Tuesday, September 20, 2011
RAW vs. JPEG
Should you be using one, the other or both?
We've mentioned some of the key benefits of RAW files. Overall, you get a finer degree of control over the image than you can with JPEGs. You can adjust exposure to some degree, although it's a common misconception to think that you can make large adjustments to the exposure without losing detail. RAW files don't magically give you more latitude. RAW files, however, give you much more control over the color balance and contrast in the image. So what's the catch? The downside is that every RAW file needs to be processed, which can be time-consuming. In this regard, shooting RAW vs. JPEG is analogous to shooting black-and-while vs. color transparency film. A color transparency, once the exposure is made, is essentially done. It gets processed in a prescribed blend of chemicals, and it's done. Black-and-white film, on the other hand, barely begins its journey to a final print when the original exposure is made. And just like black-and-white film, you can exercise a lot of control or a minimal amount, but you have to do some work to get from a latent image to a useable one. That's the same as RAW files.
So a clear advantage of JPEG files, even today, is that you spend less time processing at the computer, which frees you up to spend more time shooting. JPEG files are shot and processed in an instant and once you import them into the computer, they can be easily emailed to friends or posted to online galleries. In short, the format lends itself to efficiency, if not control.
Earlier in this article, we wrote that the RAW + JPEG is probably the best way to cover all of your bets. It gives you the best of all worlds, although there are still some pitfalls (see the sidebar "Why Not Just Shoot RAW + JPEG All The Time?"). If you have both a RAW and a JPEG of the same image, you can use each file for its particular strengths.
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