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Raw versus jpg

edited January 2015 Posted in » General Discussion
While I consider myself an enthusiast, I have to admit that I shoot jpg rather than raw. The reason is because I traditionally do minimal editing. I’ve always tried hard to get the exposure right on the camera. So even if I shot raw, I find I don’t really have much to edit. So I figured, if I’m not going to edit, I’ll just shoot jpg. Lately, I find myself editing more, mostly cropping and boosting shadows.
So I thought to myself, “If my shots are going through editing anyway, why not shoot raw?”.
So I forced myself to shoot raw for a few days.

Oh my gosh. I really should’ve done this sooner. There’s not much more I can say that’s not been stated over and over again about how raw is better than jpg.

It’s not that shooting jpg is bad. If you don’t really do much editing, then working with raw will just slow you down, so just shoot jpg. If you’re going to edit anyway, you might as well shoot raw. The only thing extra you end up doing is clicking the “convert” button and waiting a second for the raw to spit out an edited jpg.

Take this shot for instance.
Had I exposed for the tree, the highlights in the background would have been blown out. Had I exposed for the highlights, the tree would be plunged into darkness. In jpg format, the photo would have been horrible. There would be a lot of image noise had I tried to salvage it by boosting shadows or recovering highlights.
Fortunately I shot in raw and exposed for the highlights. There’s enough detail in the shadows that I can just boost them with no noise, add some sharpening and contrast, and the shot actually looks quite nice!


  • edited January 2015
    Like you, I tend not to do much editing and I rarely crop. I think many people get hung up in the fine tuning process and end up spending many hours changing a picture without actually making it better. Many years of shooting slides have instilled in me the notion that what you get is what you got, and I usually find that after a long session of editing I like the original better anyway.

    However, I have been in the habit of shooting in raw mode because when one does have changes to do, they are so easy and reversible. I'm in a slightly different situation because, as I think I've mentioned, I like to use a variety of odd lenses that do not meter with the D3200. Though I generally get the exposure right with old-fashioned guesswork and the histogram, the ability to fine tune exposure makes raw shooting worthwhile. I also normally leave "active D-lighting" off because I prefer denser shadows, and the shadow recovery options in a raw file make this a no-lose proposition when I guess wrong.

    It's also useful to remember that only in raw mode can one fine tune the white balance without altering other settings. I have found that with certain lenses the auto white balance runs pretty cool, and though most of the time this suits me all right, there are times when warming up white balance makes colors a bit more vivid in a way that is more natural than changing the picture control. You can also change picture control on a raw file, and the View NX2 program includes "landscape" and "portrait" color sets that are not available on the camera in all modes. Shoot raw in normal color mode, and if you don't like the way it renders a face, hit a button and get the same picture in portrait color set without having changed the camera settings.

    Another thing I've found (though I rarely use it) is that if you crop a crop of a raw image it is cleaner than one of a JPG. Even if you save the result as a JPG, there is no compression loss in the cropping.

    Given how easy it is to make a bulk conversion in many programs, I don't think there is much reason not to shoot raw these days. If you like what you got and don't need to edit you can select a zillion pictures, hit a button, and bingo, you have JPG copies of them all in whatever size and quality you need and you still have the raw files for the archive. Memory cards are easily gotten, and computer space is not all that hard to find nowadays. The exception to this rule might be if one is traveling and finds that memory is running short, or if you are doing a lot of burst mode shooting, and find that the camera's buffer fills up too fast.

    Anyway, doesn't it feel good to add this to your "don't listen to Ken Rockwell" list?
  • @ohyeahar - RAW is definitely the way to go. Memory cards and hard drives are so cheap these days, that storage really isn't a limiting factor. I think most people are deterred from "processing" photos, because they don't believe they have the time or they don't want to learn how to use a RAW processing program. However, with programs like Adobe Lightroom, you can easily batch process all of your RAW images to JPEG in a matter of 5 minutes. For images that are really special, you then have the ability to boost shadows or bring down highlights to produce a dynamic image that is almost impossible to achieve straight out of camera. Glad you've made the switch!

