Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Why I shoot everything in RAW format and why you should too!

It is not uncommon for people to write to me asking if I shoot RAW or JPEG, and my answer is always the same. I ALWAYS shoot in RAW.

Why would I do that? Because, no matter what I am photographing, I want to get the best image possible. The RAW file is uncompressed and holds more data than a JPEG image. This allows me to manipulate the photo much better in my retouching process. To be a little more specific, there is more information in the white balance. highlights & shadows of the photo, and I have a better chance of creating a polished finished image with a RAW file.

While it is true that shooting in JPEG format is faster, both in the camera (writing to the card and clearing the buffer) and in post (opening the file in a photo editing program), I would prefer to have quality over speed.

When I first started shooting RAW, I did so at times when I thought the photos were most important to me or the client. It wasn't long before I realized that every photo I took was important in it's own way.

You may be thinking, "OK, maybe I should shoot in both formats". I know a lot of people who choose to shoot RAW and JPEG to their memory cards. I am NOT a big fan of this for numerous reasons:

1. Shooting RAW plus JPEG slows your camera down! Yes, as it turns out, your camera has to process every image twice if you choose this mode. This means that most cameras will take twice as long to write the images to a memory card, and therefore take much longer to clear your buffer. Even on fast cameras like my Canon 1D X Mark II and Canon 5D Mark IV, this is very noticeable. I always advocate shooting to two memory cards (to make sure you come away with your images) but I shoot the same RAW images to both card slots.

2. If I really need JPEG images, it only takes seconds (or maybe minutes if I have thousands of photos) to convert my RAW files to a JPEG format using a program like Photo Mechanic. This can also be done in Lightroom and other software applications.

There are a couple of disadvantages of shooting RAW:

1. RAW files are larger in size than their JPEG equivalents, but memory cards and hard drives have grown in capacity and dropped in price to a point where this should not be a big deal.

2. It does take an extra step, and therefore more time, when processing a RAW file. As the retoucher, we need to add the sharpening, saturation, contrast and more. But again, I prefer to take a little more time with each image and have a better quality product at the end.

3. These larger files will take longer to write to your memory cards, and therefore fill your buffer faster. But even with that said, I still shoot every Olympic Games in RAW format. Why? I am at the Olympics!!!! I am capturing history and want the best image I can get.

It all really boils down to this: I treat every photo shoot as a once in a lifetime opportunity, and for that reason, I think that every photo should be captured with the best possible format.

What do you do? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on the subject.

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Unknown said...

It depends on the situation. I shoot ice hockey and also do travel photography. For my travel photography, I always shoot RAW for the reasons that you list.

For ice hockey, though, I always shoot the action shots in JPEG for a variety of reasons. First, speed is important. Both for the ability to record a burst and for the speed of getting images out to media outlets. Second, it becomes much less of an issue because I’m shooting in a (reasonably) controlled and consistent lighting environment. Therefore, I can spend the game’s warm-up making sure that my camera settings are absolutely spot on and so the benefits of RAW become reduced for me.

However, when doing profile shots for ice hockey, I’m back to RAW again.

Dragon said...

Thank you for sharing,I have my camera set for both raw and jpeg. I think after I read this I am going raw all the way. Makes sense quality before speed

Unknown said...

RAW only for the reason you state: image quality. The latitude RAW provides in post simply allows me to get the best quality. Besides, I fear getting a great action shot that needs a bit of tweaking that exceeds the capability of a JPEG file...and ending up with an unusable image. I shoot indoor volleyball, with varying lighting and backgrounds throughout the gyms that affect the exposure, which gets worse as players move in front of light and dark backgrounds in the middle of a play. RAW is a necessity. The only benefit I see with JPEG is the ability to shoot longer bursts, which I never do. I don’t need to get images to a wire service or social media quickly as I’m not reporting, I’m documenting VB matches.

Marc said...

I only shoot RAW for the same reasons you highlight: the benefits of RAW definitely outweigh those of speed and capacity.

Richard Siggins said...

I'm with you and shoot RAW almost 100% of the time. I used to shoot both on my Fuji mirrorless cameras primarily so I could chimp at 100% instead of the small embedded jpeg file. I try to not chimp so I've gone back to RAW only.

Unknown said...

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the great RAW and jpeg comparison. I alway shoot in raw but was wondering if I want a B&W shot, if there's any benefit of shooting it in camera and using the in-camera setting....or a landscape setting in camera for example. If so, it seems like they have to be shot in jpeg to get that effect when exporting. Or is it always better to convert to B&W or anything else creative in post?

Thanks again for your teaching.