Simple point & shoots don't produce RAWs, they produce JPGs. Let's assume you have a modern P&S which shoots 16 megapixels maximum in Super Fine, Fine and Normal JPGs.

First side question is if you use maximum quality, maximum size, how big prints you are safe to get out of the camera?

Main question is if you don't want to print posters what is a good compromise in image size and quality of which normally used, smaller print sizes will be undistinguishable from the original?

Eg. 4 megapixels instead of 16 but Super Fine. Or stay with 16 megapixels but reduce quality from Super Fine?

Edit: Shutterfly does not recommend more than 8 megapixels even for their largest prints. Is it maybe because their printing technique might not be that advanced?

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    @mattdm, that one covers JPG quality setting when exporting. I think it's more like this one, which covers what resolution is adequate for a particular print size? photo.stackexchange.com/questions/456/… – MikeW Feb 24 '13 at 9:41
  • @MikeW Yep good call. – mattdm Feb 24 '13 at 9:55

The common "rule of thumb" for prints is 300dpi, so divide the pixel counts (width & height) by 300 to get the measurement in inches, which you can multiply with 2.52 to get a more meaningful answer in cm.

Per se there is nothing keeping you from printing a 16MP compact camera image at the same size as a 16MP DSLR image.

However there are a few things to consider:

  • If you want to print, use the maximum quality you can set on your camera. (I don't understand why one would want to use anything else, except maybe to save space, but cards a re cheap nowadays...)

  • Is the resolving power of the lens good enough to give sharp images? (diffraction can cause some pixel level blur, whether you see it in a print is a different debate.) Lens quality between different compact cameras will vary significantly.

  • If lighting conditions aren't ideal, is there any noise?

  • How strong does the camera compress images? Especially mobile phones are guilty of compressing excessively and producing artefacts.

On your second question: I would always shoot at the highest quality - storage is quite cheap and shooting JPEGs your images are tiny files anyway. (a 16MP out of the camera JPEG is nothing compared to a 21MP RAW file) You can always reduce the resolution of an image later on at no loss, but you cannot increase it. You also don't want to regret not having a higher resolution image in the future.

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