Back in 2009, I wrote an article about the pros and cons of shooting in RAW vs JPEG. My basic conclusion of the article was that it usually makes sense to shoot in RAW, except for wildlife when you need to shoot a lot of images in a burst.
Like many things in life, as I’ve learned more and gained more experience with photography, my thoughts on RAW vs JPEG have changed.
Now, I really appreciate the freedom you get with shooting in JPEG. What do I mean by that? Well, there’s two things about RAW files that have increasingly bothered me over the years: the filesizes are much bigger (especially as megapixel counts increase), and not all software supports the latest RAW formats.
The larger file sizes means it takes longer to transfer RAW files from your memory card to your computer. And, if you’re like me and keep all your photos, then transferring hundreds of RAW files after a day of shooting can take awhile (not to mention all the hard drives you’ll need too!).
The other thing is that sometimes it takes awhile for software to add support for new RAW formats. One of the great things about JPEG is that it’s a universal and very open format, so it’s supported by pretty much everything (and the JPEG format doesn’t change, unlike RAW).
Over the years, I’ve done more photography with my smartphone and I love the simplicity of taking a photo and then processing it on the same device. With nature photography, there’s usually not much you need to do in post-processing, so a simple app like Snapseed is usually enough.
Compare that simple workflow of taking a photo and processing it on your iPhone with the typical workflow of a RAW file! The RAW file is significantly harder to work with.
So, one of the things I’ve started doing recently is shooting more in JPEG, and then doing some minimal processing on those JPEG files with Snapseed on an iPad. The simplicity of this workflow has also helped me take more photos and experiment with processing them differently. I haven’t really noticed a huge decrease in quality either. Sure, I’m definitely losing quality with processing the image as JPEG instead of RAW, but most of the time that quality loss is minimal (as long as the exposure is good).
My new opinion about RAW vs JPEG is that RAW still makes the most sense when you’re intending to do a lot of post-processing or you’re photographing a landscape with difficult exposure (i.e. high dynamic range), or you’re shooting a photo you know you want to print large. But, if you’re just doing a simple close-up of a flower or something and not expecting to do much post-processing, then the freedom of JPEG is pretty wonderful and really simplifies your workflow.
Try shooting only JPEGs for a week 🙂 as a fallback, in case you’re worried about not having RAW files, most cameras let you shoot in RAW+JPEG (the camera will generate both types of files).
What do you think?
What are your thoughts on RAW vs JPEG? Do you always shoot one or the other? Please share by leaving a comment below.
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a nature photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.
Franz Scheurer says
I mainly shoot RAW and the only time I shoot JPG is when I just use the phone. Different mind set I supposed – but I do cull 95% of my images, So the ones that survives deserve to be RAW ????
All raw, all of the time.
jp grace says
interesting article and it leaves room for thought. while I have a phone that takes decent photos, it has many limitations as well. that leaves me still a die-hard canon shooter. I always shoot in raw! I don’t often know in advance what post options i’ll choose, so raw leaves that menu wide open. plus, since I mainly edit in Lightroom, the export process automatically generates a jpg file. ergo, voila! a raw and a jpg to play with as I choose 🙂 thoughts on this approach?
Andy Whiteman says
It’s funny reading this because I’m beginning to think this way too.
Sometimes when I’m doing post I process a file thinking it’s RAW when it’s JPEG and and am very surprised – sure certain things are not as good but sometimes they are just great. I’m also finding JPEGS from my Fuji cameras, in certain light conditions, are preferable to the RAW file – more natural.
So we shall see. As usual, a very thought provoking article, written at a perfect time for me. Thank you.
Ken M. says
JPEG is useful in many scenarios as is RAW, Just depends on what you’re shooting. A new JPEG standard which uses less compression and retains more information would be ideal.
