Why Shoot RAW Over JPG?

Most people are familiar with JPEG format files. It is the format that is most widely used on the World Wide Web. It is also one of the formats that your photos come in when you use a DSLR camera.

As a DSLR user, you may have heard about storing your photos in RAW format. If you have been scouring the Internet for tips on how to shoot better and have more beautiful photos, undoubtedly, you have heard about the RAW format tip.

But what should you shoot in RAW format? First, let us differentiate one from the other.

HDR-RAW vs JPG
photos by Jakob Montrasio

The JPEG Format

The JPEG format is a standard format that is readable by most programs. Because it is compressed by stripping out the things that cannot be seen by the human eye as well as shedding redundant data, a JPEG is typically smaller in size than a RAW file. In fact, even if you use an eight megapixel camera, you could still have JPEG files of around 1 to 3 megapixels in size. So if you are running out of space on your SD card, you might as well switch to JPEG format in order to shoot more pictures. You could easily shoot and store twice or thrice as many photographs in it.

Further, JPEG files are readily available for posting on the Internet, for sharing and for post processing. Most cameras with an instant share technology use JPEG format to allow users to share their pictures directly from their gadget.

Most of the time, JPEG files do not need to be corrected. They are processed by your camera and are higher in contrast and sharper than other image formats, giving you that richly detailed look. You can easily manipulate a JPEG file using standard image manipulation tools.

Using the JPEG format for your images can be very convenient and it can make easier for you to distribute, view and edit your photographs. It would seem that JPEG should be the recommended format right?

Not really.

JPEG files would be a great choice for specific situations wherein you want to shoot more photos and conveniently share the pictures with everyone. Like when you are at a party with your friends or strolling in the park with your loved ones.

RAW Files

RAW files, on the other hand, are great if you need to do some post processing afterwards. It is a great choice for professional looking photographs after you have tweaked them in the studio.

RAW is not exactly an image file format and you’ll need to get a special software to view it. The software is easy enough to find and get.

In the old days, you only shoot with a film. What you get is a negative. Think of RAW files as digital negatives because these are not really useable, sharable and distributable as images.

Each DSLR manufacturer has its own proprietary RAW format. For example – Kodak has the KDC format, Sony has ARW, Canon has CR2, and Nikon has NEF.

Most RAW files are derived from the TIFF image file format. It has at least eight bits per color and 12 bits per X, Y coordinates. A majority of DSLRs, however, have 12 bit colors.

RAW files are very big, because they do not compress the files and they retain everything even when you cannot see these elements. They may not be as sharp or they may have a lower contrast when compared to JPEG files, but they can display highlights and shadows better than JPEGs.

RAW files need to undergo post processing, otherwise your photos will come out very flat or will look washed out.

Moreover, RAW files are typically lossless. From the images captured to the stored files, right down to when you manipulate them, you will not lose any amount of data from RAW files. It helps that you can only read a RAW file. When you edit it, you would need to save it to another format. JPEGs, on the other hand, lose some of their data even when you just rotate them.

Because of this, RAW files are sometimes admitted as evidence in trial court because there is no way for you to manipulate the images in them.

Why You Should Shoot in RAW

If you are shooting photographs as a professional or if you want to get the best quality when you post-process your images, then you will benefit from shooting in RAW.

RAW files do not undergo processing by your DSLR, which means, you get what you shoot. When you choose to shoot in JPEG, your camera’s software will divide the image in blocks and decide which of these elements would be discarded in the final file stored in your memory card. With RAW, nothing will be thrown out.

Instead of your camera doing the processing work, your computer, which has a higher processing power, will do it for you. This means that you get a better post-processed photograph.

Shooting in RAW also gives you control over how your photographs would look. This is especially useful if you have made a lot of errors when taking the shot. For instance, if you underexposed your photograph, you would have a better chance of correcting the exposure in RAW than in JPEG. In some instances, such as when you have used the wrong white balance, you can get better results and it is much easier when you correct a RAW file. You can also control the color range, detail, and contrast when you work with a RAW file.

So if you have the right image manipulation skills in software, such as Adobe Photoshop or RAW Shooter and other similar programs, you would appreciate the degree of control that RAW files can give you.

RAW files also ensure that you do not work with degraded images. This is what happens when you work with a JPEG file and you use only one file.

More than the higher degree of control and the ability for better image manipulation that you get from working with RAW files, you can sidestep the weaknesses that are inherent in some cameras and firmware. For example, some Canon models have a color bias. Shooting with JPEG on a Canon 1D Mark II, you will notice that your photographs are “redder” than a similar photograph taken with another camera. You can avoid this by shooting in RAW. Remember that your JPEGs are only as good as your camera and its firmware.

Lastly, the reason why people shoot in RAW is that they do not have a choice. Some cameras do not have a JPEG option at all!

Shooting in JPEG takes away the complexities of using your DSLR, but it might also be the reason why you are not maximizing all the features that are available on your DSLR. If you are really serious about photography, you will want to learn some awesome post-processing skills, and for that, you would need to shoot in RAW.

Happy shooting!

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