The Digital Format Debate: JPEG or RAW?

Photography | May 2nd 2011

Camera Image  by D'Arcy Norman

Photo By D'Arcy Norman

Did you know that when you take a JPEG image on your digital camera it is instantly compressed? JPEG is a lossy format, which means that image information is discarded in order to reduce the file size. The smaller the file size, the more information is discarded. This means that from the instant you have taken your image you have already lost information.

Shooting in RAW is a way to get around this. It will give you your image in an unprocessed state – like a digital negative. It allows you to do all the image processing for yourself – you will have all of the information that you need, letting you produce the image that you desire. But there are a few downsides to shooting in RAW:

  1. Large File Size – because RAW retains all of your image information the file size is much bigger than it would be with a JPEG. This can quickly fill up your memory card.
  2. Time Lag – because of the increase in file size it takes longer for the image to store on your camera. This can be a problem if you are shooting things at high speed, such as sports.
  3. Processing – unless you have a way to process your RAW image there is no way for you to view it. You can’t just open a RAW image and see a pretty picture, or upload it straight to your website. RAW needs to be processed. If you’re sending your images straight to a client this could cause problems as they won’t be able to see it.

Most of these problems, however, are easy to get around. Memory is relatively cheap these days so having a number of memory cards on hand can let you snap your RAW shots all day. And more and more jobbing photographers have laptops at the ready to process photographic information straight away.

If you are taking shots and doing a lot of processing then you should definitely shoot in RAW. Of course, if you’re going to shoot a 100 meter race you might need  to stick to JPEG for that shoot.



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