It is my belief that many people that shoot in RAW do so solely because they have read that that’s what the “experts” do, with no real consideration given to the final product as compared to a JPEG image. Also, if a shot is taken properly in the first place, maximum post-processing as afforded by RAW (supposedly) should not be necessary. Further, JPEG images can be processed in Lightroom in order to produce a final image very comparable if not equal to a RAW image.
Marc Bell says
I photograph with RAW all the time. The images are
so much better.
I know very experienced and highly successfull wedding photographer that does everything in RAW only for years. Same resons as yours. But for myself, JPEG is reserved for smartphones only. My Pentax gear produce DNG files so no issues what so ever with compatibility, and I do not change gear sooner than my underwear, so after a couple of years all software can open my “new” camera.
For me DNG/RAW is freedom. I can re-process image endless ways after shoot. Not only minor tweaks, but completely different style/color if I want. I regret shooting JPEG on vacations/travel in the past since I had small/less memmory cards and I shot RAW only demanding scenes, and all other snaps in JPEG. They are more prone to failure/errors and most important their character is baked in at the time of shooting. They look very “digital”, compared to what I can pull out from raw ones of the same camera/vacation with TODAYS knowledge and software. And I know in 30 years the software will be even more advanced and I will always had the most of my moments captured in that raws.
In the past I used JPEG extractor and I already had JPEG for quick use out of RAW files as well. Now I know all that I have tweaked even PS Canon camera to shoot RAW. 🙂
EDIT: “I know very experienced and highly successfull wedding photographer that does everything in JPEG only for years.” – not RAW.
Sorry for the mistake 🙁
Ricky L Jones says
Excellent article Steve, I come from a time period where JPEG was the way to go, but over the years I learned the flexibility of RAW, and the ability to recover image from the brink is too much to ignore. I love the simplicity of JPEG but for me it’s RAW all the way. Love your site Steve, keep up the excellent work.
Lisa Thomas says
I shoot jpeg for all the reasons u said. I shoot mainly wildlife and when u shoot off a bunch of picts at a time I don’t have space or time to go thru the big files of raw. I would dither spent my time shooting and outside than in front of a computer screen. Thanks for the article, too
Thank you. I know I should work in RAW for quality, but I still prefer jpeg for quantity and ease. And as I don’t do lots of post processing, jpeg works for me. Its the light and the composition that really make the difference.
Nice article Steve. I like the idea of challenging what “everyone else think or does”. It is always good to see what is outside the herd… this being said, on my side I might stay in the pack for now, although I used to be a jpg photographer but was convinced by another photographer to move to raw 5 years ago and shoot only raw since then. You see, I am doing landscape and what I need the most is dynamic range, i.e. being able to recover these dark shadows without too much noise whilst having my highlights not completely burned out. For this, nothing beats a raw file. My Pentax K-1 is the best tool I ever had for this, the DR is absolutely incredible, to a point that I starting to wonder if I still need to use filters… your point of size is true, this is a bummer. My solution to this is “kill the junk”, I only keep the picts that are worth keeping.
Eddie Whitham says
Hi Steve, just a comment of your RAW thoughts…. I stared photography as a darkroom assistant in 1954 (I am now a very active 79year old) and progressed to being a press photographer a couple of years later. I am now retired but I still take photographs a sporting events…rugby league, horse racing motorsport and wildlife for a local on line Daily Newspaper. Since digital came into being then I have mainly used J peg and I have found that it is great for me ..I have shot in RAW but it’s so time consuming and the little difference between the 2 does not seem worth while. I must be honest that I do a very little post editing sharpening etc.
RJ Jansen says
I mainly shoot JPEG but have a button set on my 7D for shooting both if I desire. A USB 3.0 card reader is much faster for data transfers. Mine has both CF and SD card slots. I can transfer photos from the 7D or the G15.
Great article – as usual.
