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Raw or JPEG?

edited March 2015 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
I did the utter most mistake taking indoor pictures yesterday - I forgot to change my ISO and it was high and now I have some grainy pictures. Lesson learned.

However, I was shooting in the RAW. I am still learning about this. Which is better to shoot with, Raw or Jpeg?



  • edited March 2015
    Raw is almost always preferable if you have any intention of post processing or cropping. Many of the camera's settings are applied not to the raw image but to the JPG overlay which is what you see when the image is displayed. Because of this, a program that reads raw files can modify those settings without any loss, and with the chance of completely loss free reversal. Changes of white balance, picture control and exposure (+ or - two stops each way) are available only for raw files.
    Now that memory and computer storage have become relatively cheap, the added bulk of raw files is little disadvantage. You can read them in dedicated Nikon software or in various programs such as Lightroom, and even in some of the free viewers such as Irfanview or Faststone, and do bulk conversions to JPG without disturbing the originals.

    The View NX2 program that comes with the D3200 does some of these things, and only Nikon software can handle active D-lighting correctly. If you do not use a Nikon program you're probably best off leaving active D-lighting off in the camera if you shoot raw.

    View NX2 does no noise reduction, but there are other programs that can help. Among them is the free Nikon Capture NX-D program you can download from Nikon's web site. It duplicates much of what View NX2 does, but adds some features, including a noise reduction function with a number of variables.

    If you do not intend to post process, JPG has the small advantage that it uses much less file space, and the somewhat larger advantage that the camera processes files faster. The first advantage may occasionally be useful if you find you're running short of card space and have no spares handy. The second can be useful if you find that multi exposure bursts are filling the buffer and causing the camera to stall.

    The D3200's buffer will hold about 8 Raw shots at the fastest shutter speed before it stops the shutter and waits to transfer to the card. Transfer occurs at the same time, so the faster the card, the larger the apparent capacity. The buffer can hold 14 large fine JPG files, and can transfer them faster too. So if you're having problems with camera stalling when shooting sports or other burst-mode "spray and pray" situations, you might want to switch. Otherwise, though, I'd stick with raw.

    P.S. the buffer capacity varies, and apparently it's also its slowest at high ISO.
  • edited March 2015
    Thanks! I was looking at the Adobe lightroom program, but I may download the Nikon Capture.

    I tried to use the settings off the portrait cheat sheets I bought on here but the pictures seemed so dark. I suppose if I kept it that way, I could have lightened it up in the View NX2, right?
  • edited March 2015
    Yes, if the pictures appear dark, then you can add up to two stops of exposure to a raw file.

    Note that in the cheat sheet instructions, no shutter speed is specified. Use the camera's meter (the bar in the middle of the display) to determine the correct shutter speed. If it is coming out dark, decrease the shutter speed (each click of the wheel = 1/3 stop). If faces are shaded or if the sun position is difficult, you may have to compensate more.

    You can achieve similar results by shifting to A mode, keeping all the settings suggested, and letting the camera choose a shutter speed. If the picture is dark, you'll have to use the compensation button. If you're in light that is changing very quickly, having the camera keep track can be a bit more accurate, but if your light is consistent, manual mode is a little quicker and easier.

    Although it's fairly easy to recover dark shadow detail, especially in Raw files, it's preferable to get exposure right, and even a tiny bit on the bright side at the start.

    Digital information is funny, in that, like all electronic signals, it is quietest and contains the most information when it's near its maximum volume, which in this case means "almost white". You can pull out dark information, but when you do you're amplifying a signal, and with it you're amplifying the noise. The kicker though is that if you overdo the lightness and go above the maximum, the blown highlights contain no information at all! It goes from best to worst rather abruptly.

    Ideally, you want an image that is as bright as you can get without any blown highlights, or with only things you don't care about (e.g. a window at the edge) blown.

    In fact, one of the tricks for dark area shooting is to overexpose a little, and lower the exposure in post. When you turn down the signal, you turn down the noise at the same time.
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