JPEG or RAW? (Part 1)

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JPEG or RAW? It seems that this is an ongoing debate with no clear conclusion in sight.

While doing a photo shoot for a commercial project recently, I had to decide whether or not to shoot in raw. Being somewhat of a purist, I used to abhor the idea of shooting in raw because I didn’t like the idea of spending too much time with post-processing work. I believed that it was better to get most of the work done right out of the camera.

After all, you can’t do much ‘editing’ on film right?

Wrong.

Ansel Adams developed his zone system to push the dynamic range of film to the limit. For that given reason, the same could be done on a ‘digital negative’, which is what the raw format sometimes called.

There are several advantages to shooting in raw:

  • Shooting in raw gives you more latitude in adjusting the image in post production.
  • Raw images are actually ‘raw’, unprocessed and uncompressed data collected right off the CCD or CMOS sensor of your camera. Because the data is in its purest form, it is virtually devoid of heavy-handed compression and noise-removal, usually done by the camera’s CPU, which is necessary to produce Jpeg files.
  • Images generated from raw files tend to retain finer details because the processing is done by your computer, and not your camera’s processor.

Shooting in raw has its drawbacks as well:

  • Large file sizes means you must be prepared to swap memory cards often, unless you have one of those cards that can store a trillion images (just kidding!).
  • Raw files cannot be read without proprietary software. In other words, raw files are ‘non-standard’, which means they vary according to the choice of camera model and manufacturer. In order to read these raw files, you will need to use the software that comes bundled with your camera. Adobe’s Camera Raw plugin is an impressive alternative that allows you to read raw file formats from a host of camera manufacturers. There is also growing support from the open source community in recent years.
  • It usually takes more time to work with raw files. Raw files are, well, raw after all.

Now let us have a look at some pros and cons of working with Jpeg files:

Pros:

  • Smaller (relatively) file sizes makes Jpeg files more economical to store, although they seem to be becoming larger as manufacturers pack more megapixels into their camera sensors.
  • Jpeg files are easy to work with. Because Jpegs are universal, virtually any device can them.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Jpegs are ready straight out of the camera. Post-processing is optional.

Cons:

  • Not much room to wiggle. With a Jpeg file, you are left with limited room to modify the image.
  • Jpegs images produced right out of a camera tend to be of lower quality.

That being said, the choice between shooting in raw and Jpeg is entirely yours. Professionals may shoot in raw because it allows them more freedom to make corrections later. On the other hand, if you do not intend to do a lot of post-processing work, then shooting in Jpeg is fine.

I will a closer comparison between Jpegs and Raw conversions in part 2 of this article.

One thought on “JPEG or RAW? (Part 1)

  1. Great post, thank you… clearly, in our digital age, this is a huge controversy! A conversation that comes up time and time again is whether or not Ansel Adams would have shot digital if he were alive today. As a former Ansel Adams assistant, I have a unique perspective and just penned a little article about it. If you're interested, here's a link: http://bit.ly/uAJmEt

    I welcome your comments!
    All the best,
    Alan Ross

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