Breck Breckenridge says
Hey Steve. I wonder what Vic thinks. As for me, having only been photographing seriously in digital format for about 4 years, during my first three years I never gave a thought to RAW. My basic photo processing program didn’t even deal with RAW. Then I got a bird photography teacher and he convinced me to shoot in RAW. Mainly because of the greater amount of “information” in the image and also for the post-processing ability (i.e. Lightroom). I even bought a new computer so I could buy and use Lightroom (my old Vista O.S. machine wouldn’t support Lr). Well I needed a new computer anyway but so far I have been completely intimidated by Lr! And I quit shooting RAW as well. I am definitely not a technology wonk and as I go about trying to simply TAKE better photos using the triad of aperture, ISO and shutter speed, I haven’t felt the need to go deeply into the post-process end. I probably will but right now I have accepted my limitations. It lowers my blood pressure.
I have shot both, quite honestly with today’s advanced cameras, shooting jpg, large file, vivid etc..doesn’t make much of a difference to me. Especially for shooting wildlife, as in birds in flight-you shoot continuous mode even with two card banks they would fill up too fast!
I only shoot RAW, I take a look of pics and have large files …don’t get rid of much because it gives me something to do when I feel creative…I guess every one has his priorities; hard drives are not expensive and are faster than they used to. It also helps that I exclusively use Lightroom….
Cristian C says
It all depends on your audience – who you are photographing for – and on your habits and laziness as a photographer. If only social media is where you showcase and thousands of uneducated viewers make you feel appreciated, if the smartphone display size is enough, if subject lighting is simple enough – then JPGs may fit the bill. Most cameras have a handful of presets for JPG settings (sharpness, contrast, saturation, color tone) and not tweaking those, as well as the pesky WB (White Balance) during or before the shoot is a measure of sufficiency, or what you are content with – and that’s so limited with JPGs.
The technology that is available today renders discussions about size, download speed and compatibility of RAW files to non-arguments, I deem them invalid. Regarding compatibility: do convert other RAW formats to DNG for archival !
In case that you want to produce high-quality images for a more educated public and you are willing to invest some (or a lot of) effort into that, or if you just want to preserve precious memories and snapshots, RAW, especially Adobe DNG is the way to go.
I shoot both. When uploading, I put JPEGS into a special folder, which serves as my universal backup that can be viewed/used on virtually any platform. The RAW files go to another drive, where they are culled and post-processing is done using Adobe CC components. The ability to make adjustments/enhancements to RAW files is, for me, superior to the smaller JPEG files.
I shoot exclusively RAW. I cull the bad photos I load to my desktop computer, before I import them into my Editing program. NOT Lightroom or any Adobe (CC) product. DNG may be the compressed archive format, but I’d rather see all camera makers going to a universal format, such as DNG. That would make life much easier.
Celso Bressan says
The key point is really what you are going to do with the image in the next few hours: if urgent, shoot in JPEG; otherwise, there is no comparison in shooting in RAW.
I consider the lack of RAW compatibility in the future a myth and explain: there are so many pieces of software making the translation that it would be almost impossible not to find one to make the conversion 30 years from now. See early computers that have converters to modern computers. I am a software engineer and it does not cross my mind to loose this compatibility.
Finally, there is one more item that leads people to shoot in JPEG: either they are really good at shooting that their JPEGs are more than perfect to need a RAW image (your case), or, they really don’t care what is coming out the camera as long as it can be immediately seen on a screen.
K. Gottfried says
I totally agree with your analysis of whether and when to use jpeg or raw format, and it is very refreshing to hear this point of view. I spend all day on a computer, and the last thing I want to do in my free time with my photography is spend more time on a computer. Using my phone and an app to process the photos is much more liberating to me in my creative process. I’m so glad you had the courage to write this.
Mildred Eckley says
I have always shot in both raw and jpeg and then after reviewing pics only keep the raw that I deem special enough to enlarge or frame. Out of over 30,000 photos I probably saved just about 200 raw files. I’m a landscape/nature photographer and do minimal post processing. This seems to work for me.