Jpeg or raw, which is the best shooting format for you?

So the year starts off with the arrival of my latest Nikon investment. A full frame DSLR that will do full HD video as well as stills work. The manual is a 58mm thick tomb of details on every way to skin a cat! You can adjust every bell and whistle to the nth degree and the camera has more modes than the average human being probably prints images of in a year!

But it raises an interesting point with digital cameras when compared to film cameras and for that matter, earlier digital cameras. Where as in times gone by all that could be adjusted was the exposure when taking a picture and any post processing was done in the printing stage, like altering contrast ranges by using different grades of paper with various contrast ranges. Today, any exposure can be treated in the manner that the photographer desires – providing they understand the myriad of options available. Jpeg picture format or Raw for instance?

The different modes available offer everything from different contrast ranges to colour renditions and even densities. Many enhancements can be achieved before post production is even considered.

But the funny thing is most professional photographers will bypass all these bells and whistles and still shoot with little or no enhancements preferring the scope to work from the most basic of files that captures everything in the most unadulterated manner possible, the Raw file.

jpeg format is used on all phone cameras as the format of choice.
Jpeg formats are normal outputs on phones.


They will probably start off by selecting a colour balance preference related to the prevailing lighting conditions. Then use an exposure that balances natural light with any other lighting being used. Maybe they will bracket exposures, taking an exposure under and over the selected correct exposure to have safety for any vastly contrasting areas. But all of these enhancements and selections are only added to the Raw file as a preferred viewing of the Raw file and don’t effect the potential to change the image to any colour balance that the photographer selects post production.

So, should we all be shooting Raw files? What’s the benefits and costs? Well the simple answer to that is if you are striving to produce the best picture possible perhaps for exhibition or display and you have ample storage capacity shooting Raw has the advantage that the file can be gone back to at any time and worked on again and again with out loss of quality. The file is a non compressed format which could mean with today’s cameras you could be talking about 70mb files for each image.

If you have storage issues or a slow processer on your computer then moving files around of this size could be a problem. On the other hand storage is relatively cheap these days with Terabit drives below £50 which could store a lot of pictures.

Alternatively you might need to consider what you want to do with an image. Is the picture just for publishing to social media or are you going to need to send a copy as an attachment to an email? In these cases the file size from a Raw image will be much to large to handle and jpegs must be your first option. The difference between Raw and jpegs can’t be seen until an image is looked at under a microscope or at very large enlargements. For years I have been supplying my clients with jpeg images either as attachments, on disc or via Dropbox and never has a client come back and said the detail isn’t sufficient or the colour density has become blocky due to the jpeg compression. Generally clients have no idea or realisation of the subtle differences. You could say they see the bigger picture!

Home secretary
How much detail do you need?

Photographers on the whole tend to be tending towards the OCD side with regard to quality. It matters to them because they want to show their work at it’s best. The trouble is few other people are as involved or interested. The end user or client normally just want to see their event, product clean and sharp and displayed well. They would definitely have more interest in whether their Managing Director’s portrait shows his double chin or an ugly spot than whether every hair follicle is viewable when blown up to fill the screen.

So horses for courses, if you know a bit about colour balancing and density grading of images than start from a Raw file if you want the best chance of getting the best out of an image. If you don’t have those skills let the camera do the work for you, select your appropriate mode and whether it be full auto or “face” or “landscape” get the images you want without the hassle. After all photography is all about catching the moment.


Brian Russell

Copyright January2015.