JPEG Vs RAW - why RAW is overrated...

Started Oct 8, 2012 | Discussions thread
Flat view
Marco Nero
Marco Nero Veteran Member • Posts: 4,943
JPEG Vs RAW - why RAW is overrated...


Digital Cameras have advanced so much in just the last few years that it is entirely unnecessary for the vast majority of photographers to bother to shoot RAW because the processor inside the camera, coupled with larger sensors and greater capabilities of Dynamic Range, can now produce in-camera JPEG images that are often indistinguishable from manually processed images.  Either way, either your computer does the processing... or your camera does the processing of the images.  Those people who have use for RAW tend to be die-hard photographers demanding every drop of flexibility from their images or the specialist photographer who is paid to capture difficult shots in compromising lighting considerations.... but more commonly we seem to be hearing from the self-declared "experts" on the subject who don't seem to realize modern technology often surpasses their meager abilities that can in turn be crippled by human limitations.

RAW Vs JPEG   -  This sums it up quite nicely.

Technically, a RAW file is not an image file.  It's very much like an uncooked steak, inedible and unpalatable.  Since many of us know just how we like our steak cooked, we can either handle the cooking ourselves (the Computer + Software) or we can use an 'Professional Chef' (the Camera's DiGiC! processor) that tends to get it right pretty much every time.  RAW images are useless unless processed properly and with consideration and experience.  If you like to cook your own steak, good for you.

RAW is a lossless file directly from the camera's sensor.  It's also not a print-ready file and RAW requires considerable processing to be both readable and worthy of printing.  As an unprocessed processed file (after importing the file to an editing program), the RAW image is washed out, desaturated and, most importantly, neither sharp nor contrasted. They are cumbersome to use and large files to store, especially if you have hundreds or thousands of them. RAW is also a propriety format which means that RAW images from one camera are likely to be unreadable without certain suitable software which may not be able to interpret RAW images from other cameras.


Looking at the picture below (left), you can see a photograph (straight from the camera) of my wife on a tropical island taken in 2001 with the original Canon IXUS which was called the s100 but should not be confused with the recent PowerShot s100.

* Notice the noise.

* Notice the banding & dithering from JPEG artifacts.

* Notice the blown out & clipped highlights.

* Notice the chromatic aberrations in the areas where high contrast occurs.

This picture can't be manipulated or tweaked in any way really. This is the result from an EARLY Canon Digital camera.  Now take a look at the picture on the right depicting a brick building that was taken last week with the recent Canon G1 X and observe how smooth the image is, how the highlights are not blown out, how there's no posterizing and yet plenty of detail has been captured.  The IXUS used a CCD and the G1 X uses a CMOS sensor but the results shown at 100% make it very clear that a lot has changed in Digital Photography and in-camera digital image processing.  Both pictures were taken in bright sunlight.  Neither have been processed.

Look at how far we have come in just 12 years...

RAW advocates claim that they often can't capture details that are washed out in overexposed highlights yet many professional wedding photographers manage to shoot sunlit shots of brides in their white gowns with just JPEG.  How is this possible?


It's because modern DSLRs and cameras like the G1 X can capture a greater amount of Dynamic Range in each image and, contrary to the belief of some, those "lost" highlights are right there embedded in the JPEG awaiting recovery.  The picture below shows quite easily how the "Highlights" slider in Adobe Lightroom4 was simply dragged to the left to reduce the intensity of the highlights, revealing fine details in both the road and the applied painted line.... and the car forward (see arrows).  So claiming that you can't capture lost details because "the camera throws them away" isn't quite true.  I don't often need this feature but it's there when I do.

Are highlights recoverable?  They might be if you don't over expose your shots excessively!


Can you see the three pictures below?  The first one shows the JPEG image straight from the camera. The second show a VERY SIMPLE recovery of details hidden in the shadows (plus some highlights that were toned down to recover lost color and sky details).  The last image is what I posted here the day I first edited the image.  So again, the argument that you can't recover details lost in shadow is either invalid or over stated.

How much detail is retained in the shadows?  The answer might surprise you...

