Why Shoot in Raw?

Why Shoot in Raw?

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

Raw is nothing new, many photographers know about it and use it regularly for their own good reasons, some may use it without actually knowing why, and some might not even use it at all, instead opting to use JPEG as the only alternative. So what exactly is Raw and why use it?

What is Raw

Pretty much all DSLR’s these days come with the option of choosing to save your pictures in Raw format, JPEG format, or both at the same time. Raw, as the name suggests is the raw unprocessed data, saved to your memory card direct from the camera sensor, and to some peoples surprise, is not actually an image; further processing by your computers Raw processing software is required to crunch the data, and spit out an image file that we can view. JPEG on the other hand is already a viewable format, so if your camera is set to this, you can preview your images, and can dump them onto your computer and view them without any additional processing.


It seems to be a fairly well known ‘fact’ that Raw image data produces the ultimate in quality images. But does it? Comparing an image derived from Raw data with a JPEG (fine mode) straight from the camera, the results are startlingly similar, with Raw performing only slightly better in tests (See here). So it seems there’s little quality advantage from a Raw to a JPEG; what else does a Raw have over a JPEG? One thing it does have is a higher dynamic range, Raw data stores more light information than a JPEG, so this could be an advantage if you were into HDR and wanted to try and create a limited range HDR image by processing it a few times then combining the resulting files later. Also, Raw data does have greater flexibility in that, it can be processed to get the most detail out of highlights or shadows, depending on what the photographer wants when processing the data but when compared to JPEG, there really doesn’t seem to be that much of an upside when shooting Raw. Raw files are inherently larger than JPEGs, taking up more space so you can fit less on a card, and not to mention increased write times means that fast shooting at sports events/fashion is out. The processing time associated with Raw images has got to be a bit of a downer too. Any professional photographer on a tight schedule would surely choose to shoot JPEGs, than waste a few hours processing and tweaking the final output? I know what option I would choose but this decision is probably more down to the personal preference of the individual photographer than anything else.

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So while it’s nice to have the option of shooting Raw, for me it just doesn’t hold enough over JPEG to make me want to switch over and I know in my work flow, the faster the better. Why shoot Raw? Why indeed.

Let us know what format you shoot in the comments below!

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Lynn Spurlin  13 years ago

I don’t really know enough to comment…but hopefilly I will soon…:)

Lynn Spurlin  13 years ago

Looks like a really good place for a new photography student to be…:)

efikim  13 years ago

If you just want to use the photo as it comes out of the camera, jpeg can be fine. If you’re working in challenging lighting, or are going to want to do some editing afterwards, then raw has more flexibility.
I mostly use raw, as I don’t need to shoot at fast frame rates, and generally do do some post-processing of most images.

shardayyy  13 years ago

I have also be baffling with the same question, should I continue to shoot in raw or just JPG’s. I would suggest if you are just shooting around the house or pictures of the kids running around, you can shoot JPG.
I find that I spend quite a bit of time doing post processing when i shoot RAW, and also with the feeling that I do not want to get rid of the RAW file after processing. Even thou storage is cheap, I have to burn a 4-8 GB DVD every time i dump the pictures from the card.

Even thou the pictures might not need post processing, there is that feeling that I could probably make it better just because I have that leverage with the RAW file.

With photoshoot’s, I definitely shoot in RAW.

Checkout some of my work


Jayson Mullen  13 years ago

I actually move faster with RAW images with the Photoshop’s RAW feather. There is a lot that you can do in the RAW feature that I was unaware of a first, but I have not mastered it. Say you have 10-20 photos in similar light conditions. You can make all the adjustments to every photo at the same time. you can destroy any noise, remove spots or unwanted objects from the photos… The capability is there. If you don’t use actions (like me) you don’t even really need to touch in actual photoshop. You can batch save right from the RAW feature to HQ jpgs right there.

shardayyy  13 years ago

I actually use Light Room 2 to do my post processing, and its not run to do post processing on 400-500 RAW files :)

Matt Needham  13 years ago

Although almost everyone does it, I think the term “raw vs jpeg” is a bad way of describing what is going on. All digital camera photos start out raw, and must be processed into an image file, most commonly jpeg, to be viewed or printed. If the camera is set to jpeg, or only allows jpeg, then the raw data is processed with in-camera software. If the camera is set to raw, then the in-camera processing software only makes a thumbnail jpeg for the LCD screen. Raw is to jpeg like exposed yet undeveloped film is to developed film.

So rather than raw vs jpeg it’s really in-camera processing software vs out-of-camera processing software. Whether or not raw will result in better quality depends on the sophistication of the out-of-camera processing software, and the photog’s skills in using it.

I’ve never really compared raw vs jpeg with my DSLRs, but here is a link to raw vs jpeg with my point-n-shoot. I keep the in-camera processing (for jpeg) set to neutral with sharpening and noise reduction turned all the way down (I can do a better job on both using out-of-camera software). Yet from the examples it’s obvious that the noise reduction is still applied with a heavy hand. The files I processed myself from raw will make much nicer prints.


neal  13 years ago

actually Lightroom and Photoshop have batch processsing options where you can apply general changes to large numbers of files.

also RAW is necessary if you want to do any deep alterations to the photo, such as luminosity or exposure

JL  13 years ago

The big difference between RAW and JPEG is the ability to non-disruptively modify image setttings. For example, a common problem with dSLRs is inaccurate white balance. You can fix that instantly with no image degradation in the raw editor. You can also make the change once and apply it to multiple images. You can make similar changes with JPEG, but once the image is converted into a JPEG you lose data. Additionally, you will loose a bit of image quality when you open a JPEG, change it and save it.

