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Thread: RAW vs JPEG

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    Default RAW vs JPEG

    I have gotten a new Canon 7D and just sort of getting the hang of it. I was wondering the difference between RAW and JPEG pics. I understand that RAW takes up a considerable amount more space so I would assume that the picture would be a better quality, but really how much better can the pic get. Is there another reason for using RAW is it easier to manipulate with PC software. What are the pros and cons of RAW.

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    Member cdubbin's Avatar
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    I like RAW (NEF) files for the ability to fine-tune the white balance after the pic's been taken. As far as resolution, JPEGs are fine, but don't re-save them too many times or you'll degrade the file.
    " Gas boats are bad enough, autos are an invention of the devil, and airplanes are worse." ~Allen Hasselborg

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    Member Floyd_Davidson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by akair View Post
    I have gotten a new Canon 7D and just sort of getting the hang of it. I was wondering the difference between RAW and JPEG pics. I understand that RAW takes up a considerable amount more space so I would assume that the picture would be a better quality, but really how much better can the pic get. Is there another reason for using RAW is it easier to manipulate with PC software. What are the pros and cons of RAW.
    The most common comparison is that a RAW file is similar to a film negative and a JPEG file is similar to a print. Shooting RAW is somewhat like having your own darkroom and going to the effort of custom printing all of your negatives, while shooting JPEG is close to the same effect as dropping a roll of film off at the corner drug store and picking up the finished prints.

    Processing RAW files takes up significant time (and disk space on your computer), but you get custom "prints". Precise adjustments for brightness, white balance, and contrast can be easily made without even slightly degrading the image quality (some adjustment can be done to a JPEG. but it degrades image quality). The most significant point is that the adjustments with a RAW converter have finer granularity and results are previewed to allow very precise adjustment. Shooting JPEG means pre-setting all adjustments and only having the much coarser control allowed by a camera (perhaps 10 values for contrast, while a raw converter allows literally thousands). Shooting RAW also means you can process the "negative" again at a later date to get a different "print".

    The advantage to shooting JPEG is speed and ease, because while all the adjustments may just be approximations, the print is immediately available. (Somewhat the reason that Polaroid instant film was such a huge success in the 1950' and 1960's!) Generally if it is not necessary to be extremely critical of the results the JPEG produced by the camera will be fine. For example a wedding photographer would probably prefer RAW, but for family snapshots, for photojouralism, and for forensic evidence shooting JPEG is greatly preferred.


    Which to use depends on what kind of photography you do. How much time, how much computer expertise, and how critical you are, are all significant and all vary greatly from one person to another. Hence it isn't important how many photographers do one or the other, or even which photographers do one or the other... all that counts is what your circumstances are.

    You'll read a lot of debate/discussion/argument on the Internet and in print on this topic. There is one argument that I'd like to point to as false logic. Any number of people consider themselves "purists", and say that "geting it right in the camera" means that no post processing should be done, and therefore shooting JPEG is always the appropriate choice. I would point out two things. One is that we always have "post shutter release processing", either crudely done with preset values in the camera or precisely done interactively external to the camera. The second is that getting it right in the camera is just as useful when shooting RAW, and also that despite our best efforts it doesn't always happen. Indeed, one technique used to produce superior images (by recording the maximum dynamic range possible) involves what is called "ETTR", or "Expose To The Right". This technique uses the histogram or a blinking highlight indicator to set the camera exposure such that the brightest part of a scene will be right at the level where clipping of highlights occurs. It is then required that the image be post processed to produce a JPEG that has the correct brightness (assuming that the brightest part of the scene might be some shade of gray instead of pure white). Getting ETTR exactly right in the camera is important (to avoid clipping highlights with desired detail) because it targets work that will be done in post processing.

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    Member Roger45's Avatar
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    I agree with most everything Floyd said. I would like to add, there is a learning curve for RAW/NEF while JPEG is really easy. Once I really got into RAW/NEF I find that is the only way I shoot. After you shoot the picture, at your computer, you can "add" a lense filter, over or under expose, adjust the Kelvin (temperature), bring out or reduce both white and black, not to mention what can be done with saturation, vibrance, hue, etc.. You really learn what a histogram is too. If you process your pictures with a free program like Picasa, then stick with JPEG. If you have (or want to step up to) a true higher end product (the Class term is Photoshop), then RAW/NEF may be for you. The last wedding I shot I found that I could "process" a RAW/NEF file in about 30-60 seconds. It becomes very fast once you learn what to do.

    My biggest "change" when I went to RAW/NEF was to obtain the "right" type of LCD monitor (not all LCD monitors are created the same)...a cheep monitor is worthless IMHO when doing real processing. A monitor from Costco may be great for movies, but not for Photoshop. I then obtained hardware/software to " color balance" my monitor every month... (I am using Spyder 3 and am very happy with it).
    "...and then Jack chopped down the beanstock, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and vandalism charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no one asks the inconvenient questions." Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather

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    Member danattherock's Avatar
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    Floyd covers it well. Great info. I will never shoot a jpeg again myself. Granted I have some waterproof Pentax point and shoots I use on remote floats. They take good pics, jpegs of course. But when using my dslr, I am only shooting RAW without exception. Memory is cheap. Post processing is part of digital photography whether we like it or not. When post processing, the advantages to RAW make jpegs yesterdays news. Buy a few 8 gb cards and shoot RAW. Learn how to pp your RAW images to get the most out of them. Always having the option to go back later and pp them again (and again). This is one thing most folks overlook. As time goes by and your experience increases, so does your ability to pp your images. As you do this, you will reap great benefits from having all your RAW images saved. I had Photoshop Elements 6 for 2 years and recently got Lightroom 2 and the Nik plug-in budle for LR. Amazing software compared to what I had. I have already gone back and post processed images captured years earlier in my new software. The results are much better than the originals. Had I not shot RAW back then, I would not have these options today. Shoot RAW. That is my suggestion.


    Dan
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    If you really wanna get a handle on it, cover yer TV Screen, & shoot on manual...learn to bracket, usin' the TTL metering, & ditch the flash...

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    Unlike gogoalie, I often shoot with a touch of flash. But that's another topic.

    I generally use raw files for only one reason; they have a greater exposure latitude. They have other advantages, but this is my usual reason. When shooting jpg files if you over expose you will almost always have blown highlights; with raw you can often recover the blown areas. Also with raw images shots with an excessive range in brightness can be often be salvaged, reducing the light areas, and raising the darks. Jpgs are far too limited in these situations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Strutz View Post
    Unlike gogoalie, I often shoot with a touch of flash. But that's another topic.

    I generally use raw files for only one reason; they have a greater exposure latitude. They have other advantages, but this is my usual reason. When shooting jpg files if you over expose you will almost always have blown highlights; with raw you can often recover the blown areas. Also with raw images shots with an excessive range in brightness can be often be salvaged, reducing the light areas, and raising the darks. Jpgs are far too limited in these situations.
    Agree with you, and will add the following: I few weeks ago I saw a moose near the road (By Delta Junction). I just grabbed the camera and started shooting, and then I noticed that I had left it in Manual from the previous evening. I then switched to aperture priority, and set the correct WB.

    I thought the first shots were ruined because they were way over-exposed. They also had a blue tint because of the wrong WB. But when I processed them with CS5 I was amazed at how CS5 automatically brought the exposure to the correct level. All I had to do was to change the WB to daylight, and the blue color was gone. The RAW images look blue and overexposed, but not so when I run them through CS5.

    I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.

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