    @bruto - So many great points, however, your last comment is pure gold. :D
  • edited January 2015
    Haha! Having such a “list” would be giving him too much credit, but you’re right; it does feel good (This reminds me, my goodness, have you read his jpg vs raw article? It’s atrocious)!

    I’ve actually shot raw before and I’m aware of the advantages of raw, but I never viewed editing as part of my workflow. So there’s genuinely no reason for me to shoot raw. That’s the real argument here, right? It’s not raw vs jpg, it’s editing versus straight-out-of-the-camera.

    If you’re satisfied with your SOOC shots, then great. Shoot jpg and don’t waste your time.

    Editing is just as part of photography nowadays as film-developing was back then.
    Shooting jpg is like just bringing your roll of film to a 1-hour photo. Editing is developing your own film.

    There’s no question that if you want the absolute best photo, you do your own editing, and if you edit, shoot raw.

    A lot of people feel liberated when they move from shooting Auto mode to A, S, or M mode. Moving from jpg to raw is the next step.
  • edited January 2015
    Hi both,
    I agree with what both of you have to say. I am assuming that your Nikons are like my Canon in that you can choose to shoot in RAW+JPG simultaneously. This is what I tend to do. Using the Canon utility to view pictures or Irfanview, I can easily compare shots. If there is little significant difference, then I delete the RAW and save the JPG. If, however, I decide that a shot needs a little tweaking, then I delete the JPG and save the RAW. This cuts down on the amount of post processing I need to do. I used to shoot RAW exclusively, but, as no processing is applied to the data, I found I needed to apply sharpening to every shot at least. When working with 300+ shots, even doing that can take some considerable time.
  • edited January 2015
    I think what you're seeing here is a difference between how the camera interprets a RAW image and how the file reader does. A raw image cannot actually be viewed without some conversion into a viewable format such as Tiff or JPG. If the JPG from your camera looks sharper than the RAW in your viewer, it's probably partly due to the camera doing the job a bit differently. If you have the space to store both versions, Raw +JPG makes sense, since the camera's conversion is often best and easiest. Not only does this leave many options open but it also of course ends up making backup copies of all your images.

    Unfortunately, one of the features left out on the low end Nikons like the D3200 is the option of shooting RAW plus a reduced size JPG. It would be very convenient to be able to shoot RAW and simultaneously make a small format lower quality JPG for instant sharing. Alas, only the largest and least compressed JPG is available here, so you still have to post-convert to get smaller files, and in the process there can be further loss. For this reason, I usually shoot RAW alone and convert in post straight from RAW to whatever size and compression I am aiming at.
  • edited October 2015
    Every time I open a raw shot on light room there are these tiny grains in the picture that are similar to noise (though I didn't increase my ISO), that make the picture utterly unusable. Even when I fiddle with the sharpness and luminescence, it just gets worse. This is why I don't shoot raw.
  • edited October 2015
    Edit to add, post deleted, because I did not notice at first that you were the author of the other thread, so nothing I said here was new. Disregard.
  • edited August 2017
    @MOOSE, @PBKED, @BRUTO: JPEGs are embedded in RAW files (at least in NEFs) and can be easily extracted. In my D5300 they usually have up to 3 MB in size and are good enough quality for viewing on a 4K screen for most people. You don't have to shoot RAW+JPEG as this way you will only limit the number of photos that you can store in your cameras buffer and SD card. After you extract JPEGs you can simply delete RAWs to get back the disk space.
  • @SEDROS I appreciate you sharing that tip. For most people, extracting the JPG thumbnail might be too much of a process, especially if they want to share or print directly from the memory card. But still a helpful trick for those that shot RAW and want to pull out a JPG without editing the RAW file.
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