There is endless internet debate on whether you should shoot RAW or JPEG but it all boils down to one thing – control.
RAW files are information – they hold all of the camera data captured by your camera’s sensor, and the format is different for each camera. They can be read by the camera that produced it, or by special software.
A JPEG is a compressed file format used for displaying and printing images. JPEG is also called a lossy format, because repeatedly saving a JPEG file will slowly degrade the quality.
Most photographers start out shooting in JPEG, because the files are smaller and you don’t need a RAW editor to save them. However, RAW files store much more information, especially in the shadows and highlight areas, and allow for custom white balancing to be done. When shooting RAW, white balance, shadows/highlights, contrast, sharpening, color space, and exposure in some way can be managed in your computer. An extra stop of exposure in the highlights and shadows can be recovered when shooting in RAW.
Here is some differences between RAW and JPEG files formats:
Shooting in RAW means you keep all the data from the shadows and the highlights. If you want to make adjustments to bring out that detail, no problem – it’s all there. With a JPEG, it may all register as “shadow” or “white”, depending on the processing engine, meaning you’ll never be able to pull out that detail again. JPEGs only support 16.7 Million colors between pure black and pure white, but your sensor can likely support many times that. This is known as the dynamic range of an image.
Because of this, you can tweak exposure after you’ve taken the picture as long as you got close the first time, which is a huge advantage – especially with selective editing.
RAW files also allow you to choose your white balance after taking the shot since they don’t modify the original sensor data at all. This can be really handy for trickie light or night photography.
- Saves all of the data from your camera sensor
- Untouched by image processing engine
- Gives you more data to work with when adjusting color space, white balance, tone, exposure
- Control over white balance
- Better quality noise reduction available on computer
- Has 12-14 bits of color over 8 bits in JPEG
- You can change the exposure of the whole image, or parts of the image
- Has a higher dynamic range
- You end up with the highest possible quality image
- Larger files
- Needs to be converted to TIFF or JPEG to be displayed or printed
- A RAW editor usually needs to be purchased
- Sometimes needs contrast adjustment
- Smaller file size allows more photos to be stored on a memory card
- Faster burst rate
- Photos can be instantly printed or displayed on the screen / web
- Recent dSLR’s do an excellent job of noise reduction, sharpening, exposure control, etc. when creating a JPEG, saving the user time in post-processing and some models allow to process the RAW files directly in camera
- Less computer software required
- Has only 8 bits of color
- Difficult to adjust exposure, recover highlights, and change white balance
- Lossy format means repeated saves slowly degrades image quality. Repeated changes can introduce types on noise known as JPEG artifacts
If you can’t for some reason shoot only in RAW, then shoot in RAW + JPEG format. At first people tend to shoot only in JPEG. Then they started processing RAW files more often, which at first may take a lot of time. Sure, it is possible to get “right” picture in camera but to get best results you need the RAW files.
So, should I shoot RAW or JPEG?
It’s really a personal choice. Try to shoot one day in JPEG, one day in RAW. See if you feel that the additional RAW workflow is worth it to you. Try RAW first with some ambient light shots, that’s where you will initially see the biggest difference in recovering contrast and some color, depending on depth. RAW + JPEG will be the answer for most intermediate and advanced photographers.
If you have a large enough memory card, and space on your hard drive, and think you may ever want to sell photos, definitely shoot in RAW.
Keep in mind that all photos saved in RAW must be converted to a format such as JPEG eventually to display them on the web or to print them.(via Underwater Photography Guide, via Picture Like This)