When I started using a DSLR five years ago, my preferred mode of shooting was the P mode and I shot jpegs only. My logic was simple. Storage was expensive, processing Raw files was time-consuming and jpegs looked better than Raw straight out of the camera anyway.
Cut to 2013. I have been shooting in Raw for the last four years and still regret having an entire series of pictures shot in Vietnam which were shot in jpeg. I am fairly proficient in Lightroom now, LR4’s new process engine has made post processing much more efficient and quick but I can’t process these pictures without facing problems like clipped highlights/shadows, banding and artefacts.
One of the sought after features of modern cameras is the high megapixel, the higher the pixel count, the more high-end the camera. Now that’s not exactly true but the fact remains that we pay the premium for these extras, only to throw them away by then shooting in jpeg. Jpeg files are created by the camera by applying a generic processing to the Raw file (which is your digital negative) and throwing away pixels which it considers to be less discernible. You want to apply your own style to the image but you are letting the camera decide on vital properties like White balance, contrast and sharpness.
Still not convinced? Let me list six benefits of Raw for those people who are hard to please.
- Greater control over processing: When you capture RAW images, you have full control over how much processing is applied to an image, and where in that image you apply it.
- Greater shadow and highlight detail: A jpeg file has only 8 bits of information per pixel as against 12 to 14 for a Raw file. Because of the higher bit count, a Raw file records upto 16,384 levels of information or tones per channel as against 256 tones in a jpeg file. When you start apply changes to highlights or shadows, there are a fewer number of possible tones for each pixel, which can result in banding and posterisation if pushed too far;
- Easier White Balance correction: A boon in mixed lighting situations like weddings;
- Effective use of sharpening tools or software: As jpegs are already sharpened in-camera they are more pleasing to the eye straight out of the camera. But with Raw you can use specialised software for sharpening which are finally more effective.
- Single image HDR: one image can contain enough tonal detail to create an HDR-style image from one file;
- Non destructive editing: In a jpeg file, any changes made to the image are permanent but all changes made to a RAW file are stored in a metadata file, leaving the original file untouched. So if you want to make changes later, you can always get back the original file for editing.
However, there are certain situations when using jpegs may be an advantage. If you are shooting a sports event like a car race and the FPS of your camera is not upto the mark, it’s better to shoot jpeg than Raw. After all a few seconds can make a lot difference between whether or not you get the shot.
If you are shooting at a party or an event and the images need to be shared quickly, it’s again better to shoot in jpeg.
I would like to share one image which I accidentally shot with the wrong settings recently and the after image which required just an auto correction in Lightroom. The tonal details available in the dark as well as the light areas of the image prove the point very effectively.