Introducing, in the red corner and weighing in at a compressed format, the “I’ll handle it because I know best” JPEG vs. in the blue corner, the undisputed “come on in if you think you’re hard enough” RAW. Well almost a match worth paying to see? The problem is there is no one winner.
If, like me, you come from a world of film, negatives, slides and darkrooms then I’m sure you’ll see how the digital world has a relationship with these forerunners. The main difference now, of course, is that we no longer need to work under a red light and breath in smelly fumes when making prints etc. so which one is the winner? The answer is........BOTH.
If you have seen 35mm film being loaded into an old camera then you’ll know that what comes out the other end are negatives and that = RAW. If, on the other hand, you’ve seen Kodak slide film going in then it’s reasonable to say you are going to have all the work done for you in camera and the result = JPEG. “But help, which one do I use?” I hear some say and the answer is whichever one suits your needs at the time. Let’s look at JPEG first.
JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
When you set your camera’s recording format to JPEG, the camera takes over almost all the decision making about how the finished image will look. It takes all the information recorded at the time of picture taking and compresses it into a heavily reduced file size whilst at the same time discarding some of the digital information that was captured by your camera sensor. Why does it do that? Well, its task is to work with less of the dynamic range available from the sensor by discarding data from the highlight and shadows and to aim at producing a much smaller file size. The image seen on your camera screen is what you get; however, while convenient, it’s a format that’s less forgiving of any exposure mistakes on your part... hence people tend to use full auto with JPEG. Is that all bad? NO. JPEG is an industry standard format for photos now because it’s very easy to pass around social media platforms etc. and, if you master the camera settings, it lessens the need for post processing.
RAW means raw. It’s the equivalent to a film negative. I’ve heard some new photographers say things like “I don’t use RAW because it looks dull & flat on my camera screen”. Well that’s par for the course because it leaves the next stage up to you. The RAW photo format is uncompressed by your camera which means when taking a RAW photo all of the data captured by your camera sensor is stored in format waiting to be processed in your editing software.
So why go to all the trouble? For any photographers wishing to delve deeper into the craft of taking and producing custom made images, it’s the next step to take after feeling comfortable using JPEG. When you open a RAW file in appropriate software it soon becomes obvious as to the amount of control that’s available for changing areas such ‘white balance’, ‘exposure’ and ‘colour’ etc. It can, in some circumstances, be possible to alter the exposure of a RAW file by up to 3/4 stops either way; something that’s almost impossible with a JEPG. A note to remember however, is that camera manufacturers have yet to agree a common format for producing a RAW file (remember back to early video formats) in other words Nikon files don’t talk to Canon files and so on. No problem as we have that covered. Adobe have pioneered a RAW file format called DNG and it’s a free file converter which enables you to switch between the main player RAW formats, thus enabling you to produce and keep a common RAW format file.
So there we have it, but let me offer one last tip. If you are just starting out in picture making and you think that there’s a possibility that your interest will develop, think about recording your photos in both formats. Many cameras offer the facility to record both JPEG and RAW at the same time, which means you’ll have two formats to pick from when you delve into ‘post processing’. It will mean using up more memory space but face it, how many times are you going to fill a memory card to the max…. every one’s a winner!
Thanks for reading
Terence Jones ARPS
A photography enthusiast with a long and varied interest in taking pictures.
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