The argument between RAW and JPG comes about inevitably between photographers, when they start wanting to photograph with better quality in mind. There are supporters of both formats, but my opinion is clear as you will see.
Raw files, are non compressed and non processed files. This means they save all the image’s information, just like the sensor captures it. It is, literally, the image in raw. This kind of file must be open and processed in specific programs, like Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (which comes with Photoshop). Only after can you export to a format that is sharable on the web or possible to print.
The big advantage to photographing in RAW is the flexibility you will have in post-production. Since we have the image’s complete information, we can control the white balance and exposure, without damaging the image. This means that if, for example, you didn’t achieve a correct exposure (within certain limits) you can adjust it afterwards. In a JPG file you will lose quality.
What is JPG?
JPG is a compressed image format, that doesn’t retain all information. When you photograph in JPG, the camera’s software pre-processes the images. The way these are processed depends on the camera’s model. Generally, the software applies the white balance selected, also adding contrast, sharpening, and other adjustments. This results in much smaller files than RAW, and they can be used immediately, since it’s a format that all imaging programs and internet browsers recognize. The big disadvantage is that we lose a lot of flexibility in the post-production phase.
When should you photograph in JPG?
When you need to show the work immediately
There are situations when you must show the photos at once, be it in a social occasion, or even in jobs where the client demands a copy of the images right after the shoot. In this case, you should choose to photograph in the RAW+JPG mode, keeping a file in each format. Give the JPG version to the client so he can preview the work, and keep the RAW version, which allows you to further process the image with more freedom.
If you’re photographing exclusively for the Web
If the images are destined exclusively for the Web, and you don’t foresee an elaborate post-production, then you can shoot in JPG.
When you’re running out of space in the memory card
If the alternative is running out of space in your memory card, then it’s better to have JPG images than no images at all! The ideal is to have several cards, so that this doesn’t happen.
When you’re shooting in continuous mode
If your camera takes some time to transfer the images from its memory to the card, and you’re photographing in continuous mode (as in sports, for example), then change to JPG, and you won’t be running the risk of losing a special image. Better than that is having a fast camera and cards.
When should you photograph in RAW?
If you need the highest quality in your photos, always! Only the RAW format retains all the image’s information, and allows a flexible post-production. The advantages of shooting RAW are clearly superior.
I defend you should photograph in RAW mode whenever possible. You will have more creative and technical freedom in post-production and, as a consequence, a better image.
However, I must say that, if you photograph for fun, and won’t need to do much work on the images, the JPG format is more than enough. It is a question of understanding your objective.
Do you photograph in RAW or JPG, and why? Share in the comments.