The Raw vs. JPEG Debate

Found a link to a post on the Lightroom Blog that had me dash off to the computer to write my thoughts. It concerns the whole “Raw vs. JPEG” controversy. To sum up the article, RAW is great but there are circumstances you consider sticking to JPEG. Just like any “vs.” in the photo world, the lines are clearly drawn, and the community seems pretty divided. Now, I’m not going to tell you what format you should be shooting in. The best format is the one that works for you. I’m sorry if you came here to get a loud-mouthed opinionated jerk on a soap-box, but that pretty much sums up my thoughts. If you’re comfortable shooting in JPEG – shoot in JPEG. If you’re a pixel-peeper, keep going in RAW (which is not to say all RAW shooters are pixel-peepers). I can only tell you what I shoot in (RAW) and why.

Why RAW?

I shoot in RAW for a couple of reasons. First, disc space is dirt cheap these days and image size should not even be a factor in the decision. Besides, I’ve always felt that the more images on a card the scarier that situation gets. When (not if) that card fails you lose that many more images. The biggest size card I shoot at is an 8GB card and even that is scary to me.

Second reason I shoot RAW: information. RAW packs much more information into the file; all the information from the scene is there in the file. It gives latitude in processing, not laziness. If your photographer is shooting RAW for the sole purpose of being able to “fix it in post” you are not working with a professional photographer. Run, don’t walk, away from that situation. I don’t care what file format you shoot in, shoot to get it right in the camera. I hate post processing. I’d probably be a much better – not to mention efficient – photographer if I learned my Photoshop chops a bit better. But honestly, if I can’t get it just about right in Aperture and I need to do a lot of post to get it right, I failed. A little healing brush on blemishes, a Soft Light layer, maybe some High Pass sharpening or a touch of some Surface blur (thinking I’ll to a post processing post soon), that should be it. Done. If I gotta clone large portions of the image or throw 20 Actions on my images to make them look right then that’s an EPIC FAIL.

Third reason I shoot RAW: With RAW I can take the file from Aperture and convert it to a TIFF file as my working copy. TIFF is a lossless format, which means that I can open it, make changes, and save it as many times as I want to without it degrading in quality. JPEG, on the other hand, is a lossy format (which is why it’s so small) each time you open it and save the file, you lose a little information. That pretty much sells RAW for me, I don’t need any other reason.

But those are MY reasons. I’m not you. I’m not in your situation. Like any choice, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. It all comes down to understanding what you’re shooting, who you’re shooting for, and what you’re most comfortable with.