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RAW vs. JPEG

RAW vs. JPEG
Words by Mike Timm 01 Mar, 2019 1 comment

If you've ever picked up a DSLR or mirrorless camera there's a good chance you've had to make the choice whether to shoot JPEG or RAW files. There is no definite right or wrong to this answer, but here's our take on it and why we would NEVER consider shooting just JPEGs.

When you pick up a camera and start shooting, it’s inevitable that this question will come up at some point.

There is no definite right or wrong as to whether RAW or JPEG is more acceptable and is totally up to each photographer to decide how they want to take their photos.

That being said, here is our take on that question, and why we exclusively shoot in RAW when we tackle any shoot.

RAW file and JPEG file in Mac Finder

RAW vs JPEG - What are the differences?

RAW and JPEG both refer to a format in which photos are stored in the camera, and the amount of information that is attached to each file.

A RAW file is an uncompressed file that contains all the information captured by the camera sensor. This is stored by a unique format that can be read by specific software and is very heavy on storage.

A JPEG file is a compressed file that is generally used as a final file format. It’s small in file size and can be read by any software and it is web and email friendly. So, in general, it’s a very easy format to work with. JPEG is light on storage and very versatile in terms of how and where it can be used.

Before and after screenshot of RAW image from Adobe Camera Raw

RAW Files. Why do we use it?

The RAW format offers different applications to various workflows, and the reasons for using it can differ from photographer to photographer. We personally shoot exclusively in RAW for every single photoshoot.

That being said, here are some of the top reasons we swear by RAW.

Higher Quality Images

Editing a photo can be a hefty process and the availability of more details, sharpness, and contrast is of great importance. The more information we have available about the scene as it was taken allows for more editing freedom.

This format is thus preferred by photographers who need more freedom when editing an image.

The photos usually look pretty dull straight out of the camera when shot in RAW, but even so, the file size can often be as much as 10 times that of a JPEG file (Depending on your camera).

The reason these photos are so heavy on storage is because of the information available in the file. Just because the image looks flat when you copied from a memory card, doesn’t mean that it needs to spend the rest of its existence like that. It means that once it's opened in editing software, there is endless creative freedom with that photo.

RAW format holds onto the most information with regards the scene as the camera sees it, the exposure, the white balance, the shadows and highlights, everything that makes up the image without the camera interfering with the image.

Stock photo of cheerful young woman with makeup

  • Greater Dynamic Range and detail retention for Post Processing

The Dynamic Range refers to the spectrum the camera can capture in one image from the brightest point to the darkest point. Good cameras have a great dynamic range which allows you to capture the detail of both the shadows and the highlights in your images. When shooting RAW images you generally get access to a greater dynamic range, as the information stored in the image file allows you to bring out the details hiding in both extremes of the exposure without losing quality. The amount of recovery depends a lot on the camera you use, and the ability to store this information, as well as your exposure settings when taking the photo.

A good example of this would be a shot from one of Jacob’s recent shoots where he wanted to show the scenery in the background, but still, have the model perfectly exposed in the image. This is often a challenge. While using a flash or reflector to bounce light onto the model is an option, we try to keep the photos as naturally lit as possible.

It is important in situations like these to make use of the power of shooting in manual mode in conjunction and the RAW format to ensure you can complement your post-production workflow.

Jacob exposed the image in such a way that the background is well exposed, and isn’t too bright, but this left the model underexposed in the foreground. Knowing what is possible with editing software, it was possible to take the flat RAW image, and turn it into this:

 

Looking at the differences and enhancements in the photo, it is clear the power one has when shooting in RAW, and the ability to capture moments without having too much worry about a perfect exposure. A laugh, tear, or embrace won’t hold out until you’re done playing with your settings.

  • Editing a RAW image is non-destructive

A RAW image will always remain in its original state. the flat image you see from the camera will always be available. A RAW image is edited with the use of a “sidecar file” which is a text file that shows editing software what the image should look like. Having this system in place means that you’ll never have to worry about damaging the original file.

