Choosing Raw or Jpeg

Filed in Photography Tips on Jul.13, 2010

This question is one of the most popular questions asked when people attend one of my One To Ones or Workshops.The debate over Jpeg versus the RAW file format has been an argument with photographers for some time, while consumers are pretty much confused by the concept. The difference, truly, lies in ‘after-shot’ work and how much time you want to dedicate to improving a picture.

The RAW file has often been considered a format for those working to produce advanced graphics layouts for newsprint and magazines as well as posters and similar products. RAW has a wide variety of tonal changes and abilities that can be brought out in a sophisticated image program like Adobe’s Photoshop however, as it requires a fair amount of technical editing know-how to be able to alter the image and create the right picture.I for one always try to capture the image I want in camera,cutting down the need for such processing afterwards.

Purple Heron

When you shoot in Jpeg the camera’s internal software (often called ‘Firmware’) will take the information off the sensor and quickly process it before saving it.Some colour is lost as is some of the resolution,and in some camera’s there is slightly more noise in a Jpeg than in it’s Raw version.The quality of a Jpeg taken with a DSLR will still be far better than the same shot taken with a top-of-the-line point and shoot camera that is as old as your DSLR.If you camera can take a burst (shoot continuously for a few seconds) you’ll actually be able to shoot more shots using Jpeg than Raw because the slowest part of the whole process is actually saving the file/image to your memory card,so the larger Raws take longer to save.

If you shoot in Raw,your computer rather than your camera will process the data and generate an image file from it.Shooting in Raw will give you much more control over how your image looks and even be able to correct several sins you may have committed when you took the photograph,such as exposure,contrast,saturation.You will certainly need to use some software on your computer to process the files and produce Jpegs or Tiff’s.I have found the best is to keep,where possible the Camera’s Raw software to the make of camera you use,example I use Nikon camera’s so I use Nikon Capture NX2 for my Raw files,then Adobe Photoshop to process my images,whether they be a Tiff,or Jpeg.

Artic Tern

Both Raw and high-quality Jpeg file formats will record very good quality images the choices you have to bear in mind when deciding to either shoot in Raw or Jpeg are simply and that is shooting in Jpeg and the camera decides on the adjustments to expose,white balance,contrast and colour saturation while if you shoot in Raw format then you make those adjustments for yourself in you post-processing.I shoot all my images in Raw format and I don’t shoot Raw and Jpeg as this takes to much space on my Compact Flash.

I use Nikon products as I use Nikon cameras,open my Raw file in Nikon Capture NX2 then save as a Tiff file,I then open up my Tiff file in Adobe Photoshop where I do most of my processing,example-curves,levels,brightness,contrast,saturation then save the Tiff and make smaller images from there,saving my images on my hard drive and backing each one up on my external hard drive.This is my work flow as I try to keep the processing time down to a minimal and time in front of the computer also down to a minimal

Today’s DSLR cameras do produce excellent Jpegs though so where time is important and being in the field makes saving images harder shooting in Jpeg can be a very good alternative.I hope this has helped you in some way to understand the two formats and should you have any questions or queries on this subject then please contact me here and I will be pleased to answer you questions


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