RAW vs JPEG is one of the great debates especially in the amateur photography market. Do I go RAW or do I shoot JPEG? Choosing which file format you should set on your digital camera is a big decision. If you’re unsure as to the difference between shooting in RAW vs JPEG format, things can start to get a little confusing.
It is important to understand the pros and cons of each format.
RAW File Format
Raw files simply contain large amounts of unprocessed data recorded directly from your camera’s sensor. It is the digital equivalent to a film negative that has been exposed, but has yet to be processed.
The primary advantage of shooting in raw is that it gives you complete control. The great thing is you get to determine how your photos are processed.
There are many characteristics passed on from the digital camera sensor that give raw files this control. Before making your mind up as to which you prefer, let’s first take a look at those characteristics.
The Techy Bit
Raw files have a higher bit depth of 12, 14 and in some cases even 16 bits of information. This is just a fancy way of saying how many levels of information can be captured and stored. This information is stored inside every single image you capture.
A standard 12-bit digital camera is capable of capturing 4,096 levels of tonal information in RAW. 14-bits store 16,384 levels and 16-bits store 65,536 levels of tonal information. A JPEG typically shoots in 8 bits so store 256 levels of information. There is more to it than that but no need to go into further details.
High Dynamic Range
A higher bit depth results in being able to capture high dynamic range scenes where the contrast ratios are extreme. For example shooting at night time or the middle of a sunny day. Information stored in the brightest of whites or darkest of shadows is still present. This means you can bring those tones together in editing.
This give you great flexibility. It means you can shoot a scene knowing you can alter the bits that are over or under exposed. In short you can concentrate more on just getting your subject perfectly exposed and worry about the rest later.
Raw files are completely unprocessed s they still retain the full resolution of your digital cameras sensor. This enables you to produce high quality enlargements and prints without risking the introduction of compression artefacts that can be associated with jpegs. It also means you can edit, reset, edit, move the file, edit, move the file again all without any deterioration. Every time you move or edit a JPEG you lose a tiny amount of quality.
One of the draw backs of full resolution photographs is the associated larger files sizes. The drawbacks here are obvious. They take up more space and take longer to upload and download. You are more likely to slightly slow down you computer to as it handles the larger files.
RAW files are linear and no processing has occurred yet. Before being able to view or print your photos on other media you will need to process them in camera or in editing software. The good thing about this is it forces you to edit them more than JPEGS as you want to see what they look like.
JPEG File Format
JPEGis widely recognized as a versatile image format the world over. That’s primarily because of it amazing ability to compress image data into smaller files sizes, whilst still being able to retain a high quality of image detail.
As addressed above a JPEG file contains a lot less data than a RAW file. This means the file size is much less.
The thing most photographers love most about JPEGS is that processing takes place as soon as you take the image. This means you do not have to even edit the image if you do not want. This is great if you are shooting a lot of the same thing. Maybe runners crossing a finish line in a big race for example. If you get the first shot correctly exposed you can just keep clicking away knowing that you won’t need to edit after.
When you configure your digital camera you have the choice of choosing how your JPEG files are processed in-camera.
Your able to set the white balance, saturation, contrast, sharpness, resolution and file size. All from within the camera itself. So you don’t necessarily need photo editing software although we always advise editing.
Shooting in jPEG format also provides the luxury of smaller files sizes which results in faster processing times. This also means you can shoot more images before your memory card is full. Hugely important if you do not have a spare.
JPEG files are wide accepted throughout the world and can be opened on just about any device. JPEG can be easily sent and viewed via emails and can be printed without fuss.
The main disadvantage a JPEG file has is that it takes a lot of the control away from the photographer. You need to get your settings right in camera much more as it is harder to bring out shadows or bring down overexposure.
As mentioned above, the more you move and edit JPEG files the more you lose quality. Important to think about if you are going to be using images for years to come.
Which Format Is The Best?
Raw Vs Jpeg? Well the answer to this question comes down to you as the photographer. You need to decide what is best for the shoot you are on. A lot of photographers swear by RAW. However they will probably opt for JPEG if shooting hundreds of ‘easy’ images in a very short space of time.
It is important to remember that you have the option for both at all times. Nothing is stopping you from chopping and changing. Finding what works best for you and your surroundings.