RAW vs JPEG-My Experience


There continues to be a debate in the photography community about shooting RAW vs. shooting JPEG. Mine is just one opinion as related here. I’m sure you have your own.

RAW vs JPEG Defined

Let’s start with shooting RAW files. RAW files are basically digital negatives. They contain the most information from the light hitting the digital sensor of your camera. One thing that makes RAW files harder to work with is that the file sizes are much larger. This means you have to have a larger storage card to accept the large files. Today, this isn’t really an issue, as digital storage card prices are very reasonable. The other concern is that RAW files are proprietary to the camera manufacturer. So not all image editing software will read a particular RAW file. You may have to install additional software or a plugin to view and work on the files. The advantage of shooting RAW files is you have all the digital information for the image that was captured by your camera’s sensor. This can be a real advantage when trying to salvage an underexposed image, for instance.

JPEG is a so-called “lossy” format. If you shoot in JPEG, your camera applies an algorithm that compresses the file. The compression results in smaller file sizes. However, if you ever want to blow the image up to a large size, you may have issues due to artifacts introduced during the compression. JPEG images are the most widely used image files on the internet due to their small file size, allowing web pages to load faster without a huge loss in quality. Shooting in JPEG format may be all you need if you are only shooting photos to use on a website or otherwise for internet delivery.

How do you decide?

How do you decide which format you need to shoot? Basically, it comes down to what you plan to use the images for. Also, you’ll need to decide if you are going to do post-processing of the image in a software program such as Photoshop. As stated above, if you only need to use the image on the internet, say for a website or Instagram post, JPEG will probably be just fine. But if you think you might ever want to print the image to hang on the wall, or perhaps become a digital artist and manipulate the photo into an artistic composition, then RAW files are a better choice. The RAW file contains all the digital data the sensor in your camera has captured. This will allow you to tease out details in darker areas or lighter areas, as long as you haven’t blown them completely out.

How do I save my files?

In my experience, the best way I’ve found to shoot is in RAW format, along with a small JPEG image in-camera. Since you need a special program to read the RAW file, it takes an impossibly long time to open each image file individually to inspect and cull photos from a shoot. By saving a small JPEG in addition to the RAW file, I’m able to quickly sort through the images in a standard image viewer much more quickly. Then, after culling the photos I don’t want to use, I can open the RAW file in Photoshop and work with the full RAW data file.
Please be aware that my workflow is far from the only way to do things. Many photographers use software such as Adobe Lightroom or other programs to arrange images and add filters, etc. For my business, my workflow just works best for me.

*Update- If you have updated to Windows 10 the image viewer and File Explorer in Windows 10 can read RAW files. This means that it is up to you if you want to save the smaller JPEG file. It is, however, no longer necessary. I don’t use a Mac, so I haven’t researched how this would work on Apple products.

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