I Class the other day came a discussion of which is best to shoot Raw or Jepg. I have had this question for months
Maybe this can help a bit.
To put everyone on the same plane of knowledge, whether you’re an experienced digital photographer or someone that is just now looking into digital photography, the file formats in question should be defined.
RAW format is often a proprietary format of a particular camera make. RAW files hold all the RAW data captured by the camera. Unlike conventional photography where light is exposed against film with a specific chemical formulation to provide deep saturation or soft skin tones that would otherwise be automatically applied based on the type of film used, RAW digital files contain raw data that is uninterpreted and unaltered. RAW files in their simplest description can be thought of as digital negatives. They are a pre-production starting point.
JPEG format compresses image data into a smaller file size. In theory, a JPEG file contains less data (how much depends on the specified size and compression/quality settings) than an equivalent RAW file, but is able to closely reproduce an image once fully loaded. When saving an image with photo editing software it is possible to save an image with different levels of JPEG compression. This enables you to create files that take less storage space sacrificing how well the file displays or take up more storage space to more accurately reproduce the original image.
Know Thy Self Key Questions To Ask Yourself
Unlike recommendations in other articles I’ve read, the best way to immerse yourself into this question of whether to use (capture and/or edit) RAW or JPEG file formats is to ask yourself the following questions:
“What are your goals as a photographer?“
Surprisingly, this is often alluded to in articles I’ve read on this subject, but never explicitly stated. The significance of this question is quite important, as you’ll want to select the right file format to match the following: your output goals (print, online display, etc), your technical comfort level, your available storage capacity, your computer software/hardware capabilities, and the amount of time you’re willing to commit to the post-production of your work.
“How comfortable are you with editing images on a computer?“
Many long-time photographers are technically excellent and seldom need to make substantial edits in post-production; while newer photographers just starting out in the digital format may need to employ many post-production editing features available to them to clean up their images. Realistically assessing your technical skill level behind the camera and behind a computer is a key factor in deciding what file format to use.
- RAW is a digital negative holding all of the data captured by your camera providing you a foundational element to which to apply all of your edits to with no sacrifice of image quality.
- RAW file software editors allow you to quickly and easily change the output of your image such as adjusting exposure, white balance, noise reduction, image size (interpolation), saturation, contrast, levels, curves, sharpness, output resolution, bits/channel, etc.
- RAW file software editors allow you to load saved adjustment settings and some even enables users to batch process a group of files versus making changes to one file at a time.
The Cons of RAW format:
- RAW files take up more space on your camera’s compact flash card or microdrive than other formats.
- RAW files require you conduct some degree of post processing via photo editing software to convert your image to an editable file type for editing, printing and/or online display.
- RAW file software editors have a learning curve, even if mild, and for the uninitiated can be intimidating at first.
- Batch processing and/or loading multiple files may tax slower machines and require more computer RAM to keep your software running smoothly.
The Pros of JPEG format:
- JPEG is a file format that has been adopted as a standard and can be loaded in a variety of programs making display easy and simple.
- JPEG files take up less space on your camera’s compact flash card or microdrive than other formats.
- JPEGs can be loaded easily by most all image editing software applications, requiring no intermediate steps.
- Most dSLRs enable you to choose what size JPEG files (S, M, or L) to save to your compact flash card or microdrive when shooting. This enables you to use smaller images that are easier to handle for email attachments, web display or as an alternate preview mechanism if your camera supports saving files in JPEG and RAW formats simultaneously.
The Cons of JPEG format:
- JPEGs are not a lossless file format. Each time the file is saved data is compressed, with some data being lost in the process. The net impact can be loss of color saturation, color range and sharpness.
- JPEG files reflect a one-time interpretation of your subject based on the settings of your camera (white balance, exposure settings and output resolution, etc.). Altering these settings and re-outputting a new file, as you can with a RAW file, is not possible. What you capture is what you get.
- Interpolating or upsizing an image initially saved as a JPEG can result in less than ideal results. Some 3rd party software applications can do this better than others, but you’re still dependent on using another software application to get the job done.
- With specific types of photographed scenes JPEG compression artifacts can appear in prints.