Monday, December 17, 2012

Why I Don't Use RAW (or, Why I Save In JPEG Format)

I prefer to save my images as JPEGs. Saving in RAW format is often a waste of time. Time is important to me, so I hate to waste it away in front of a computer fiddling with photographs.
Summer Mow - Tehachapi, California
I did not use RAW for this image.
What is JPEG? What is RAW?

JPEG is simply a universal image format that almost all computer software programs can read. The camera will interpret the data from the sensor and apply a number of predetermined adjustments and settings. The camera creates a usable and "complete" image and saves it in JPEG format.
Wheat Grass - Tehachapi, California
I saved this as a JPEG and not RAW. 
RAW is simply one of many image formats that some computer software programs can read. The camera will interpret the data from the sensor, but it won't apply anything. It will store within the file the adjustments and settings you selected so that you can apply them later if you wish, but it won't automatically apply any of them. Without the appropriate software, RAW is unreadable. Think of it as the raw data for an image that still needs to be interpreted. Most camera makers have their own unique version of RAW.

RAW format allows you to make adjustments to an image later in post-processing. JPEG format automatically applies these adjustments prior to saving.
Old Life, New Life - Victorville, California
I did not save this image in RAW format.
So what kind of adjustments and settings are we talking about? Contrast, color saturation, hue, white balance, sharpening and noise reduction are all adjustments that JPEG will apply automatically while RAW will apply only later when you tell it to. There can be others, as well.

For most cameras and most situations, if you can get all of the settings the way you want them prior to opening the shutter, there is almost nothing to be gained from saving in RAW. With RAW, the major benefit is if you cannot get the settings correct, you have another chance later. In my experience, a few seconds of care in the field will save you several minutes in front of a computer later.
Old Tracks - McKinney, Texas
I didn't use RAW for this photograph.
But isn't JPEG a "lossy" format? Yes. So is film. So what? If the photograph is as you want it, why care about all the stuff you don't want that may have been lost. With each image, there is all sorts of data from the sensor that is unnecessary to the final image. When you save in JPEG, the camera will throw that data away so that the file will be a manageable size. You don't need that data, so why save it?

There are three types of people that saving in RAW benefit: those who like sitting for hours in front of a computer fiddling with images, those who are unsure what settings they want to use (so it is "easier" to figure it out later), and those who don't have the time to be constantly making all sorts of adjusting in a quickly changing environment (think wedding photographers).
Ball Defying Gravity - Hesperia, California
I saved this image as a JPEG file and not RAW.
There is another situation that saving in RAW may also benefit: high ISO. Many camera makes and models don't handle high ISO the way that you may like with regard to JPEGs. Some may under sharpen, some may over sharpen, some may apply too much noise reduction and some may apply too little. Saving these images in RAW and applying the sharpening and noise reduction later can sometimes produce better looking images.

Sometimes there is also a small gain in dynamic range by saving in RAW and playing with the curves in software. Because JPEG applies whatever setting you have told it to, the contrast level may effect the highlights and shadows and you can lose some details in the darkest and/or lightest parts of an image. In my opinion, the very small gain in dynamic range isn't worth the time it takes to achieve it.
Wired Ears - Tehachapi, California
It took two JPEGs to create the above image.
You could capture an image and save it in both RAW and JPEG formats, then display the finished photograph for both formats side-by-side, and it would be very difficult to tell which was which. No one will know which was from the JPEG file and which was from the RAW file, and it would take a very close study of the two images to even guess.

For most people and most situations, as long as care was taken in the field to ensure everything is as you want it to be, JPEG format will produce the results you want and it will save you time over saving in RAW.
Steadfast Movement - Mojave, California
I did not use RAW for this photograph.

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