Shooting RAW vs Shooting JPEG | Digital Photography Tutorial
Modern Digital Cameras, especially DSLR models, now offer the user the choice between shooting in RAW mode and shooting in JPEG mode. Some will even allow you to shoot both at the same time.
With this article, I’ll discuss the differences between the two modes, and offer suggestions as to which option is the best suited to your needs.
JPEG Mode – What is it?
The chances are that if you are reading an article on RAW vs JPEG option, you are using your camera in JPEG mode (in other words, the photos you take are recorded as a JPEG file, such as DSC_00324.jpg.) JPEG mode is the one that all digital cameras can use, and the one that is supported by all software packages that you are likely to use to edit your photographs.
JPEG is a standard 8-bit format, meaning that whatever your photo editing software preferences, it will be supported (i.e. the software will be able to read the file format). You may also see it referred to as JPG without the E, but for our purposes, consider them the same.
The JPEG file that your camera creates when it takes a photo will be reasonably small (in comparison to the RAW version.) This is because the JPEG file is compressed as its created, removing elements of information that the human eye cannot detect. The JPEG file will also have any in-camera processing options applied, so if you have set sharpening to high on your digital camera, the JPEG file will have that process applied to it. This is unreversable, so you have to be aware that any in-camera tweaking that takes place is permenant.
RAW Mode – What is it?
Unlike JPEG, RAW is not a universal standard that every piece of photo editing software will be able to read. Each camera manufacturer has invented their own interpretation of the format, so sometimes you will need to use the camera manufacturers own software to read and convert a RAW file into another readable format.
The RAW file itself is uncompressed, meaning that the RAW photo file represents the image as seen by the camera sensor, which has stored every available bit of information possible, including bits that the human eye cannot see.
The RAW file itself has to be post-processed before it can be used, either for printing or for posting on the web, using some form of photo editing software to save it as a readable format, such as JPEG.
Benefits of shooting in JPEG mode
One of the biggest benefits of shooting in JPEG mode is that you instantly get an image that you can print or post to the web without having to do any further processing of the image. You can download it to your PC, where it takes up much less room than a RAW file, and instantly email it out to friends and family who will be able to open it up and take a look on whatever software is installed on their computer.
The size of the compressed JPEG file also means that you can fit many more photos on your camera memory stick than you can with RAW files.
JPEG files will also look sharper due to the in-camera processing performing some software manipulation, again reducing any post-processing time that you may need to perform.
Benefits of shooting in RAW mode
You may well be wondering why you would want to shoot in RAW mode, where you have to post-process much larger images that take up much more space both on your camera memory card and the computer system you are using, and still end up having to save the photo as a JPEG file.
The benefit of shooting in RAW is that you end up with an uncompressed image. This uncompressed file allows much more flexibility in your post-processing work flow than the compressed JPEG file.
For example you may find that an area of a photograph is a little underexposed. With the JPEG file, you are stuck with what you took. With the RAW file and those little bits of information that your eye can’t see but are stored in the RAW file, you can start dodging and burning to correctly fix those underexposed spots.
Concluding thoughts on RAW vs JPEG modes
If image quality and flexibility are your main criteria, and a little post-processing work doesn’t concern you, shooting in RAW mode is a no-brainer. Its larger file sizes do mean you need to consider carrying more storage capacity around, but this is offset by the overall quality of the photograph you end up with. Even if you wish to carry out no further image manipulation, you can simply save the file as a JPEG and you are no worse off than if you had taken the photo in JPEG mode in the first place.
However, if speed is important to you, and you detest post-processing (and can get that perfect exposure everytime) then shooting in JPEG mode may well be your best option. JPEG’s ease of use means that you don’t have to about converting it to other formats, and you know that most computers will be able to read the file easily.
You can also store many more photos on a single memory card than if you were shooting in RAW, so if storage is a concern, JPEG may be the better option. However, you are limiting yourself and your future processing of the photo by not shooting in RAW. Whereas RAW can be converted to JPEG, JPEG cannot be converted back to RAW.
I switched early on from shooting JPEG to shooting exclusively in RAW mode, as the benefits of having that uncompressed, unmolested photograph far outweight sthe cost of having to carry two or three spare memory cards in case I run out of storage space. Harddrive costs are so low that storage of the RAW files on the PC at home is also no longer an issue.