Still Trying to Convince Myself on RAW

Started Jun 29, 2013 | Photos thread
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Re: Said slightly differently ...
In reply to realgeek, Jun 30, 2013

realgeek wrote:

I'll just say what a number of others have been saying in a slightly different way.

It is impossible to argue that a JPEG file is better than a RAW file. The RAW file is what the camera captures. In order to generate the JPEG, the camera has to interpret and process the RAW file. So the real question is this: would you rather let the camera process your RAW files or do it yourself?

It's certainly convenient to let the camera do it. That's JPEG's big (and only) advantage. However, before you come to that conclusion, let me raise a few issues.

First, after the camera processes the RAW file to create a JPEG, it throws away any excess data. So you can't undo the camera's choices. You can further process the JPEG, but you're pretty severely limited because so much data has been thrown away, and doing so actually degrades image quality. By contrast, if you have a RAW file, you can reprocess it as many times as you want to create very different looks -- without any loss to image quality.

Second, there is nothing that can be done in the camera's JPEG that can't be done in post-processing a RAW. After all, the camera is simply acting as a computer and processing the RAW file. You can do the same thing on a computer yourself. It is possible that the camera manufacturer may have some proprietary techniques on its camera that it doesn't make available in software. Sony's DRO techniques would be a good example, except for the fact that Sony makes DRO available in its proprietary software, IDC. Moreover, Sony's JPEG processing isn't all that amazing anyway, and it's likely that Adobe software (for example) can lead to better results.

Third, when the camera does the processing, it does so in an entirely automated fashion. It's very likely that even a moderately-talented photographer can get better results in post-processing simply because they would be able to tailor the processing to the needs of the image. When you throw in the ability to process locally (e.g., sharpen hair but smoothen skin), it becomes a no-brainer.

Fourth, RAW files have more data than JPEG, allowing you to do much more extreme processing. For example, it's easier to correct an exposure mistake in RAW than JPEG. That's probably even more true of white balance mistakes. Not only can you fix mistakes more easily, but you also have more room for creative changes as well.

Fifth, JPEG isn't that much more convenient than RAW, unless you use images OOC. Once you start doing minor post-processing, you're at the point where you might as well use RAW. Programs like Lightroom make processing a RAW as simple as processing a JPEG. All you need to do is create a preset that does some basic automated processing (like what your camera would do) and you're at the same starting point!

Sixth, RAW processing software keep getting better all the time. So I can go back to RAW files I took years ago and make better images now than I could then! (This is especially true with respect to things like noise reduction.) But once the camera has made a JPEG, you've lost the ability to do that.

Finally, you may not care about RAW now, but you may in the future. If you don't shoot RAW, you'll never be able to get the RAW file back.

All of this suggests that you should shoot RAW. But even if you are not convinced, I would seriously urge you to consider shooting RAW+JPEG. Just use the JPEGS and put the RAW files away for the day that you may want to come back to them. At least, I wish I had.

To wrap up: there is no argument that JPEGs are better than RAW. The only argument is that they are more convenient and good enough. Maybe that's good enough for you. But it shouldn't be.

Very well said except for the very last sentence - that is not your call.

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Some would have you believe that having to adapt to new technology is a workaround, but having adapted to old technology is photography.

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