still photographs.

Here are the choices:

  • 18M (4:3)
  • 10M (4:3)
  • 5M (4:3)
  • VGA (4:3)
  • 13M (16:9)
  • 2M (16:9)

What I really want is maximum resolution (18M) at 16:9, but that's not available with the sensor on this camera, likely due to its shape.

Even though I generally view photographs on a 16:9 screen, it still seems like taking the photographs at 18M (4:3) is the best choice. That way, the camera is saving the most data, and I can always crop later if I really want.

The downsides seem to be:

  1. When viewing photographs on a (now) typical 16:9 computer screen or a 16:9 TV, the image does not take up the entire screen. This is a significant downside as this is the medium on which I view most of my photographs.
  2. When taking a photograph, it's challenging to frame the shot for 16:9 when the camera's screen is showing 4:3.

Out of the thousands of photographs I take per year, I only print 1-3 of them; I print in fairly large scale (at least 30" for the larger dimension) for mounting on a wall. Except for these photos, I tend not to perform any post-production.

Is there a standard practice or guidelines to use when taking digital photographs to help the photographer decide whether to use a higher resolution at a less desirable aspect ratio (4:3) versus using a lower resolution at a more desirable aspect ratio (16:9)?

  • You said "screens", and said rarely print. But the basics are: 16:9 screens are typically at most 1920x1080 pixels, for either HDTV or the majority of wide screen computer monitors. 1920x1080 is only 2.07 megapixels. More pixels can help about tight cropping to 1920x1080, but otherwise cannot help, unless you want to scroll around on the large zoomed image (Ken Burns style). Printing on paper is what can use more pixels. A 30 inch print needs all the pixels you can get. – WayneF Sep 18 '18 at 16:25
  • This isn't possible on your Sony - but if you end up looking to change cameras in the future, keep in mind the feature of replaceable/swappable viewfinders (SLR's). Most brands have at least some cameras that have the feature and have viewfinders with differing crop guides - allowing you to shoot the full frame and be aware of other crops – Hueco Sep 18 '18 at 21:10
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Is there a standard practice or guidelines to use when taking digital photographs to help the photographer decide whether to use a higher resolution at a less desirable aspect ratio (4:3) versus using a lower resolution at a more desirable aspect ratio (16:9)?

No. Each photographer is free to select whatever option the camera offers.

Your 13 MP (16:9 at 4896x2752 pixels) option uses the full width of your sensor, just as the 18 MP (4:3 at 4896x3672 pixels) option does. It only crops the top and bottom of the 4:3 sensor to give you a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Even though I generally view photographs on a 16:9 screen, it still seems like taking the photographs at 18M (4:3) is the best choice. That way, the camera is saving the most data, and I can always crop later if I really want.

The vast majority of 16:9 screens are HD (1920x1080 pixels) which is a mere 2 MP.

4K screens (3840x2160) are only 8.3 MP.

If your primary concern is having enough resolution to view your images on those types of screens, your choice of resolution between 18 MP (4:3) and 13 MP (16:9) doesn't make a whole lot of difference. Either way, it is going to be scaled down for your screen.

When taking a photograph, it's challenging to frame the shot for 16:9 when the camera's screen is showing 4:3

If setting the camera to 16:9 helps you to frame for your intended display medium, then that is probably what would work best for you.

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In my opinion, you have a storm in a teacup. And you want to tie your hands.

Thinking like this you will never ever shoot a portrait for example.

If you want to see your photos as wide as your monitor, use a software that can do that. One great option is IrfanView if you are working on a PC. It can be configured to display images on full-width cropping some part.

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There are a ton of different monitors and computers. The surface pro has some 3:2 ratio monitors, there are some more 3:2 friendly like 1920x1200.

Thinking like this you will be dependant on your camera-specific feature. Not all cameras have that feature, and when you want to upgrade you will be in trouble.

But this does not mean that you only can shoot at 3:2, there has being a ton of image formats, including square negatives. Just make one decision and enjoy your photos.


There is a psychology theory that states that the more options you have the more unhappy you are with your choice.

If you ask a child, Do you want an ice cream? The child will say yes!

If you ask him/her. Choose one of this 200 exotic flavors by only looking at the colors... He will be anxious, will jump like a madman, and probably when receiving the ice cream he would wonder, what if...

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Treat the sensor as if it were film. If your film camera let you change aspect ratio by cropping the frame, what setting would you choose? The corresponding digital setting is the one you should use.

I come from the world of film cameras, where larger negatives are generally preferred over smaller negatives because they generally can hold more information and detail... What I really want is maximum resolution (18M)... seems like taking the photographs at 18M (4:3) is the best choice. That way, the camera is saving the most data, and I can always crop later if I really want.

It seems like you've made your decision, provided a few issues can be addressed.

  • When viewing photographs on a (now) typical 16:9 computer screen or a 16:9 TV, the image does not take up the entire screen.

    You can use an image viewer that automatically expands the image to fill the screen, as Rafael suggests. This would also guard against future changes in screen ratios.

    Standard screens used to have a 4:3 ratio. For a while, many laptops were using an 8:5 ratio. Right now, 16:9 is in fashion, but who knows where that will go. Rafael mentions tablets with 3:2 screens, and there are now 21:9 curved screens.

  • When taking a photograph, it's challenging to frame the shot for 16:9 when the camera's screen is showing 4:3.

    Most modern cameras can show various grid lines and 16:9 framing guides independently of the size at which the image is being captured.

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