“Shooting RAW is the only way to shoot!”
I see that quite a bit, but is it always true? For semi-professionals, professionals, and hobbyists who have the proper software and time to edit these RAWs, it’s a great way to get absolutely beautiful photos. But does that mean shooting JPEG is the “wrong” way to shoot? This article’s here to help!
Before I begin, I’ll do my best to help explain it in the simplest terms so you’re not bored with drawn-out, long-winded definitions.
RAW shooting gives you the ability to easily manipulate the photograph using photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop in post-processing. Post-processing, sometimes referred as “PP”, is the photo editing process a photographer applies after he/she takes the photograph. When the camera snaps a RAW photo, the image will be recorded to the memory card rather bland and dull. Some shooters think shooting in RAW is the best way to get the best shot straight from the camera. That’s not the case at all.
JPEG shooting is almost the opposite of RAW shooting. When you shoot JPEG, you’re telling the camera to do all of the compressing for you. It automatically applies all of the right corrections in order to get a good photo. This correction is different on every camera. So it’s wise to do your research before selecting the right camera for you, but that’s another topic!
PROS FOR RAW:
RAW shooting can lead you to amazing photographs. Say you take a photograph of a beautiful landscape, and the sky isn’t quite the right shade of blue for you. You can easily change it to the right shade that fits your standards. However, this isn’t the only correction you can make. When shooting in RAW, you’re in charge of what the photograph looks like in the end. You have the ability to work with the brightness, contrast, colors, saturation, exposure, and so much more.
PROS FOR JPEG:
Shooting in JPEG has its own benefits. First, JPEGs file sizes are much smaller. The difference can range from 800kb JPEG to a 25Mb RAW depending on your camera and camera settings. Secondly, you might not have the budget for expensive software like Adobe Photoshop ($200). Third, you might not be very interested in post processing. Photographers would much rather be out shooting!
CONS FOR RAW:
As mentioned above, RAWs are huge files. If you don’t have the patience or hard drive space, shooting in RAW isn’t for you. Secondly, photo editing software is not as easy as Windows Paint, not to mention expensive.
CONS FOR JPEG:
You lose the ability to edit your photos easily. Sure, photo editing programs can edit JPEGs, but it won’t be able to clean up your photo as well as it could with a RAW photo.
SO WHICH IS THE WAY TO GO?
Simplistically speaking, you’re working with many more levels (not to be confused with exposure levels) when it comes to RAW files. Therefore, you have a bit more freedom when it comes to editing your photos. When it’s all said and done, it’s all personal preference. It depends on where you are in the realm of photography. If you’re an enthusiast that loves to point, shoot, and upload, then shooting JPEG should be sufficient. If you’re a hobbyist who wants to get into more detailed photography (maybe even becoming a pro), RAW is the way to go. Both have pros and cons, but it depends on which pros and cons outweigh each other for you. Don’t let others tell you that shooting in RAW is the only way to shoot. It’s not for everyone, and with today’s technological advancements, trusting the camera to do all of the fine tuning usually ends rather well!
Here is a photo taken with a Canon 7D. I purposely shot into the sun to show levels, contrasts, and brightness within the trees in the foreground.
The first set is straight off the camera (RAW version vs JPEG version). You can see that the trees are underexposed in the raw version, and the JPEG version did it’s best to correct that, resulting in a “better” version.
The set below is the “best case scenario” after editing.
You can see both JPEG and RAW after post processing yields great results. The RAW version did better when it came to the underexposed trees and details in the sky (see the cloud details). The difference is also in the variety of post processing. The JPEG you see in the second set is pretty much the only good version that will come out after post processing. With the RAW, you can obtain many more results that turn out beautifully. Say, you wanted to add a nostalgic-element and push your white balance towards the yellow side. The results:
You can see that the sky in the JPEG version is completely blown out on the right side. Likewise the sunlight on the tips of the trees are completely washed out as well. With that being said, it’s not impossible to correct that. You can always bring down the brightness, but that would completely darken the trees in the foreground. Bumping the fill light beyond this point will only make the JPEG more noisy, which is a no no. Of course you can always start mixing multiple layers (background, foreground) to fix this unevenness, but that would of course take you more time and patience. That’s starting a whole different subject (HDR, or High Dynamic Range).
Shooting RAW has it’s benefits. You can see it in the photo proof above. However, that doesn’t make JPEG completely obsolete. It all comes down to personal preference. When people say, “RAW shooting is the only way to shoot.” They aren’t explaining all of the advantages and disadvantages to you. You have to consider the price of RAW-capable cameras (which are usually expensive DSLRs), price of photo-editing software (usually expensive), and the ability to actually edit photographs (which takes time to learn). The biggest misconception is when people buy RAW-shooting cameras expecting to get amazing photos when they shoot in RAW, without realizing that the benefits are in the post-processing.