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Raw vs. Jpeg, some surprising facts

It is no secret that I am big fan of RAW shooting. No I don’t mean going on pants optional photo outings but shooting in the RAW format as opposed to the standard Jpeg format. I have been in photo groups where fights almost break out on this subject but there is much to be said for each format.

1. You should only shoot in format, not true.Both formats have very strong reasons for using them. RAW does allow you more flexibility for bringing out details in both shadow and highlight areas but they are much larger files which means less shots on a camera card. And with that larger size you are less able to shoot faster or in continuous shot mode. Many sport shooters only shoot in Jpeg just for this reason. After all when a once in a lifetime shot comes along you better be ready or go back to shooting things that won’t move. Plus with today’s cameras you can go back in forth in format as the subject call for it.

2. RAW format will save you every time, sometimes. RAW format will allow more exposure on both the plus and minus side but no format will save a very poor exposure. The rule of thumb is that RAW allows for about two stops of exposure on either side of what you have set the camera at. However if you are under exposing at about three stops then an extra two stops is not going to help. Conversely even though you can bring Jpegs into the Adobe Convertor Raw (ACR) processor a Jpeg image is much like the slide film of old. It only allows about ½ of a stop of exposure on either side of what the camera was set at. So with a badly underexposed Jpeg you could be sunk if you needed even one stop more exposure.

3. Jpegs give much better color than RAW, not true. When we are out shooting and look at the back of our cameras or Chimping, whether we are shooting Jpegs or RAW we see a Jpeg image. RAW embeds a very small Jpeg as a thumbnail reference image just so we can see what we shot. It is the same image that comes up in Bridge or Photoshop view but not the image that opens in ACR or Lightroom. When you shoot in Jpeg mode the camera is putting a number of settings into that image. Settings like color space, White Balance, and even sometimes a process setting like Standard, Landscape, Faithful which are contrast and saturation settings. This is why when we bring up the images in Photoshop they look like the same images we saw on the back of the camera. RAW gives us raw images but does allow us to improve and increase many parts of the image like saturation, exposure, highlight recovery, plus in both Lightroom and Photoshop’s ACR you can go in and change the look by applying these same settings that the camera offers. It is just knowing where to look in the ACR to do a one click setting. You can even set up preset settings that apply when you import the images and with the ACR all changes are non destructive. You can always go back to the original image and start again.

4. So if RAW and Jpeg are both good why not shoot in the RAW + Jpeg mode?To me this is just a waste of camera card space. Shooting in RAW will mean less images per card to begin with but adding the same shot as a Jpeg is overkill. You can shoot all day in RAW then when you are at your computer do all the processing and make Jpegs from the processed images. The Jpegs will look better and you might have a great shot you would have missed because there was no more room on the card.

So no matter what format you like shoot in getting it right in the camera first will mean less time spent at the computer fixing the image and more time that can be spent being creative.