RAW vs JPEG, a counterargument to the status quo
I assume that the reader has already read a few other blogs on this subject before coming here, or has their own very strong opinion on this matter, to follow is my own personal opinion that I have developed (not adopted from someone else) over my career.
Some background information about my experience: I started my professional career while working for a local daily newspaper. At the beginning when I was sent out on my first stories, I took all my pictures in RAW format because that was what I had been taught to do with the new medium of digital photography. As a result of working under a genius picture editor, and working under the daily stress of getting your picture captioned and submitted before the daily deadline, I learned that the best way to photograph anything was to shoot in such a way as to avoid as much of the post production as possible.
This means that along with the internal mental process of evaluating a photographic opportunity, deciding what your colour balance is going to be, what your exposure is going to be (best achieved using manual exposure mode), your composition (reducing chances of needing to crop later), and making sure you focus as correctly as possible, results in you needing to do very very little ‘photoshopping’ later on.
The foundation of my argument is this: if you get all the technical aspects of your image correct before you take the picture, then having to deal with all the negative aspects of shooting RAW is no longer necessary. And this practise becomes very important when you are a professional photographer who earns his income from efficiently satisfying all your many client’s requirements and getting their product to them as soon as possible and with the least amount of effort as possible.
It is the truth that technically speaking you will have better fine image detail if you shoot and then process your image in RAW format, but unless you are planning on printing your photograph on a very large print such as A2 or larger then taking the picture in JPEG format would be more than acceptable. I have created countless A3 sized photobooks for my clients and the resultant image quality of images taken in JPEG format was indiscernible from images within the same shoot that were taken in RAW format. In real terms, when you are concerned about print quality, the number of dots per inch (DPI) is the greatest contributing factor to a high print quality. The lowest DPI that will give you a high quality print is affected by both the medium you print it on (glossy vs matt paper, or canvas vs paper) and the final size of the print.
Please take what I’ve said here with a pinch of salt, because it is also true that over processing a JPEG image will create a lot of noise and other ‘artifacts’ that will make you not want to use it.
This advantage of RAW is by far the greatest and is the only deciding factor for me in choosing RAW instead of JPEG. As concisely as possible, shooting in a format that has higher dynamic range allows you to rescue overly exposed details of the image (sky and clouds for example) and underexposed details. There is more exposure latitude to rescuing overexposed areas than there is underexposed areas, that is just the nature of digital sensors. When I am in a situation where I know (judging by eye) that a part of the picture that I like is much brighter than another part of the image that I also like, then I will switch the camera to RAW so that I can capture that digital information in one file and then use layers in Photoshop to level out those differences of exposure. This is a particularly good technique when trying to bring out contrast in a cloudy sky to give the image a moody feel.
Another concern when shooting a clear sky in JPEG mode is something called banding. It is not true that you do not get banding with images in RAW format, but while editing your image and trying to create a beautiful sky, getting banding is much easier with JPEGs when heavily editing your image.
SHOOTING IN JPEG MODE
If you are someone like me who shoots approximately 2000-3000 images in a single wedding or any whole-day shoot, shooting in JPEG mode has its advantages:
SHOOTING IN RAW MODE
All having being said, RAW does have its own advantages:
I no longer shoot news, I mostly do weddings and corporate assignments now, and while I do not shoot exclusively in either format, approximately 85% of the pictures I shoot at a wedding will be in JPEG format. So while you have all probably heard many photographers and bloggers say that they only shoot in RAW as if it is a superior format, a more balanced and considered opinion is that both formats have their advantages and disadvantages, and that it would be best if you used each format’s advantages when that particular advantage would suit your particular situation.