2009-01-29

Raw vs. JPEG

Here's a photo that I took about six months ago on a trip. I really like how the black and white turned out. I'm particularly pleased with it because this was a very difficult conversion. I normally shoot raw with a dSLR. This photo was taken with a point&shoot camera as a JPEG file. Working with JPEG is always harder than working with raw.

When I first started digital photography I always shot and processed JPEG. The first digital camera I had was a Sony DSC-F828. It was a terrific camera with one fatal flaw. It had horrible raw handling. It would take a minimum of 30 seconds to save a raw file to memory. Even worse, the only way to process Sony raw files was to use Sony's proprietary software (Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro didn't handle Sony files at the time). Using the Sony software was slightly less pleasant than shaving your head with a weed whacker. As a result, I always shot JPEG.

After I moved to a dSLR I would shoot both raw and JPEG. At first I processed just the JPEGs, keeping the raw files as backup. After a while I noticed that I had more latitude with the raw files. For example, it was easier to correct over or under exposed raw files than JPEGs. I quickly switch to just shooting raw. I had been shooting and processing raw files exclusively for about two years by this time.

Then for this trip I bought a little point&shoot to do snapshots. It only records JPEG files. When I loaded the file into Photoshop I was really shocked. I found it really difficult to work with this file. All the procedures I would normally use didn't work so well. It's hard to describe, but it felt like I was trying to run through quicksand and was getting bogged down.

I'm now a firm believer in shooting and processing raw files, and only using JPEG when unavoidable. I don't think raw files result in better photos necessarily. What raw files give you is flexibility. With JPEG you're working with compressed data, so your process becomes much harder and less precise. With raw files you're working with the full sensor data and not a compressed facsimile.

Anyway, if you haven't tried raw files, give it a shot. It may take a year of working with raw files before you see the benefits. But I guarantee you it's worth it.

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