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Jpeg vs Raw



Whenever a newbie photographer is asking for advice on shooting there is a pretty standard list of must do's and advice that they will receive. Most of them are the photography 101 basics, things that have not changed since the advent of the camera itself. Lighting, composition, and subject being at the top of the list. But in recent years and because of new technology there have been additions to the list. One of those additions is "Always shoot in Raw".

When I first started seeing that working its way into the "photography essentials" I thought, really? Yes, I like to shoot in raw. I personally like the advantages it gives me and my images but is it an "essential"?

Well to settle the issue in my own mind, I decided to do a test.

I selected a landscape image I recently took. I will admit that I took the image in raw only as I did not go out and take special images just for the test. So, I do not know how much if any it can skew the results. Perhaps a more scientific method would be to go take a picture in raw and then change the camera settings to take the same image in jpg. Instead, I exported my raw image straight from the camera to a jpg. Thus giving me two identical images, one raw and one jpg.

Next, using Adobe Lightroom, I proceeded to edit the jpg image. After the edit, I copied the edit settings and pasted them into the raw file. To be completely honest, I was not expecting much difference at all. Boy was I surprised! Here are the results:


The first image is the .jpg the second is the raw


Probably the biggest difference between the two is the white balance. I selected auto. With auto, Lightroom was able to get it correct with the raw but as you can see, the jpg still has an orange color cast.

As I said, I was surprised and pretty astonished at the difference. And had I gone further with the editing I could have brought out much more detail in the raw file and still retained image fidelity. With the jpg that would not be possible.

Shooting raw is something I have always done and I have always recommended because I knew what I could do with it. So this test simply reinforces and confirms that recommendation. But am I ready to include it in the photography 101 essentials? I would have to say, no, and here is why.

I believe this has more to do with processing than photography camera techniques. I believe it is completely possible for someone to shoot an award-winning Pulitzer prize photo with a cell phone. It is possible with good light, good composition, and a compelling subject to catch the imagination of the viewer and propel an image into stardom. We have a saying in the movie industry "story is king" and that is also true in the photographic medium. Before digital, processing was essential as we could not see the image unless it was processed, and good processing helped bring the photo to life. Today that initial processing is not necessary. The camera does the processing and we can instantly see the image. Now we do what is called "post-processing". And while post-processing does help bring more life to the image, it is not necessary to enjoy the image. This is especially true in street photography and photojournalism.

In conclusion, while I would not elevate raw to the status of photography essentials. And I do not believe it belongs in the same category as lighting and composition. I would still say shoot raw.



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