Photo tips on Saturday: RAW or JPEG?
In this post for photo tips on Saturday I want to say a few words about the use of JPEG versus RAW. When I first started using a digital SLR camera I shot JPEGs all the time. However, now I only shoot in RAW. In this post I will outline some key differences between the two options. I will also outline why I continued to use JPEGs for quite some time and why I now consider those reasons to be inappropriate.
Key differences between RAW and JPEG
|Needs special software to view (easy to obtain)||Viewable by any image program|
|Uses at least 8 bits per colour (typically 12 at least 12 bits) – which means much more flexibility in making colour adjustments||Uses only 8 bits per colour|
|No compression (a 24 megapixel camera will produce 24 Megabyte RAW file)||Significant compression|
|Includes complete data from the camera’s sensor (lossless)||Can be manipulated but loses data with every image (opposite of lossless)|
|Higher dynamic range (greater ability to show highlights and shadows)||Lower dynamic range|
|Lower in contrast||Higher in contrast|
|Not as sharp||Sharper|
|Unable to print directly||Able to print directly|
|Need to process in your camera||Processed in camera|
|Overall much more control over your image appearance but requires post processing time with greater ability to change settings such as white balance, exposure, contrast etc.||
Overall much less control over image appearance but it doesn’t require post processing time
My history with using JPEGs
After initially using JPEGs with a digital SLR I had two main reasons why I didn’t convert to RAW for a significant time:
- No interest in post processing (such as with Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture, Picasa etc)
- The ability to double the effective focal length in my camera when using JPEG but not RAW.
Point 1 above probably came from my lack of interest in doing my own darkroom work in film days. However, even for those of us who let the camera lab do the work with our prints it is important to realise the lab was making adjustments to our prints to enhance the look (when appropriate). These days, I devote significant effort in post processing and it is this activity that I believe has produced my greatest improvement in photography. There is a huge amount to learn in post processing but it is well worth the effort. I am not going to spend anytime on post processing here – there is lots of material available on this topic – but will just say that if you aren’t currently in this field it is well worth thinking about. I use Lightroom for most of my post processing and find it an intuitive program to use. I have started delving into Photoshop for more specific purposes and have to say in my hands it is much less intuitive than Lightroom.
The second point above related particularly to wildlife photography – the advantages of effectively coming in closer are obvious. However, considering the points in the table above, and the ability to crop with the larger megapixel cameras of today really means this is not a good reason to continue using JPEGs.
These days I am exclusively shooting RAW for the reasons outlined above and would recommend thinking about changing if you aren’t currently doing so.
I would be interested to hear whether you are using JPEG or RAW and your reasons for that choice – feel free to leave a comment behind if you wish.