RAW vs JPEG
Speak to any photographer and one of the surest things they’ll tell you is that you must shoot in RAW. All the time. Every time. Period.
They may not even be sure why they should be doing it. But a pro they know told them so it must be important. And it is, if you know why.
Firstly I should probably tell you what I am talking about. RAW and JPEG are the two primary formats cameras use to make their photographs.
RAW files are just what the name sounds like. A raw format that sucks in all the information that the camera and sensor can handle. And as you might expect, it’s big file and its un-processed giving you everything that the sensor saw before it. It specialises in capturing more shadow and highlight detail amongst other things, giving the photographer the ability in the edit stage to more finely control the white balance, detail, colour, blacks and whites etc. This is the digital version of the film negative and like the film negative it also needs its own special environment to be developed in.
A JPEG, by contrast, is an image file that has already been processed by the camera as soon as you make the photo. The file is a compressed version of the RAW file described above. It throws away any information that the camera (manufacturer) thinks won’t be needed to get the best result (in the manufacturers opinion). For example, a blue pixel in a blue sky will be thrown away if it matches other blue pixels in the same image. One blue pixel will be retained and used to fill all the spaces needed for that one colour when opened by your chosen software. By this method, any ‘extraneous’ information is binned making for a smaller file size and an image that is optimised according to the manufacturer’s special algorithm and depending on the way the camera is set up to record the JPEG (sharpness, contrast, colour can be set up in camera prior to making the photograph).
So as you can see, shooting RAW is the way forward. It retains as much information as possible giving the photographer ultimate control in post-process. Personally, I always shoot RAW. I hate thinking that the camera is compressing my hard earned shot and doing something with it that I haven’t asked it to do. So that’s that. I’m a photographer and I’ve just told you shooting RAW is the way forward.
Well, yes…. and no. There’s very much a ‘what if’ scenario here.
- I don’t want to or don’t know how to post process RAW images?
It’s not the easiest thing to do (but is easy to learn) and can be daunting when you see how flat (lacking in contrast) RAW images look in comparison to their already processed JPEG counterparts.
- I just want to share my baby/holiday photos quickly on Facebook?
RAW files need processing. You can’t share on Facebook without exporting them as a JPEG.
- I’m photo rich and time poor?
Photojournalists and sports photographers face this one regularly. When importing to Lightroom or similar software it can take an age to import images from RAW. They are big and bulky and slow down the process. By comparison JPEGs fairly skip in to your hard drive.
- I don’t care?
Quite rightly, if it doesn’t matter to you to be able to control all the facets I described above then shoot JPEG. My only recommendation about shooting JPEG would be to shoot at the largest possible size and in ‘fine’ mode. In ten years time you don’t want your DLSR photos looking like your ten year old mobile phone photos look today….. and they will.
- I want to make sure I have the best possible photos for the future (and I mean when the kids are all grown up and have left home)?
Then RAW would be the way to go. Think legacy. They will always be fully editable and contain as much information as is possible when you take them. As the editing software changes and gets better so will the ability to change the way your photos look, especially if you shot them in RAW. With JPEGs you are pretty much stuck with what came out of the camera.
At the end of the day it’s your choice, but it’s best to know what it is you’re choosing. Above all else, whatever format you’re shooting in, just get out there and shoot!
Tell us about your experiences of the two formats, pros and cons, in the comments below.
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