It’s generally accepted that shooting in the RAW format is necessary for serious photography, but that’s not always the case. Often referred to as ‘digital negatives,’ RAW files contain significantly more data than the JPEG files captured by most smartphones and entry-level digital cameras. This means that RAW files offer greater flexibility for corrections and manipulation in the digital darkroom after a shot is taken. However, advances in camera technology and a number of other factors mean that many photographers are still happy to shoot in JPEG format and use the images straight from the camera.
If you’re confused by the debate over RAW versus JPEG files, here are 5 advantages the latter can offer:
1) It can improve your camera skills.
Not having the scope to correct errors like poor exposure in the digital darkroom means you have to think more carefully about basic camera skills. No data is compressed when a photograph is taken in RAW format, so it’s usually possible to recover from technical mistakes. This can make a photographer lazy, as it means you don’t have to consider the best camera settings or how to tackle issues like difficult lighting conditions.
If you have to get the shot right at the moment you press the shutter release button, you must rely on your experience and knowledge of your camera. Most modern digital cameras offer a range of tools to help, including highlight warnings, focus checking and the option to view exposure histograms.
2) Working with smaller files can be more efficient.
RAW files can be up to seven times larger than JPEGs, and this has drawbacks. Memory cards fill up faster, and you may need to delete shots on location when you’re working in RAW. When it comes to downloading files from your camera to a computer, transfer times are much faster with JPEGs. Storage space on hard drives can be an issue when working with large files, and you’ll need to be more disciplined when editing and deleting old pictures. For these reasons, many professional event photographers prefer to shoot in JPEG format.
3) In-camera processing has improved significantly.
Some photographers still believe that great results come at the post-production stage, but improvements in camera technology mean this isn’t always the case. Today’s digital SLR cameras are sophisticated enough to instantly boost exposure in areas of shadow, reduce noise and delete defective pixels. The variety of shooting modes offered means that a photographer can customize settings and create presets. It’s no longer necessary to process each file individually.
4) JPEG means greater burst speed.
If sports or action photography is one of your subjects, the option to shoot in burst mode is a great way to ensure you don’t miss anything. The size of RAW files means it takes a camera longer to process them, and this means the number of shots you can take per second is reduced. A fast memory card and JPEG file mode are the ideal combination for action photography.
5) JPEGs are compatible with all hardware.
Photographs in JPEG format can be viewed and shared instantly across a wide range of devices. They can be printed, uploaded to social media sites and viewed on smartphones, tablets and laptops without the need for special software. RAW files have to be converted before they can be viewed on most devices, and this means downloading and maintaining additional programs. RAW files from some cameras, including those made by Nikon, need an additional stage of processing before they can be viewed or edited.
The RAW file format gives a photographer the ability to correct mistakes and make improvements to pictures, but it’s not always the right choice.