raw vs jpg - why shoot raw at all?

Do you have any thoughts on the raw vs jpg issue?   I think you'll find the following story worthwhile to read and it may help you form your own opinion.

Raw vs JPG - Decision Graphic

I recently attended a photography boot camp and I was surprised that the instructor never shoots in raw mode and only shoots jpg images.  He is a full-time, shooting pro. His reasoning was simple and it made sense.

Mike, the photography instructor, entered the digital photography world in 2001, a time when memory cards were limited in size and very expensive.  Being self-taught and "uneducated" in photography, his opinion was not tainted by learning the personal bias of any pro photographer.  

His preference for shooting JPG was purely economical

Mike was just shooting as a hobby when he started.  He wasn't obsessed with ultimate image quality, post processing creativity, and making money with his photos.  He just wanted to have fun with digital photography.

Raw files are really big.  Memory cards had limited capacity then. Mike would have needed to purchase several pricey memory cards just to accomplish an average photo shoot.

why his raw vs jpg argument made sense for his situation

He shot JPGs because they were smaller and easier to edit afterwards.  It was much simpler process. His reasons why he shot JPG:

  1. Too expensive for a hobbyist to shoot raw and buy several memory cards
  2. Raw files filled up computer's hard drive and took a long time to process with software.

It was too expensive and too time consuming back then.  But, what about now?

Now memory cards are dirt cheap and have huge capacities for thousands of images. Computers are fast and powerful. Why not switch to raw?

why he still doesn't shoot raw 

Mike shoots almost exclusively macro photography under controlled lighting conditions. He understands exposure and knows lighting.  Perfect color balance is not vital in the arena of macro photography.

He creates breath-taking images by shooting jpg images and using creative software applications afterwards.

why i still shoot everything raw

Being a lighting geek, interesting lighting situations seem to spring up in front of me all the time. Below is a photograph of my bathroom window.  I was struck by the significant difference in color temperature between the inside and the outside.  

The incandescent light from inside the bathroom was quite yellowish-the outside light was quite bluish.  

I saw it as an opportunity to share some insight with the readers of Better Digital Photo Tips. I quickly grabbed my Canon G1X Mark II and snapped the photo without checking my white balance setting.  The auto white balance didn't handle the situation very well at all.

Color comparison Auto-white vs shooting raw and adjusting color temperatureShooting raw vs. jpg gives you more lattitude in changing color balance and exposure

Although some adjustments can be made to color balance on a jpg file, you have a lot more ability to make major adjustments in color balance with a raw file.

Raw image files also can be adjusted for extreme exposure mistakes.  If you shoot raw, you can cover yourself, and make adjustments afterwards.  It's like having insurance in the event that you or your camera make a mistake.

Look at how big of an exposure adjustment was done below. The raw image on the left was underexposed by 3 stops, or about 1/8th the correct amount of exposure. 

Three Stop Adjustment on Raw File

The image on the right was adjusted by 3 f-stops. It was an easy correction to make on the raw file. This extreme of a case of underexposure would be much more challenging to correct if you had started with a JPG.



Bigger files, more memory required, longer processing times, more possibilities for editing.


Smaller files, faster processing. No raw conversion software necessary. 

You have to evaluate your own photography desires to pick a mode, raw vs jpg.  Sometimes I shoot both, which takes up even more memory, but I like the idea of having the raw image data to go back to if I want to experiment and process it differently a few times.

Explanations of raw and jpg are below.

What is Raw Question

explanation of raw format

Also called camera raw or raw format. Shooting in "raw" mode allows the photographer to process the data later instead of having the camera process the data at the time the picture is taken. It contains all of the information possible from a camera's sensor.

Saving the raw image allows us to process it any way we wish later, making choices on color, sharpness, exposure and many other variable. Raw files are very large compared to the standard jpg format that all digital camera can shoot in.

What is JPG

explanation of jpg

The abbreviation is actual jpeg, which stands for Joint Photographics Expert Group.  We commonly write it as jpg and they are the letters used as the file extension:    yourphotonumber.jpg

The JPEG committee created the standard, which compresses the data, making it a much smaller file.  Why?  Because this makes it a much smaller file, easier to edit and save, without a significant loss in quality.

Hopefully, these two opposing viewpoints will help you choose which way to go in the raw vs jpg choice.

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