The way I see it, RAW is similar to a film negative — it has the most information, but you don’t go to it unless you want to do serious editing. For me, I always shoot raw and then review the pics and batch process the keepers to JPEG. The JPEG then suffices.

In regards to the downsides, RAW images are larger, but CF pricing has come way down and so this is less of an issue. The speed of shooting RAW is a good point and I generally shoot JPEG if I am worried about fps.

The conversion time does take a bit longer with RAW, but that only really applies if you shoot the original image with the correct settings. (e.g. white balance, saturation, contrast, etc….) The moment you have to tweak these in the JPEG, then the workload between the two formats equalizes. I always like to tweak my images and so I do not believe that there is much more work involved and even so, I am willing to trade it off for the flexibility of RAW.

Alvaro  13 years ago

I was a RAW user. But after watching my pics on the computer were completely different from what I watch on my camera, decided to move to jpg. It is great to have the chance to process your RAW pics, but if you took a great pic from the beggining, you dont have to get home and work on it.

Jeffrey Byrnes  13 years ago

This is a great post!

Felipe B. González  13 years ago

We, at recorridosvirtuales, shoot raw to make our panos. It is best than jpg to make fine adjustments to pictures. We use bridge to ans PS to batch process our images for cromatic aberration and white balance.

Len Metcalf  13 years ago

Raw has advantages if you are doing big edits and changes. For example I convert most of my digital images into black and white ones. In doing so I apply quite heavy colour adjustments simulating black and white filters. With having greater bit depth I can make bigger changes without getting banding in my final images. If my output image was very similar to the capture jpg would be ok. One of the biggest differences is bit depth.

Jorge  13 years ago

I use LR 2.x. I also shoot jpeg+Raw. Yes. it does take down the capacity on my CF cards. Yes. Jpeg is fine for a good part of my stuff. However, my agents, and photo editors DEMAND I shoot the raw file. What happens is I send the jpg’s and they select the ones they wish to market. At that point, I then process the raw file and convert it to a 80mb TIFF and send that to them. So, now i have the jpg (4.5 to 7mb), the NEF (raw file 14mb), and now a TIFF file (about 70-80mb) Yeah. Lots of HD space required by me. I ALWAYS have my camera set to jpeg+raw. Never know when an image is a sell-able.
As I said above, I use Lightroom 2.x for it’s library, and the developing power but when I need to convert a NEF (raw) file I use Capture NX and then save it as a TIFF. i then import the TIFF into lightroom and have all three sitting there.
Hope that helps

sunith  13 years ago

I am surprised that you didn’t mention JPEG artifacts. That could be the single reason that anyone would want to use RAW.

Tim A.  13 years ago

RAW ultimately gives you absolute control. You are not relying on what your camera THINKS is the best way to handle the image. You do it all yourself. And, as many people pointed out, RAW allows you control exposure, white balance, and even vibrance much better than on a JPG where much of the image information is already lost and the image may be more compressed than you think.

In terms of when to use what, I think it’s quality vs. quantity. If you are just doing standard run of the mill family photos with minimal processing if any and you’re not as interested in quality as much as having a good set of images to preserve the memory of the event, then go for JPG. I’ve used JPG too when shooting marathons and such where I will hand off the files, up to 500 or 800 photos at a time, on a DVD to the people in charge of the race pretty much right after the race is done.

But if you’re going to be shooting a bunch but then weeding out only the best. Say at a 10% return rate and you will work on each one to get the best photo possible that fits your vision and your mind’s eye? Then you are doing a disservice if you shoot in anything other than RAW. It gives you the highest degree of control to achieve an end result that you truly want without any compromise.

So yeah. There’s a time and place for both!

Jason  13 years ago

I think there is a great discussion happening here.

Here’s my personal opinion:
jpeg – is fried chicken bought from the local deli
RAW – is bringing home all of the ingredients, and cooking the chicken yourself.

There will always be a place & time for both.

I’m also a chef(hence the metaphor), and I choose to shoot strictly in RAW. When I first started out in photography I didn’t shoot RAW because I didn’t understand it. I look back at some of my past work and WISH I had shot in RAW!

I just love the fact that I can go back and “cook” the image a little more, or “season” it just a little differently.

In the end I think you have to do what you feel is best for YOUR work-flow.

But this is just my humble opinion.

Lance  13 years ago

this article is so fraught with ignorance and misinformation, i’ve lost respect for S&P. you simply don’t know what you are talking about.

Anna  13 years ago

Great article you wrote here. It is a topic that actually a lot of people get confused about or just do not know the difference. For me I use to always shoot in JPEG but now I always shoot in RAW.

Jay McIntyre  13 years ago

Great discussion happening here for sure, I love the fried chicken analogy!

Only problem is what if you are a bad cook? for that it might be best to shoot JPEG + RAW until you know and understand how to ‘cook’

XposurePro Photography Community  13 years ago

I can’t imagine not using RAW .. the speed and consistency of my studios workflow is completely dependent on the use of RAW. Without it I would have less clients, less profits and a larger workload.

Loraine McCall  13 years ago

I personally prefer to use RAW because of my workflow. But I think this is as debatable as shooting digital or film. If the guy or gal behind the lens likes to process film then let them.

If in doubt try both and then choose what suits you best.

Good luck!

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