RAW vs JPEG = Quality vs Convenience


This post is written more for me to get into my head what I want to see in my photography more so than educating anyone that is reading this. I am in no way an expert in photography and I don’t write to teach people the wrong or right way to take photos.

My world is always in turmoil of some sort and if I am not struggling over A or B then I might as well be dead. Today’s struggle between A and B comes in the form of deciding if I should take my photos using RAW format or JPEG when shooting digital. I told myself the other day that I would embrace digital photography after of years of sitting on undeveloped film.

Annie Leibovitz, portrait photographer, discussed in her MasterClass that you should not worry so much about equipment but on seeing through the lens. She moved from film to digital because that was where the world was moving. During her MasterClass, we saw her at work taking photos but also in her “darkroom” which was a computer and she manipulated the photos to get the look she wanted. No photographer is perfect right out of a camera (film or digital). With film, there are things called dodging and burning, plus cross developing, pushing and pulling in a physical darkroom. Sounds complicated? With digital, these things exist in front of computer screen, plus more.

Does this sound like I am going back to the struggle over film or digital? Let me move on… With digital cameras, there is a setting for your image quality. Each camera is different but ultimately there are many settings for JPEG, low, medium, high, etc… There is another setting: RAW. The camera defaults to HIGH JPEG, not RAW; and most amateur photographers won’t even know what that means.

Buddy photo comparison – RAW (first) vs JPEG (second)

Let’s start with JPEGs. JPEG is a compressed file that is developed inside the camera (like photoshop) and when you drop it into your camera, it is as perfect as it will be. It reads all the “program” settings on your camera like portrait mode, landscape, action, etc. Based on the lighting around your, your camera will take the best photo possible for your program setting and will adjust all of your shutter speeds, apertures, and film speed. The photo is ready to share because its in a universal film format that every computer or phone knows how to read.

RAW format is the complete opposite of this. RAW reads like film. It reads the cameras film speed, the aperture, and the shutter speed based on what you tell it to do. Yes, you can put it on auto and it can figure it out for you but it does not compress the film into a pretty little package. It requires the photographer to have a program to read the RAW file and it requires you to spend time in your digital darkroom to process the image into something pretty.

JPEG is a 8-bit compressed film that reads about 16.8 billion colors. Sounds like a lot, right? RAW is a 12-bit uncompressed that containers 68.7 billion colors. It means that RAW can see more data than JPEGs. It takes up a lot more space on your computer and SD card. This photo of Buddy above shows the differences in RAW vs JPEG. Remember, while the JPEG looks cleaner and brighter, it has been processed already. The RAW photo is about 16MB of data while the JPEG is only 4MB.

Depending on what you/I want to do with your photos will and can determine what I am struggling. If you are not planning on printing anything out and are just sharing your photos online with some friends, maybe you want to shoot in JPEG. You won’t need a special program to edit your photos and everything is quick. Look at them, decide which photos are keepers and post. EASY.

If you/I want to attempt to be creative and develop these images into more then maybe we need to keep the RAW file, take the time to edit them the way you feel gives it an artistic dimension, then convert to a generic format like JPEG to share online while keeping the integrity of the high-def “negative” for printing at a later date.

I always seem to want to take the easy way out when it comes to everything I do. Maybe that is why the world has changed so much. We stop living for quality and only live for quantity. Before I knew about RAW, JPEGs were fine but know I go back and look at how little I can do with them. I can’t even print out my wonderful photos without loss of quality and pixels everywhere. I guess that is why I loved film so much; because it was always the best quality. But if you are not in a darkroom printing out your own photos, does film do anything more than? Today, we get our film developed and it is scanned into a JPEG and it is no better than shooting a digital photo in JPEG. What is the actual difference?

Maybe this post has made it question everything even more… I am left to ponder this struggle even more.

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