The debate of shooting RAW vs JPEG has gone on for a very long time. Ever since the first cameras that could shoot RAW were introduced, photographers have been divided on which is the better format. The reasons for shooting either also vary with every shooter.
I have been shooting from a time before digital photography started. When I shifted to dSLRs, the debate was already very heated. I have tried both and shoot both on a regular basis. Let me walk you through the basics on shooting RAW vs JPEG.
RAW vs JPEG Comparison
RAW is the file format that has all the image data captured by the camera. All the data is intact and uncompressed that the file is called a digital negative. RAW files store all the dynamic range and the highlights and contrasts. It is called RAW because you need to process it to get a final image as the images are not as sharp or has the contrast of a JPEG.
On the flipside, JPEG is, if you compare it to film, a developed image. A JPEG from the camera applies all the settings that are on the camera like sharpening, white balance and others to the image. The camera also strips the image of data that it does not deem necessary as it cannot be seen by the naked eye. The data is also compressed to make the file size smaller.
Advantages and Disadvantage of RAW
The main advantage of RAW is that it has all the image data intact. On a camera that shoots 12-bit RAW image you can store upto 68 billion possible color combinations. Another good thing about RAW is that it has all the dynamic range and exposure data. You can change the exposure of the image to a certain degree. You can also change the Color Space, white balance and picture control settings on a RAW file as these are not final.
The disadvantage of shooting RAW is that it needs to be processed to see a final image. You also need a RAW photo viewer to see the image as it is not recognized by most operating systems. RAW files need to be processed by a dedicated RAW to jpeg converter like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. The files are also very large as it contains all the data. Shooting RAW will also be stored in the memory card slower than JPEG because of the file size.
Advantages and Disadvantages of JPEG
Shooting JPEG is very convenient if you need the files in a hurry. JPEG is recognized by most devices and can be readily viewed. All the settings of the camera are applied to the image so it is ready for export to clients or stored in photo repositories. The files are generally smaller and more can be saved in the memory card.
The main disadvantage of JPEG is that it has already been processed by the camera. It means that it is not as flexible as RAW when being edited. Data that has been lost due to the compression cannot be recovered through editing. If you get a setting wrong while shooting, you cannot adjust it in post processing unlike RAW.
So which is better?
Shooting RAW or JPEG is more of a preference than a necessity. It is much more related to the shooting style and the need of the photographer in the final image. It can also be related to what genre of photography you do.
I shoot RAW most of the time when I have portrait or macro sessions. I chose to shoot the RAW format for its flexibility. I can adjust exposure and white balance on my photos easily. I know most landscape shooters also shoot RAW most of the time as they need all the dynamic range they can have during post processing. Anytime I need the maximum data in my images, I will definitely go RAW.
I only shoot JPEG when I need to shoot a massive number of shots in a short time. When shooting weddings or events I tend to choose JPEG as there would be no buffer limit in my camera. I also shoot JPEG in street photography as I do minimal post processing on them.
So the reason for shooting RAW vs JPEG is down to what the photographer really wants. There is no one that it better than the other as both have advantages and disadvantages. The important thing to consider is that the file type you choose should fit your needs and your workflow.