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HOW TO: RAW VS. JPEG

October 26, 2011 45 comments

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

Ansel Adams

There have been on-going discussions, debates, arguments and disputes regarding shooting in RAW vs. JPEG format since these options have been available. These disagreements will probably go on for some time because of the advantages and disadvantages to both formats.

RAW format can be compared to black and white negative film, as both require processing to produce the final image. RAW format requires processing outside the camera with software, while black and white negatives require chemical processing in a traditional lab setting.

A JPEG format is like positive color slide film. Your camera creates the JPEG format, just as the lab chemically processes the color slide film.

Some photographers like to shoot in RAW format because it affords more flexibility in controlling color, exposure, white balance and contrast, which can later be adjusted with software. And it is important to them to have as much data to work with when processing the file with software. RAW files do take up a lot of space on data cards, as compared to JPEGs. However, spending time in the digital darkroom works for those amateur and professional photographers who prefer to shoot RAW.

Other photographers like to shoot in JPEG format because of the convenience it affords. They set up their cameras to the white balance, exposure, color balance and contrast of their choice. After taking the photograph, the camera’s processor takes over the job and converts the file to JPEG format using its sophisticated algorithms, then compresses the file. More files can fit on data cards in this format and photos are ready for immediate use or additional tweaking with software as needed.

Some cameras allow you to shoot in both formats at the same time so you get the best of both worlds. You get a RAW file if you want to process the file yourself and a JPEG for immediate use. This method requires good file management skills and more data cards because of file sizes.

Many professional and amateur photographers are now shooting exclusively in JPEG because the format suits their needs. They feel they get the exposure right when they push the shutter button, eliminating the need to shoot in RAW. Which allows them to spend more time in the field, rather than spending time in a digital darkroom.

Shooting in RAW vs. JPEG is simply a matter of personal preference. You can process your files yourself or have the camera take care of that task. Your choice.