Ask Noel: Should I Shoot In RAW Or JPEG?

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Josh W asks:

“I see it posted a lot online that we should be shooting RAW instead of JPEG. Why is that and what are the differences?”

I personally hate these blanket “You should be doing THIS or THAT” statements, because the answer to this question really depends on YOU!

WHAT ARE RAW AND JPEG FORMATS?

RAW files are as the name suggests…the RAW image data. It’s as the camera recorded it, with no adjustments, sharpening applied, etc. Every megapixel is there, so it provides the highest quality image.

JPEG is the STANDARD image format. It’s compressed to reduce file size, and you can set the level of quality on your camera. You can lower the compression levels to make the files smaller…but never do that. Always choose the highest quality JPEG.

PROS OF RAW

-RAW files give you the highest quality image possible as it’s not compressed
-When you over expose or under expose, there is more information in the RAW file, meaning you will more likely be able to fix it
-If you shoot with the wrong WHITE BALANCE, you can easily switch it in the raw plugins
-With software like Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud or Photohop Elements, Lightroom, or Capture ONE, you can do a lot of corrections at once to be more efficient

CONS OF RAW

-RAW files are VERY LARGE. It will severely cut down the amount of pictures you can take on a memory card
-In order to really work with your RAW files, you will need to have a program like Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud or Photohop Elements, Lightroom, or Capture ONE. And if you buy a newer camera, you will need to upgrade to a newer version as they stop updated plugins for older versions
-RAW files will need to be corrected, and then processed into JPEGS for final use. This will involve a lot more time on the computer

PROS OF JPEG

-JPEG is the Standard image format. Want to put an image online? JPEG. What format do most photo labs want? JPEG. Want to email an image to your buddy? JPEG. Pretty much every computer can read a JPEG somehow.
-Smaller file sizes. Even at the highest quality JPEG, the image will be a fraction of the size of a  RAW file.  You can set different JPEG quality levels to make the images really tiny…but don’t do that. You really want to keep this

CONS OF JPEG

-You will be losing quality, even at the HIGHEST quality JPEG setting. If you continually open and re-save JPEGS, each time you will lose more
-Exposure mistakes will not be as easy to fix. Over/under exposing by more than one stop will mean a lot of lost detail you can’t bring back

YOU SHOULD CONSIDER SHOOTING RAW IF:

-You are getting paid to take photographs. If you make mistakes in exposure or white balance, they are much easier to correct with RAW
-You want to have maximum image quality at all times

YOU SHOULD CONSIDER SHOOTING JPEG IF:

-You really aren’t that concerned with optimum control over your images
-You hate the thought of spending more time in front of a computer
-You never print your photos bigger than 8×10 or only post images online

RAW+JPEG

As you have probably already seen, you also have the option of shooting RAW and JPEG on most cameras. It will save both a RAW file, and a JPEG (Usually the HIGHEST quality JPEG, but sometimes it might default to a lower quality one, which frankly is useless…)

PROS OF RAW+JPEG

-When shooting a LOT of photos, like at a wedding, you may not need to do much correction to a large percentage of the images. In that case, you can just make your corrections on the RAW files that need them, and just use the JPEGs for the rest.

CONS OF RAW+JPEG

-Since it’s saving both a RAW and a JPEG file, it takes up EVEN MORE SPACE!

So as you can see, there are lots of factors to consider when making the decision to shoot RAW or JPEG. For the record, I shoot RAW+JPEG. But don’t just do as I do, do what works best for YOU.
My best advice is to try out both and see how you feel about them!
Happy shooting!

Noel

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