On this video wildlife and nature photographer Steve Perry (from backcountrygallery) discusses a topic which gets up ever so often amongst photographers – the differences between shooting RAW and Jpeg and when is it recommended to shoot each of them.
The most basic thing that you need to understand is that each camera (yes even that of a smartphone) shoots RAW. This is the full information that the sensor of the camera records. Whether this information is stored or processed in the camera into a different format such as Jpeg is dependent upon the specific camera (many smartphones didn’t offer RAW as an option until recently at all) and user preferences (on most “real” camera the user can choose if they want to shoot RAW, Jpeg or both).
JPEGs have lots of benefits, the file size is significantly smaller (1/2 to 1/3 compared to a RAW file in most cases), they are easier and faster to store on a camera (you usually have a larger buffer when shooting Jpeg) and of course on your hard drive. They might look better at first glance (sharper, more vivid etc.), Jpegs can be viewed on any device, including smartphones, TVs and even those old digital picture frames.
So why even use RAW files? well, if you have any interest in processing your image after you shoot (or even if you don’t have now but you might want to in the future) using RAW is the way to go.
Basically, as Perry demonstrates using Lihgtroom (but that is true for Photoshop and many other editing software that can process RAW files), you have a lot more headroom when shooting RAW both in terms of color information and dynamic range.
This means that if you try and “push” and image by boosting the contrast, highlights, shadows, exposure or playing with the different colors you are going to have a lot more ability to change things without making a mess of your image when working with RAW files than when working with a JPEG.
So should you only shoot RAW? we do, but you should ask yourself the following question – am I going to process this image either now or in the future? if the answer is no – shoot JPEG. If the answer is yes, or you are not sure – we would recommend shooting RAW or better off (if you have enough storage), shoot JPEG+RAW and you got the best of both worlds (well, sort of at least).
At the end of this video Perry also has a short bit on 12/14bit RAW, compression and general setup for Sony and Nikon shooters (starting at 19:28), which is worth listening to as well.
This isn’t the first time that we have discussed the topic of RAW VS. Jpeg. A while back we published photographer Tony Northrup’s video showing real-world differences between Raw and JPG – a video that will surely convince you to shoot RAW whenever you can as well as photographer Rafael Concepcion on “Working with Raw vs. JPEG in Lightroom – Sharpening, Printing, and Tips” video on the subject.