I follow a lot of photographers on Twitter and this is a debate that’s been rearing its head a lot of late, but is one really better than the other?
For the most part, it seems to be less experienced photographers that shoot in jpg with those who have a bit more experience making the switch to RAW. For my own part, I started off only in jpg, progressed to jpg and RAW and now 95% of the time shoot only in RAW.
So, what’s the big deal about shooting in RAW?
Quite simply, it’s all about the control you have over your image. Using RAW for your photography you can safely forget all about white balance, it’s easily adjustable in the RAW file. Blown out highlights? Not a problem, the recovery slider will get you out of that one most times. I’m not suggesting that RAW should make you lazy and you should digitally correct every imperfection, what it does is gives you a “get out of jail free card”. In other words, you take that shot of a lifetime but you forgot about the white balance, now in jpg this would be a nightmare to sort, in RAW, the shot is easily saved. It’s a great safety net, especially when you’re learning.
Of course making the switch to RAW will be slightly confusing at first until you get to grips with Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW or any other RAW importer but the benefits of control over your final image rather than settling for the manufacturer process algorithm are massive. Once you get used to dealing with RAW files you will start to realise the creative control you have over your images and it’s this I feel is the trigger to make sure you never switch back to jpg. Once you get that level of control you won’t want to lose it again.
Your other big plus point of course is that RAW is the scene as the camera see’s it. Unprocessed and every last bit of image detail intact. It’s a lossless format, unlike jpg which after it’s gets processed and compressed loses a lot of image data, even at the highest resolution. If it’s the most perfect file you want, RAW and 16bit TIFF are your way forward. High quality jpg is fine in most situations but it’s nice to know, if you ever need it, you have the full unaltered best quality image. In some cases where I’ve licensed images the printer has specifically asked for TIFF rather than RAW, an option if you have the RAW file, not so if only a jpg.
BUT… jpg has its place.
I learned this one the hard way a few years ago. I used to do a lot of rally photography with my D70 and Sigma 70-200mm f2.8. Always shooting in jpg I would come home with hundreds of images that could be quickly downloaded, cropped and upped to the web. After a few years away from this I went to a rally again but this time shot over 500 frames in RAW. Process 500 RAW images? Not a hope. I know you can automate it but if you’re doing that, what’s the point? The next time I photographed a rally I used jpg which was the right choice for the situation.
I also switched to jpg when I was out and about the Royal Mile in Edinburgh photographing the Fringe acts performing. Again, it was a case of so many shots, processing the RAW was not going to be feasible so jpg again won the day. In both the cases though, the crucial element was that I didn’t need a much creative control over the scene as I did with a landscape or flower macro photograph, I was purely documenting what was happening at that particular time.
So, that’s my take on the debate. If you need the creative control, which I do most of the time, RAW is the perfect choice. If you documenting an event and it’s more important to rattle off shots on high speed drive rather than control ever last pixel then jpg makes a lot more sense.
I’m sure this is a debate that will run and run as long as cameras give us the option of which format to use, it’d be interested though to hear your thoughts on the subject!