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Why shoot in RAW format…

11 reasons to shoot in RAW format

In this article we're actually going to talk about why you WANT to shoot in raw, if your camera has the capability, and not JPGs. If you are shooing JPG, continue reading and you might want to reconsider, or not. If you are already shooting RAW pat yourself on the back, then keep reading. Perhaps you aren't 100% sure why you're shooting RAW, other than you heard it was better. This should clear up some unanswered questions for you.

First of all, my general thoughts on RAW vs JPG

There are many articles on the benefits of shooting RAW format, but in the end it's your decision. If you are getting results you are happy with, and have a workflow that works for you, then don't change a thing. On the other hand, if you want more control over the creative process (more on that later), and are ready to take your photography to the next level-at some point you'll likely want to switch to shoot in RAW. Having said that, let's look at some of the benefits of both formats.

RAW vs JPG

Reasons why JPG is better:

  • JPGs are compressed and take up less space so you don't need super large memory cards
  • JPGs are smaller so need less hard drive space
  • JPGs are already processed by the camera so you view them without using special software to process them
  • JPGS can be uploaded to your lab to make prints, shared online and emailed simply and easily
NOTE – however, all of the above are not expensive or difficult any more!!!

Reasons RAW is better:

RAW files have so much more information built into the files
If you don't believe me, ask your camera? Set your camera on “large JPG format” and see how many shots are remaining on your memory card. Got it? Now set it to RAW format and take another look at that number. If I'm right that number is now about one half to 1/3 of what it was on the JPG setting, am I close? So if the camera is actually shooting the same size image (by pixel size) what is in the RAW file that isn't in the JPG? Makes you wonder right?
RAW files hold more information in the area of White Balance
If you shoot JPG and get it wrong, you might as well turn it into a b/w image because it's extremely difficult to fix. But if you shoot RAW and forget to adjust your White Balance, using Lightroom or Photoshop, you can easily just choose one of the other presets. For example if you shot in Tungsten mode but were shooting in a Daylight situation, with a RAW file it's a simple matter of choosing the correct option from a pull down menu, then tweaking it a little.
RAW workflow using Lightroom is exactly the same as for JPGs
If you aren't using Lightroom yet, you might want to check it out. That is my program of choice and the one I use for about 95% of my photo editing. Yes, Lightroom over Photoshop! I do use Photoshop too but only when Lightroom doesn't do what I need which isn't very often. I am working on creating a weekly online Lightroom class that you may be able to sign up for one week at a time (no big time or financial commitment) and it will be done line using Google Plus Hangouts. Sign up for updates by subscribing (look for the big red arrow on the right hand side of the page) and when this course is available you'll be the first to know.
You can make a JPG from a RAW file
… but you can't do it the other way around. 😉
RAW is better when you want more control over the final look of your images
Unlike JPG, when you shoot in RAW the camera does NOT process the files for you (they are unsharpened, uncorrected, with no color profile has yet been applied). This is much better because, once the camera has made a JPG it is very difficult to change the look of it. Have you ever tried to unsharpen a JPG that was over sharpened by the camera? It can't be done.
With a little education on your part, you can use the computer to make your JPGs instead of the camera, and the computer does a way better job of it
The key words here are “flexibility” and “control”, you have both when you shoot RAW.
RAW files are 16 bit and can provide much smoother color transitions
This is especially true when photographing scenes with open blue sky, where JPGs, which are only 8 bit, just don't have enough information to reproduce the scene accurately. This can cause bumpy transitions and result in things like banding, which is difficult to get rid of completely.
JPGs have 256 shades of each Red, Green and Blue for 16.8 Million colors
JPGs are 8 bit (8 bit is 2 to the power of 8 or 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2) for 16.8 million colors which seems like a lot, but . . .
RAW has 65,000 shades of each Red, Green and Blue for 281 Trillion Colors
Raw is 16 bit (2 to the power of 16, I'm not going to expand that for you) RAW files have over 65,000 shades per color (RGB) for 281 trillion possible colors, that's a big difference! Now you can see why #7 above is a valid point, right?
RAW files can be processed using the larger ProPhoto color space
A larger color space equals better rendition, where as JPGs out of camera can only be sRGB or at best Adobe 98 (don't worry if that's all Greek to you, just know that bigger color space is better for more accurate and smoother colors in your images)
RAW is better because you can “screw up” to some degree and still save it
Not so much with JPG. RAW files carry exposure information in a range of at least 2 stops either direction of the exposure you shot at. If you're ever tried to recover the blown out highlights in an over exposed JPG, or tried to brighten one that was 2 stops underexposed, you'll understand what I'm talking about. JPGs degrade very quickly and you get either a muddy looking image with grey highlights, or a very noisy, grainy one. Lightroom  is great at recovering amazing amounts of detail in images quite drastically under and over exposed, with pretty decent results. Doing the same with a camera JPG will result in a grainy, noisy, or muddy looking result. There just isn't enough data there to recover from (see point one at the top about file size)

Thinking Ahead:
What if you aren't shooting RAW and don't have Lightroom:

  • Start to shoot both RAW and JPG, and save the RAW files for when you have Lightroom or another software to process them
  • Start moving in that direction, by getting more memory cards, a bigger hard drive, and buy Lightroom
  • Don't believe anything I say, do your own research and make your own decision about it

Here are some related articles that might help further

Final Thoughts

There has been much debate over file formats since the advent of digital photography, and if it's really necessary to shoot RAW or not. But with advances in software (Lightroom) and with the cost of memory constantly going down, there are less and less reasons not to shoot in RAW.

Why Shoot in Raw?

I'll leave you with this to think about. If you have ever shot a roll of film, this may help you get it in a different way. It's been said that shooting JPGs is like shooting slide or transparency film. What you get, is what you get. You can't really crop it, lighten it, color correct it, or adjust it. Shooting RAW is like shooting negative film. You have some flexibility in the printing process to lighten or darken the image, crop it, and use your creative license to really make the image sing, however you envision it.

The bottom line is it's your choice. But ultimately, if you are ready take control of your images and steer the ship, as it were, RAW format is really the only way to go.

Action Steps

Share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comments section below. If you disagree, please tell me why. I love to hear all opinions and share them with everyone so each person can make up their own mind about it.

Cheers,
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