Monday, April 13, 2009

Raw or JPEG?

Photography is so useful, so interesting and the new digital cameras so powerful and intriguing that photography forums on the Internet are constantly being visited by newcomers. Naturally, many of these new or upgraded photographers ask the same questions. One such question – especially for those who wish to become a bit more serious about photography – is “Should I shot in JPEG or Raw?” However innocently the question is asked (and it is not always innocently asked), the asking is like poking a stick into a hornet’s nest. Raw vs JPEG is an ongoing debate that is apparently irresolvable to many but obvious to some.

The JPEG delivered by our cameras is post processed from the raw data in-camera. Some of the in-camera post processing parameters can be tweaked a bit to suit personal tastes. Certainly the in-camera JPEG can be a fine picture and it is used by many (most? almost all?) photographers. Just as certainly -- in fact, absolutely -- the JPEG contains less information than the original raw image file because the JPEG is post processed and lossy compressed to an 8 bit basis from that 12 bit (Powershot G series) raw "negative".

Whether an individual can make a "better" picture from raw than the Canon software engineers (as directed by Canon marketing) do from the in-camera JPEG is a function of their own skills and available time. If someone tells me that they can make a better picture from raw than is delivered by the in-camera JPEG then I believe them. But when someone tells me that they cannot improve on the in-camera JPEG then I believe them as well. I even believe those who say that their post processed picture from the in-camera JPEG is better than their post processed picture from raw!

There is a place for both the in-camera JPEG and post processed raw images. Think about how you intend to use the camera and your pictures. For snapshot sized prints, computer monitor sized images and even HD-TV sized images, it probably does not matter a lot whether you use the in-camera JPEG or post process your own from the raw file -- especially if you select the correct white balance, get the exposure right and have tweaked the in-camera adjustments ("My Colors") for the JPEG to your own tastes. On the other hand, if your goal is a large print (say, 12x18 inches), if you've been forced to use a high ISO or if you choose to crop significantly then you should consider shooting in raw. Also, raw image files are somewhat more forgiving because exposure and white balance can be adjusted during conversion of the raw file (I know, I know … get it right the first time, etc., etc.)

I almost always get a raw image file from my G9. Sometimes I shoot in raw only and sometimes using raw+JPEG. I rarely shoot JPEG only. I'm not a pro; there are pros shooting raw and pros shooting JPEG. I'm glad that we have a choice.

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