Once we’re done editing an image, and realise we don’t like it, or a client needs a different look, we can simply decide to start from scratch and simply clear all settings from the images’ sidecar file. This process can happen at any time, which means that you can go back to work from years ago and update the image with a new editing style, or to fit your Instagram, blog, or whatever other purposes you need it for.

What are JPEGs used for?

After singing the praises of shooting in RAW format, it is important to take into consideration the uses of JPEGs in this case.

A JPEG file works differently to raw files. Once you’ve edited an image and commit settings to a JPEG file, the settings stored, and the file compressed. JPEGs also run the risk of losing quality with each change in the edit, as the editing software may compress the image in order to keep it to a specific size or application.

The image is taken with the settings as chosen by the photographer, and then the camera applies a certain setting with regards to colours, blacks, whites, and contrast before being saved to the memory card. These settings are irreversible.

Even though we exclusively shoot in RAW format, there are definitely still many pros and cons to JPEGs that are worth mentioning.

  • Pros

- JPEGs are the most common image format used
- If speed is more important than quality - then JPEG is way faster to work with
- All apps and software are compatible with JPEGs
- JPEGs are easy to print or send
- It’s possible to store high-resolution images in a smaller size
      • Cons

      - Editing a JPEG can deteriorate the image
      - Compressing a file to send it around causes the image to lose quality
      - Once an image is edited and saved, it cannot be undone

         Pile of compact flash memory cards for storage

        The lack of control with regards to manipulation of an image in post-production is not something we can afford to risk. In this line of photography, being able to portray a specific vision regardless of the shooting conditions are of highest priority. If we shoot RAW, why do you use JPEG?

        RAW isn’t a commonly used format for end clients. It is heavy in storage, and it requires knowledge and special software to work with. Although we offer you the opportunity to purchase the RAW images of some of our work, it’s not a very commonly used file format for most users.

        As previously mentioned, the beauty of a RAW file lies in its ability to be edited to look exactly the way you want it to. Save details which would be lost in a JPEG, and then still have enough quality to blow it up onto a billboard next to the freeway. This process includes countless hours behind a screen, trying to find the best way to represent the image when we pressed that shutter button.

        What happens when that’s done? We export that image into a JPEG.

        But you said RAW is the best, now you converting that RAW image to JPEG??

        True, RAW is definitely the best version to work with when developing an image, but once we’re done with that process, the changes need to be etched onto that file in a way that is accessible all around.

        Most users don’t need the untouched images and, in most cases, the final clients don’t have the resources or time to get the RAW image into a usable format. In most cases, images in the final high-resolution JPEG format is more than sufficient for the poster, blog, pamphlet, book cover, or other use of the image by the final client.

        Even though it’s possible to purchase RAW images on our store, it’s a very rare occurrence where the client isn’t satisfied with a high-resolution JPEG file.

        Screenshot of RAW images loaded in Adobe Bridge

        Let’s wrap it up.

        Factually, RAW images are more versatile for editing. We suggest any photographer who wants to get the most out of their photos to shoot RAW. However, if you simply need an image to complement a project, a JPEG is more than capable to meet that need.

        Most cameras have the ability to shoot in both of these formats either individually or at the same time. While heavy on storage, it’s a good option for beginner photographers to shoot in both JPEG and RAW. This allows for the experience in both formats, and then once comfortable, make this decision in terms of preference.

        The long and short of it is:

        - RAW allows more editing freedom at heavier file sizes.
        - JPEG allows for quicker access to usable images at smaller file sizes.

        We would never even consider just shooting JPEGs. Our advice is: If you can, shoot RAW or at least JPEG + RAW. 

        Do you shoot RAW or JPEG? Let us know in the comments below!

          Comments (1)

          Ryan 04 Mar, 2019

          Great article. This topic no matter how old is always relevant due to the fact that there are always new photographers joining the industry. A Suggestion for a next blog – Cellphone Raw vs DSLR Raw. In the age of cellphone photography is there really such a difference and if so how will it affect Professional Camera Photography in the future. KEEP UP THE WORK MR TIMM!

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