Sunday, 2 October 2011

Raw Vs Jpeg - Which is best?

I cant believe some people still shoot in Jpeg only.
I can understand why some shoot in jpeg for editorial reasons but for creative reasons why restrict yourself.

Lets look at some arguements for and against.

Jpeg Positives
It is fast
its much smaller file size (its compressed)
the images come out much 'better' (ie more saturated, sharper more contrast)
JPEG is a world wide standard, no editing software needed to view the images
can have noise reduction already applied to the images

Raw Positives
Maximum image information for manipulation, correction and adjustment
Greater recover of highlight detail
Greater recover of shadow detail
Better tonal gradations (ie less banding)
Perfect control over white balance after the shot is taken
12/14 bit

Jpeg Negatives
No white balance information
less recovery of highlights
less recover of shadow details
cannot reverse in camera editing (settings)

Raw (negatives)
Much more space required (less photo per memory card, and computer)
require much more time to get files off card and on computer
also fills up the memory buffer in your camera much faster, you may also need faster memory cards if shooting a lot of sports/ action shots in quick succession.
requires a more powerful computer to edit  or even select quickly
requires editing
Requires editing software to view the raw files
Editing software needs to be updated with new camera models as the raw files are different for each camera. meaning that it may be impossible to see the raw photos from a brand new camera, if your software hasn't been updated with.

Things to consider with Raw
What software do you get to edit and view your raw files? I use Lightroom or even if you want something for free get Picasa
Secondly how many photos are you going to be taking?  If you are doing a wedding you may be taking 1000 photos and shooting that in raw you will need around 30GB of memory cards (if you are shooting weddings i suspect you should already have easily that mount of memory)

now here is a statement that may scare you.

I Shoot Jpeg!

If I am taking photos at little Timmies birthday party that is.

What I mean by that is, Jpeg is absolutly fine if you are not bothered about the images that much. If you just want to point and shoot, images from a birthday or party are not going to be portfolio boosting works of art. I am going to want to take some photos and shove them on a disk or on the tv and look at them on that or stick them up on facebook.   A lot of photos you just don't need to bother editing, they are not that important.  No-one cares if you got an extra half ev of exposure from the recovery slider on your raw file of close up of the fly you found in your beer.

I also shoot jpeg when I am shooting sporting events. If I am happy that the exposure is not going to be changing drastically during an event (ie sun to rain to sun) then I am happy to shoot jpeg, again i am not needing the 4million tones of colour to help highlight someone who is a bit sweaty and tired from running a half marathon. All I need to do is go and shoot some shots, get them on the computer and zip the files over to the magazine editor. Not once from any of my sports events have I been requested for raws but I have been asked for smaller jpegs.
I would never say Jpegs are best but they are Fine for most people, especially most people who are just taking snap shots.

So when do I shoot RAW?
Well, apart from what I have just mentioned above, I shoot raw 99% of the time.  You see I do a lot of portrait photography, Modelling photography, and fashion photography and very importantly weddings. I also shoot high contrast sports, HDR, property (real estate) photography and some landscape.  All of which I really benefit from the control and editing process of Raw files.

Can I say raw is best?  well. if you have the equipment (computer, editing software, and time and effort) then yes it absolutely is.  But if you take a raw, then look at it on your computer and complain that the image looks flat, then you clearly have not understood what raw is about.

More videos after the break

Sometimes my raw files come out really bad though

This is an example of how long it may take you to edit your raw files to get them to look as good as your jpegs

Here is an example of the editing that you need to do to your raw files

Here is an example of what you can resque from a raw file

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  1. RAW all the way.

    My view is this: JPG is for taking snapshots and RAW is for taking pictures.
    Of course, JPG being the worldwide image standard it is, the RAW pictures on my are converted to JPG for "publication" (in my case Flickr or a USB memory stick).

    No doubt -- RAW needs some prerequisites like more time and money: A RAW converter software (the better ones cost money but you usually get a simpler one with your camera for free), more time to develop the pictures in said software, more memory on harddisks and memory cards (which are getting cheaper all the time) and perhaps a tad more processing power (PCs are already fast but they are still getting faster each year).

    However, even for bloody amateurs like me, RAW offers much more opportunities to salvage mishaps or oversights - just because the full bit depth of the sensor is at my disposal (14 bits instead of 8 bits per channel - this means 16384 instead 256 shades - that's a factor of 64!).
    White balance is only one aspect that can be modified, exposure can often be corrected, too.

    You could also take your well exposed original picture and produce one overexposed and one underexposed copy from it and then feed all three into a HDR-program (for example Photomatix or HDR Darkroom) to produce interesting images. Forget this with JPG.

    I've also seen several cases where a new software version (Lightroom in that case) was able to improve older RAW images even more (develop shadow details & reduce noise visible better) because of more intelligent algorithms.

    As you said before: Why limit yourself?

    Yes, there are cases where JPG is still better. My DSLR can shoot more JPGs in quick succession that RAWs because the memory buffer is limited.
    But for me that's not a general thing: It's a momentarily thing until the
    I mean six RAWs with 14 bits per second with a sub-1000-Euro-camera already? Where will we be in two or three years? The technical hurdles between JPG and RAW will vanish quickly but one major difference will stay: An in-camera produced JPG is a finished endproduct in many cases and good enough for resizing (for web publishing for example) so JPGs will stay on the market for a long time.

    Everything else is RAW for me.

  2. Addition:

    With RAW it seems not to be 14 bits per channel (red, green, blue), but 14 bits (or how much your camera support) per "photosite", which is more or less a pixel on the sensor.

    However, a pixel on a sensor is *not* comparable to a pixel on your LCD monitor, as most sensors use a so-called "Bayer"-filter (the Sigma SD1 does not, for example).
    This filter places a distinctive red/green/blue-pattern over the photosites, predefining them to one of the three. The interesting part being that for every red and green pixel there are two green pixels because the human eye is more sensitive to green tones.

    When taking a shot the RAW sensor data consists of this individual components and has to converted (don't ask me about the math involved!) into real RGB-pixels - either within the camera (which then gets compressed into JPG-format) or on the PC by a RAW-converter.

    In the end we have an image with the actual resolution of the sensor, consisting of full RGB-pixels.

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