Why shooting with RAW is infinitely superior to JPEGs
August 27, 2010 Leave a comment
Many photographers when they first buy a DSLR set the camera to JPEG capture, probably because they don’t quite understand what the other ‘raw’ setting is all about. Unfortunately, when you set your camera to JPEG you’re throwing away image quality because the best photos can only be achieved with the raw setting.Capturing images with intense colours or wide tonal ranges is best done with the camera set to raw capture. A JPEG capture doesn’t retain the colours or the tonal values nearly as well. Photographed at Orpheus Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Phase One 645 with P45+ back, 28mm lens. Raw file processed in Capture One, post-production in Photoshop.
File formats can be confusing. Simply speaking, they are different ways of storing a photograph in a digital format. However, not all file formats are equal. The JPEG format is popular because it is relatively small. You can fit a lot of JPEG photographs onto a memory card or a hard disk, but in making a small file a lot of valuable photo information is being discarded. JPEG is a great format for sharing photographs after they are finished, but not for capturing photographs with a camera.
In comparison, a ‘raw’ file contains all the information captured by the camera at the moment of exposure. There are a lot of different raw formats (depending on what camera you use), but the one thing they have in common is they store all of the photo information. Nothing is lost which means you have the opportunity to turn average exposures into something brilliant and breathtaking later on.
Once you have opened and processed a raw file, then you can save it as a JPEG, a TIFF or a PSD file. It’s not possible to save a processed file back as a raw file (only a camera can make raw files), but your raw file is still there, untouched for use again if needed.The fine detail of the ballet dancer’s dress can be clearly seen in the RAW file.
The JPEG file saved by the camera has lost precious detail. JPEG files have their uses, but they are not at all suited for capturing original photographs with your camera.
When an image is saved as a JPEG, to achieve the compression the image file discards colours, tonality and fine detail. A quick glance may not show much difference, but as you work with your files, you’ll soon discover just how much valuable information goes missing. Even with the limitations of the web, we think you’ll be able to see the differences between these two files.
The original raw capture, processed without adjustment. Although underexposed, the raw file contains everything needed to rescue it.
The original raw capture processed as a JPEG without adjustment, just as your camera would do it. It looks very close to the original – but if you look closely you’ll see it has blocked up in the shadows and lost fine detail.
Using Capture One 5 Pro, the raw capture is lightened using the exposure slider and processed. Note how all the tones in the image are retained with good detail, including the shadow areas.
The JPEG file is processed in Photoshop, lightening it to match the adjusted raw file, but note how the contrast increases and the colour in the skin tones degrades. The moral of the story is: Don’t use JPEGs!