RAW v JPEG Myth or fact?
This is a contentious subject within the realm of digital photography, what type of file format should you take your photos in? RAW v JPEG Myth or fact?
I’m not here to lecture you, only to explain the differences in these two types of file format. The right choice is what works best for you.
Expanding on the RAW v JPEG Myth
Most D-SLR’s have the option to change the mode that the images are saved as within the camera. The default factory setting is likely to be JPEG. This is an excellent choice for someone who is new to photography, to enable them to get used to other settings and controls on their camera.
The file extension JPEG derives its name from the Joint Photographic Expert Group as a standard for images. Full details can be found here for those of you interested in the background and technical information; it would be pure plagiarism for me to go in-depth to that degree.
However, to summarise the information on Wikipedia, JPEG files are flexible, you can determine what quality you wish to save your file as, which in turn determines the size of the file in storage terms.
This is illustrated in the photos above, the image on the left showing you how many photos I can store on my E400 using the lowest quality JPEG file, the one on the right, the highest quality RAW file. This is using a 16Gb CF Card, the largest that my trusty E400 can handle.
However, as you have probably worked out, lower quality files take less space but have a lower quality or resolution. Whilst this is ok for social media and websites, if you were looking to be a professional photographer selling your images, you would want better resolution.
If you put your camera into RAW mode, the first thing you will notice is just how few images you can save onto your memory card compared to JPEG. However, the file size has increased dramatically.
The reason for this is that in RAW mode the camera captures everything to the highest possible degree. Typically on my E400, each RAW file is between 8 and 10Mb! That’s a lot of pixels and data.
Sounds great? The major drawback with a RAW file is that it is too large to upload onto the internet in its native state. A lot of websites will not recognise a RAW file either. So what do you do?
I would take a step back to the days of the SLR camera as discussed here and think laterally – a RAW file is like 35mm film – this film required processing in the darkroom to produce first the negatives, then the prints.
A RAW file needs to be ‘developed’ in the digital darkroom into a usable file format. I use Adobe CS6 which has Photoshop and Lightroom within the package, however, there are many different software options out there, including bespoke software which comes with your camera and those which are available freely or at a lower price than Adobe. CS6 has been superseded by the Creative Cloud plan, not something I am a fan of, to be honest.
Within Photoshop I can then make many adjustments to my RAW file to create my final image. This can be simply a process of opening the RAW file and then saving a copy as a low-resolution JPEG with no edits, or applying the sharpening tool, desaturating the colour to create a ‘black and white’ image or applying a vignette.
These edits are partially possible with a JPEG file, however, you are starting with a file which doesn’t have as much basic information as a RAW file. The professional photographer will then save 2 versions of the edited file, as a TIF and JPEG. The TIF file is a quality between JPEG and RAW and is a format understood by most programs.
A RAW file will take longer to save to the memory card within your camera than a JPEG, due to the size of data being written to the card.
Another downside to RAW files is that because this file type (e.g. Olympus are .ORF) cannot be read unless you have the codec or photo editing software, you cannot upload onto social media sites directly from the camera, (a lot of modern DSLRs have built in WiFi and can upload instantly) you have to do the processing as described above, which in today’s instant society, is a huge drawback.
However, as illustrated above, most DSLRs have the option to save both the RAW file and a JPEG file simultaneously, the JPEG file can be ready for immediate upload onto the web, the RAW file can be processed in the digital darkroom. But this does restrict the number of images as you can see.
Personally, I always shoot in RAW, then edit my photos. I find this therapeutic and a great way to reflect on my work. I find flaws that weren’t immediately obvious and can be more critical of my work rather than being caught up in the moment. I can then also revisit my RAW files and apply different processing methods, to create fresh images.
RAW v JPEG Myth?
Hopefully, I haven’t lectured you too much and you will take your camera out to try shooting images in RAW to then see for yourself which you prefer. Do you feel that the RAW v JPEG myth is still contentious?