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05 - Raw vs Jpeg

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The heading is perhaps a little misleading in that there is no competition between RAWs and Jpgs. If you shoot a perfect picture as a jpg, what do you need a RAW file for? You don’t. In fact, many professionals shoot in both RAW and jpg, and if the jpg is good, they bin the RAW because it isn’t needed.

There are many different types of image files but we only need to familiarise ourselves with three at this stage - RAWs, jpgs, and Tiffs. A RAW is the file your camera records when you take a photo, while a jpg is a processed and compressed version of that RAW file. Jpgs are much smaller in size than RAWs and take up far less room on your computer or memory card. As jpgs are compressed images, they are lossy, which means they lose quality the more you work with them and repeatedly save over them. A Tiff file is an excellent file type for saving photos you want to keep. They are non lossy so they don't lose quality no matter how much you work on them. The only disadvantage to Tiff files is that they are huge compared to jpgs. How I work is to save my RAW files as Tiffs to work on them, and then make a copy of the finished Tiff file as a jpg. If I ever need to work on the photo again, I work on the Tiff and make a fresh jpg when I'm done. I never work on jpgs and this ensures my photos retain their image quality. If you shoot in jpg, that's fine, save them as Tiffs and you will be able to work on them as much as you like without degrading the image quality.

If you shoot RAW you will have to process the image and turn it into a jpg before you can use it. If you’re only interested in sharing your photos with family and friends, forget about RAWs as you don’t need them. Learn more about some of the features on your camera instead to improve the quality of your jpgs. Additionally, most modern digital cameras have effects you can apply to your jpgs in camera, everything from black and white treatments to special effects to high dynamic range photos (HDR). The dynamic ranges of some cameras are now so good that there is enough information in the highlights and shadows of RAW files for your camera to produce well exposed images without the need for you to process RAWs separately. 

If your camera doesn’t have the capability to record images as RAWs, is your camera inferior? No, it isn’t. Shoot away in jpg and have fun. Remember, professional photographers make their living by the quality of their images, so they need expensive equipment and expensive software to ensure top quality at high resolutions. If they reduce their images to a size for sharing on the Internet, most likely they will be of much the same quality as yours. It is only when you are selling extremely high resolution photographs with lots of detail to discerning customers that you need to be particular with such high quality. If you’re not selling pictures for a living, and your camera doesn’t shoot in RAW, don’t worry about it, you’re not missing anything except a lot of post processing work. I often shoot jpgs when I'm out having fun.

As a beginner, you may not feel you're ready yet, but just insert a battery in your camera, slot in the memory card and format it by following the instructions that came with your gear, put the camera in auto and go and take some photos. Modern cameras are so good that full auto mode will allow anyone to take decent enough images. As you progress with your photography, your knowledge and understanding of your camera will grow and you will be better placed to do much more, but for now just go out, take some photos and have some fun.


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