(Great Blue Heron – Canon 1DMKIIN – Canon 600 F/4 IS Lens – Wimberley Mount – Gitzo Tripod – shot 12-2-05 at 1/3000th of a second, F/8, -0.5 EV, ISO 400)
Photo & Article by Scott Bourne
Every digital photographer has to decide between shooting in RAW v. JPEG. In this tip – I will explain the advantages and trade-offs of each. I will NOT tell you how to shoot. I’ll simply give you information that you can use to help make your decision.
Here are the basic differences. If you want the highest quality possible in your photographs, you want to shoot in RAW mode. This means that you can adjust the photo after the fact in ways that seemed like science fiction a few years ago. If you mess up the exposure or the color balance, you can fix it in software called a raw converter with no penalty. Do you always need the highest quality? No. If you are just making snapshot sized prints or posting to the web, RAW is overkill. But when you want to make large print or when you have a problem exposure, RAW can be a lifesaver.
Here are some of the advantages of shooting in RAW:
1) More forgiving if you make a mistake
2) More information means better prints
3) Changes can be made before the image is processed in the camera giving you wider latitude to make pictures perfect
4) Higher overall image quality
5) More precise color control
Conversely, if you shoot in JPEG, your image is processed in the camera and certain decisions are made for you that are tough to undo without degrading your photo. Here are some of the advantages of shooting in JPEG mode:
1) Smaller file sizes take up less hard disk and storage space
2) Display faster
3) Print faster
4) Faster write times to your storage media
5) Don’t need the extra step of conversion
Depending on the type of camera you have or the subjects you photograph, you may or may not need these benefits. If you have a top of the line professional DSLR like the Nikon D3, there is no real worry about speed. The camera is so fast in RAW mode that there is no need to shoot in JPEG. But if you have a sub-$500 digital point and shoot, JPEGs are probably your best option if you’re in a hurry.
If you shoot fast moving action, JPEGS can be valuable because they write to the storage card fast and leave your buffer empty so you can shoot more shots quickly. If you shoot primarily landscapes, scenics, product shots or architecture, you might as well shoot in RAW if you can because those subjects aren’t going anywhere.
The more serious you are about your photography and the more you have invested in your equipment, the more likely it is that you should be shooting in RAW. That said, if you feel like you are good at getting the exposure just right in the camera, and you want the disk savings and convenience of avoiding working with a RAW converter, try JPEG.