Wednesday, February 17, 2016

RAW or JPEG

Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Captured using JPEG format.
I've been asked many times which format should you use, RAW or JPEG?

Most digital cameras nowadays have the ability to save in RAW format, JPEG format, or both at the same time. It can be confusing to know which you should choose. What's the difference, anyway?

RAW files are unprocessed data from the sensor. Without the right software you cannot view these files. They're not even real pictures until they've received some processing. RAW files are like undeveloped film. The advantage of using this format is that you have more flexibility and control in post-processing. The disadvantage is that it requires more time (and editing skills) to achieve a finished picture.

JPEG files are photographs made by processing data from the sensor. Your camera will edit the image automatically based on how you and the manufacturer programmed it--no computer software required. The advantage of using JPEG format is that it's much faster than RAW because you don't have to do any further post-processing. The disadvantage is that you have less flexibility and control of the outcome.

In many ways it comes down to time and control. Do you have the time (and skill) to sit in front of a computer and edit thousands of pictures? Do you require complete control to achieve the look you want? The answer to these questions will dictate which format you should use.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Captured using RAW format.
And the answer may vary from image to image. One photograph might require the use of RAW. Another might not require RAW so one shoots in JPEG format. I use RAW sometimes and JPEG sometimes, it just depends. Each situation is different.

There are people on camera forums that will tell you that only amateur photographers shoot using JPEG format. That's not true. There are many professional photographers who don't have time for RAW. Their clients require the photographs ASAP. They'd be out of a job if they shot RAW.

The key to successful JPEG photography is to make sure that all of the camera settings are just as you want them prior to opening the shutter. You must take a little more care in the field. There is less room for error, so it's critical that everything is set just the way you want.

If you are lazy like most photographers, it's better to shoot RAW just for some mistake breathing room. So what if the white balance isn't correct? You can fix that later. So what if the photograph is a little underexposed? You can fix that later. This is probably the #1 reason people use RAW format. You have more room to make errors in the field and still come away with a good photograph. But no matter which format you choose, a little care prior to exposure can go a long ways later.

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