Posted by: David Vernon | October 29, 2009

A Thought or Two on the Raw vs. JPEG Debate

For the World is HollowI’ve been doing some thinking on the whole Raw vs. JPEG thing. But lets back up for a moment.

When I got my first Digital SLR (my old Nikon D70 – purchased about five years ago), I made the choice to shoot JPEGs. On one hand I didn’t have the experience, software, or wherewithal to move right into Nikon’s Raw. On the other hand, shooting in JPEG still produced good images that you could tweak somewhat in Photoshop. Of course when I look at a lot of the early images I shot in JPEG and worked over in Photoshop, I think I actually made them worse. But all kidding aside, they were good images that worked for what I was doing.

Then I attended one of the Spring Seminars that the Peoria Camera Club puts on – with Rick Sammon I believe – and he kept harping on why I, Dave Vernon, was not shooting in Raw. And he was right. By then I had a sense of what I wanted to do photographically and Raw was one way to achieve that. I got into Raw very deep and very fast and now – here in 2009 I couldn’t imagine shooting any other way. I’m certainly a Raw evangelist but … and here’s where it gets dangerous – I think I have an open mind when it comes to JPEG.

There’s nothing like teaching photography at the Peoria Art Guild to give me – as the teacher – an education. A lot of my students don’t give a rat’s rear end for Raw. They don’t – and they don’t give that same tush for doing any post-processing out of camera. Nope. So guess what? Yeah – Raw is an awful choice for them. Awful. They are built for JPEG and that’s really the only acceptable avenue. So my job isn’t to proselytize to them about Raw. My job is to shut my mouth and make sure they’re getting the most out of their JPEG shooting experience. And that’s what I do. But in doing that I’ve come back around to the plus of shooting JPEG. Let me expand on that a bit.

My typical workflow, for say, event photography, is to shoot it in Raw and then process it in Adobe Camera Raw. I’ll color correct, crop, and make minor adjustments to my selects – but I won’t ever take them into Photoshop. I’ll then use Camera Raw to essentially export JPEGs that I deliver to my customer. But why not shoot these in JPEG and save me a step or two?

I wax on to my JPEG shooters that one of the most important things you can do is take the time to set your camera up correctly before you shoot – so your picture control and white balance is spot on since changing it after the fact is made more difficult. And once you’ve done that – why not shoot in JPEG? Or at least Raw + JPEG if you’re chicken. Have you seen the options in your camera’s Retouch menu? In my Nikons, there is stuff like D-Lighting, red-eye correction, cropping, black-and-white, filter effects, and color balance. You also have Picture Control – where I can adjust sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue – before I shoot. And interestingly that’s what I’m going to do after the fact anyway in PS. So why not?

If what you do demands Raw – then great – Raw is a powerful format with lots of post-processing benefits. If not – consider if JPEG could work for you – and save you a ton of time. We’re all about getting the best image in camera anyway – so having an image in a final format in camera seems like it isn’t a bad idea. And if you don’t believe me – read this blog entry from Bob Krist – who has been known to shoot a frame or two for National Geographic. He’s come around to the same basic point-of-view.

And here’s a few minor JPEG trivia items for you to carry around all day.

  • Even if you shoot Raw – your camera still makes a JPEG. It’s what you see on your LCD. That JPEG image is essentially embedded within the Raw file. If you want to get at it, there’s a nice little program to do that. Saves you from shooting in Raw + JPEG.
  • We (probably) all know that JPEG is also a compression format which is not lossless. Every time you re-save a JPEG you’re throwing away a little bit of data. But if you want to edit a JPEG in some post-processing software go right ahead. Doing it once or twice won’t significantly alter your file’s quality. Doing it 600 times however
  • When you pick the “quality” of a JPEG file at saving time – you’re really allowing how much compression you want. I always tend to like about 70% – enough compression to save a little space without sacrificing much quality. That’s just me and you’re actual miles may vary.

And one other thought for you folks thinking about Raw. I had a student mention to me the other day that they couldn’t open their Raw file in Photoshop. If your Raw processor came out before your camera did, then this is probably the case. You need to make sure you have the latest update (or at least an update that included support for your camera) of your software that includes support for your camera. Every time the major camera manufacturers introduce a new model, Adobe is quick on the bandwagon to release an update to ACR to support that camera. Check your software’s Update function (usually under the Help menu) to see if there are any free updates available.



  1. David – very good points on the debate. Each person needs to decide what’s best for them. The decision to shoot RAW or JPEG is definitely based on your post-process or not-to post-process ideas.

    Some people shoot RAW because they are told that’s the way to shoot, then they just convert straight to JPEG out of the camera – this is a waste of their time.

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