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.