Should I shoot RAW or JPEG

There is lot of information and discussions on the pros and cons of shooting RAW or JPEG. And if you are struggling to make sense of it all then this article might just be for you.

Most of the arguments around whether to shoot RAW or JPEG focus on the benefits and dis-benefits of each file format and can be confusing to those who are new to photography.

I have a slightly different approach to the question of shooting in RAW or JPEG, read on to find out more…

What you really need to know

  • There are 2 file types to consider when taking pictures​
    • RAW​.
    • JPEG​.
    • Deciding which file type you want to use is fundamental to setting up and using your camera’s features and functions successfully.​
    • This is because each file type is treated differently by your camera. ​
    • Some settings are not used when shooting RAW files.​

Key considerations

  • When shooting JPEG​
    • All camera settings are applied at the time of shooting (baked-in) and cannot be changed afterwards.​
    • If you set the wrong white balance or exposure setting, then you will not be able to change these after you have taken the image.​
  • When shooting RAW​
    • The RAW data is captured from your camera’ sensor, some camera settings are ignored, the RAW file is processed using an external imaging editor.
    • RAW files are ‘post processed’ if your white balance is set incorrectly, you can change it when processing your images.​
    • If your exposure is off, you can adjust it when processing your images.​

Which file type should you choose

File type decision tree
  • If you are not going to post process your files, shoot JPEGs.​
  • If you have the software to process your RAW files, shoot in RAW.​
  • Of course you can always shoot RAW & JPEG if appropriate to your needs.​ (caveat – some camera functions may not be available when shooting RAW & JPEG together)​.

More about shooting in JPEG mode

When shooting in JPEG mode your camera processes the image based on your camera’s settings, white balance, picture styles, sharpening, colour saturation, exposure compensation are all taken into account at the time of shooting. You need to be mindful of this and ensure that you have applied the correct settings for your subject or scene.

If your camera has custom settings, then I recommend that you use these to be able to change quickly between different shooting suituations.

For example

  • C1-Portrait
  • C2 Landscape
  • C3 Action

This way you do not have to fiddle with settings and you are less likely to have spoilt pictures because your camera settings were not correct.

More about shooting in RAW mode

Shooting RAW means that you will need to post process your images and you will need a RAW file editor to do that. When using RAW files and post processing you can make the following adjustments after shooting.

  • Key adjustments
    • Adjust exposure.
    • Change or correct white balance.

Being able to adjust exposure and white balance after shooting provides you with the ability to finely tune or correct under and over exposed images, and to make adjustments to the white balance if there is a colour cast.

  • Other adjustments you can or will make are
  • Highlight / Shadows.
  • Colour Saturation.
  • Contrast.
  • Apply camera profiles (portrait, landscape, natural – this might be dependent on what photo editing software you are using).
  • Sharpening.
  • Lens distortion.

RAW files are larger and contain more data providing you with a greater dynamic range, more flexibility when post processing, and the ability to exploit the full potential of your camera’s sensor.

Final thought

There are advantages in using RAW files but you should not get hung up on the arguments of whether to shoot RAW or JPEG.

The technology built into your camera is there to assist you in creating images, from sensors and processors to autofocus modes, picture profiles, in camera noise reduction, HDR modes, and many other functions.

The key point is that when shooting in JPEG mode, your camera is exploiting more of the technology in terms of the functions and settings built into your camera to help you get the image you want.

When shooting in RAW, many of your camera’s functions and settings may not apply as you will be post processing your image.

A good example of this might be HDR, my camera has an HDR function, the camera takes three images of a high contrast scene at different exposure setting and then combines them into one image. However, as the processing is done in camera, this does not work when shooting in RAW.

If you do not want to post process your images then learn to exploit your cameras functionality and be aware of the limitations of your camera under different lighting conditions.

The bottom line, if your not going to post process images then choose the JPEG file format.

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