Most JPEG's don't require further correction.  But there's plenty of room for you to edit a JPEG as long as the highest quality image settings were used on the camera.  You can save your edited version with little or virtually no perceptible loss of image quality.  Photographers can set their cameras to prevent blowout.  They can set their cameras to record their JPEGS with minimal compression.  The "trick" (if you want to call is that) is to capture a near-accurate exposure when you take the photograph.

As Master Photographer Steve Bohne says: "The secret to using JPG files is: Set a proper White Balance, make a proper exposure. "

Shot in HARSH sunlight with HARSH shadows.  No blown-out highlights and no hidden details lost in shadows.

MY CONCLUSION: is that RAW is overrated.  It has it's uses.  It really does and, if needed, can be used sparingly when necessary for specific work:  like a Flash or a Neutral Density Filter or a Circular Polarizer. Some may prefer to shoot all their work in RAW and that's absolutely fine too.  Some of my friends do.

The bottom line is that you can capture glorious JPEG images of almost any subject in most lighting conditions without needing RAW.  This makes RAW only a necessity under certain challenging conditions and makes it a personal preference rather than necessity.  As such, the shrill bleating of some photographers who say it is the only "true way" shows they neglect one singular truth:  that "all photography is a lie".  They just prefer their own lies to someone else's.

All that information from the camera's sensor in the RAW image gets used by the processor to create stunning imagery that retains almost all the essential and useful elements captured.  And there's ALWAYS room to further edit your images, JPEG or RAW, later.

Let's take a look at some links from other professional photographers who also find the RAW Vs JPEG argument to be flawed:

Working with Jpeg vs. RAW: do you lose too much?

This article is interesting because it points out that the noise raised during image manipulation came from the sensor on the camera.

  • QUOTE: "It’s become somewhat of a background concept that if you edit a JPEG that you’re going to experience banding very quickly.  That used to be true.  But, with higher quality JPEGs and 16-bit per-channel editors, this is not nearly as true as it used to be.  If an editor doesn’t work in 16-bits per-channel at every level, you can see banding occur very quickly.  But, this is not a JPEG issue, as you would see this with a RAW image, too.  It’s the 8-bit per-channel operations that are more responsible for this than anything else."

CONCLUSION: "When it comes to working with JPEG instead of RAW, there is plenty of room for getting great results.... In many cases, as shown above, some of the damaging factors that do sometimes occur due to the JPEG limitations can be corrected, especially with such large file sizes so that the problems can average out more easily when printed or upload to the web.

While RAW is always going to be the more technical and sometimes more aesthetic choice, working with JPEG images tends to be much easier (and sometimes more enjoyable). For most (but, by no means, all) pictures, the quality loss is not enough to keep from getting great images comparable to RAW results, especially in the realm of powerful editors that can help you along the way."

JPEG VS RAW:  Article by John Stringer, a Fine Print digital technician.

CONCLUSION: "No matter which one you choose, know that either one has its merits and both can get the job done. Just remember that if you do shoot JPEG, shoot at the highest quality setting to insure that the image is not overly compressed resulting in the appearance of digital artifacts."

Should You Capture Digital Photos In Raw or JPEG?  By Steve Bohne, Master Craftsman Photographer

QUOTE: "There is so much misinformation about RAW and JPG that even many professional photographers and graphics designers are confused.... I'm a full time professional photographer. I work with JPG files every day. I never shoot Raw for my day-to-day work. That does not mean everyone should work just like me, but you should know some facts and forget the fiction."

-- hide signature --
 Marco Nero's gear list:Marco Nero's gear list
Canon PowerShot S95 Canon PowerShot G1 X Canon EOS 60D Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS M +13 more
Canon PowerShot G1 X
If you believe there are incorrect tags, please send us this post using our feedback form.
Flat view
Post (hide subjects) Posted by
(unknown member)
(unknown member)
(unknown member)
(unknown member)
(unknown member)
(unknown member)
(unknown member)
Keyboard shortcuts:
FForum PPrevious NNext WNext unread UUpvote SSubscribe RReply QQuote BBookmark MMy threads
Color scheme? Blue / Yellow