Friday, November 26, 2010

RAW vs JPEG ... Do you have a preference?

I was asked this interesting question recently and thought it was worthy of a post:
"I know the difference between RAW and Jpeg, I'm just wondering what you shoot in? Or do you have an opinion on either? ... I just researched all night and read different articles and some people live and die by RAW and claim it's so much better for editing. However, the jpeg lovers claim that if you know how to use your settings correctly when you are taking the shouldn't have to lean so much on post editing in RAW form, it should be done right the first time!"
Taken with Nikon P6000 (a compact digital) in RAW format and edited using Lightroom 3 software

I emailed her back with this quick response:
"I shoot in RAW almost always because I'm not a seasoned photographer and shooting in manual mode isn't 2nd nature to me yet. In fact, I've only been experimenting with the manual settings on my DSLR since this summer. For me, shooting in RAW gives me that extra flexibility to fix the exposure and other settings in post-processing which lets me concentrate on the framing and composition of the photograph and, most of all, capturing what can often be a fleeting moment with young children without too much fiddling with the camera.
If I were shooting in a studio where I could control the light and environment better, I might consider going back to jpegs but I probably wouldn't since the only real benefit would be the smaller file size.
Kudos to those who can produce a stunning photograph straight out of a camera. Unfortunately, I'm not one of these talented folks. I say hooray for [RAW] software for giving me a crutch!"


I included before and after images to show you how much I love being able to shoot in RAW format, particularly when taking self-portraits and especially when I'm using my compact digital. My photos almost always need a bit of 'fixing up' in post-production under these conditions. I also have a habit of not carrying my speedlight with me and have an extreme aversion to using in-camera flash which makes for some pretty under-exposed shots. Software is my saviour until I've mastered my camera.

Interestingly, I found a great article by Jim M Goldstein that also reminded me about one of the cons of shooting in JPEG -- unlike RAW it is "not a lossless format". This means that some image data (like saturation, colour range and sharpness) is compressed each time you save a JPEG file. Huh!

Having said all of this, I agree with Goldstein in that only you can determine which format is right for you. So what about you? Do you have a preference for shooting in RAW or JPEG format? I'd like to know, too.


  1. Well I completely agree with what your response was. I do a lot of photoshoots and I shoot in jpg. Honestly to me it makes no difference. I like both and can easily work with both professionally and for my own personal shots. I can take a jpg and go into Lightroom and fix it up perfectly without it having to be in RAW. Why have RAW to take up so much space? I also agree with Jim M Goldstein's opinion.

    Great question!

  2. I mostly shoot in jpg unless I am indoors and the lighting is unpredictable. Even with a custom white balance indoor photos can turn out too warm so I like using RAW so I have more control over temperature. I don't see a lot of difference otherwise but maybe I'll have to experiment and see which has more editing leeway.

  3. I shoot in jpeg and either edit the jpeg in lightroom 3 or else I go into cs5 and open up camera raw in the bridge and the jpeg is now in raw for me ready to edit.

  4. As a photog major my teachers require us to shoot in RAW all the time. I only shoot in JPEGS if I just need more photos...but I actually prefer raw..

  5. Hi Cynthia: I do shoot in jpeg and in manual. Our camera teacher has encouraged us to try shooting in RAW but so far I have not. The big reason is that I am not processessing them in larger than 8 x 10 at the moment. As I become better at producing a quality shot I may change my mind but at the moment I have lots to learn.

  6. so I wanna shoot RAW but I usually don't shoot in raw because silly me, but I can't seem to transfer it to my pc. when I try to import them to Lightroom, it says NEF files corrupt or damaged. weird. any tips? by the way, great blog!

  7. I shoot RAW because I want more control. It isn't entirely about getting exposure correct when you shoot. For me, it's about the in-camera processing and compression (and loss of quality) that happens with jpg files. I'd rather make those decisions myself.

  8. leavesnbloom - That's a good point. You can open jpeg files in Camera Raw in CS5. However, when you start with a RAW image, it contains a great deal more information than a JPEG opened in Camera Raw, allowing you to fine tune your image that much more. Now the difference might be miniscule in many instances but for people who plan to print very large images or who (like myself) have a tendency to really mess up settings during a shoot, greater latitude in fine-tuning means the world. For those who have Photoshop Elements, you too can open a jpeg in Camera Raw.

    Jen - I've never had issues with importing my RAW files into Lightroom 3.2 but a good place to start is the Adobe Forum. Solutions to problems are often posted at lightning speed. It's best to provide loads of information in your query: e.g., what version of Lightroom you have, what camera make and model, your computer (mac or pc?, operating system), etc. Here's an existing thread that might help you ...

    Reading everyone's reasons for their preference has been very enlightening. Keep your comments coming.

  9. I shoot in RAW. I don't care about the larger files and the options you have with RAW processing outweigh the larger file sizes. If the RAW file doesn't need adjustment, the conversion to JPG is fast.
    I treat my RAW files as my "digital negative" and always save them.
    I use the RAW converter supplied by my camera manufacturer (free Nikon View NX) - it recognizes the settings I used in camera and allows me to change them as well. Major changes are done in PSE after the conversion to JPG.

  10. I have been shooting in RAW for a little over a year now and it's the only way to go (for me). While it's true that you can still open a JPEG image in ACR, it's definitely not as flexible- as you mentioned, JPEG compresses your image.
    Great topic to bring to light!

  11. Interesting points. I always compared JPG and RAW to film... shooting in JPG is like taking your film to the shop to be processed and RAW is more like processing it yourself at home in a darkroom. Both are fine and it's just personal preference.

    I personally shoot in RAW, because I find it easier to correct colour balance and exposure in Lightroom if I happened to make a mistake while shooting, without losing too much information on the image. I'm a control freak and enjoy having so much more control over the outcome of my image. The large file sizes don't bother me as I never fill up an entire SD card in one shoot.

  12. satakieli - That's a very interesting analogy. Many professional photographers do like RAW for the enhanced control they get over their images so, as you and Jess have noted, it's not only about fixing problem shots.

    I have a few SD/Flash cards handy so I'm not bothered by the large RAW files sizes, either. However, it does take a little longer to write RAW images on the cards and I do notice this 'lag' when taking actions shots where I'm taking quick, consecutive shots ... but then again, my camera is old and doesn't fire very fast so I haven't been able to take advantage of the fast-write SD/Flash card available.

  13. I've actually played with both, and for me, I use jpg most of the time and only switch to raw+jpg when I'm shooting at specific places (like my mil's house which always has horribly dark lighting) or know I really want to be sure to get a great shot and want the extra editing abilty. Otherwise, since I do photography for me, myself and I's enjoyment, I don't feel that I routinely need all the extra data/info. Stink, it's really easy to switch back and forth, so in the end, does it really matter??? Sometimes the things people get so hung-up about and offended by just amaze me! :) Will it really ruin your life if I don't shoot raw?? :) I'm glad to see the respect on this post about what others choose to use, although, it appears I am in the jpg minority!! :)

  14. I prefer RAW by far! Having the controls in Bridge is such a luxury and if it's there to use I'm going to use it! :)


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