RAW verses JPG
One of the biggest questions people have is, “What is better, shooting Raw or JPG?”
There are lots of available opinions on the merits of shooting RAW versus JPG. Based on years of experience, I’d like to present mine.
JPG (also abbreviated as JPEG) is a form of lossy image compression. One can trade-off the degree of compression against the amount of information loss and thus potentially the subjective image quality.When you select JPG in the camera’s menu it will prompt you to select either Basic, Standard or Fine. Depending on this setting, JPG files are usually ¼ the size of the equivalent scene RAW file, so you can store more images on a given memory card. The images that are stored on the Memory card are readable immediately without a converter program like Photoshop as a JPG file is universally recognised. Since even the most basic image viewing programs support the JPG format and can read it straight from the camera’s memory card, viewing JPG formatted images is easy.
If you have selected a JPG mode, when you press the shutter button, the camera’s recording of the scene will be influenced by other camera menu selections. For example, White Balance (WB) should be selected when shooting JPG. You can leave the camera on Automatic but that can sometimes misread the scene. By selecting cloudy or shade you make the camera select that specific WB to apply to the image. One catch with JPG is that once the compression is done you cannot easily change many of the exposure aspects of the captured image.
So what happens when I shoot JPG?
The camera will take the information recorded by the sensor as well as the details of how the image was shot and examine the data for redundant information. Colour information and dynamic range are usually some of the most effected data. Detail is also lost when the compression is made to heavy. If you have set your camera to Fine you will find the level of compression is quite acceptable. The Basic setting on the other hand will appear flat and soft with noticeable loss in colour and fine detail. Keep in mind the White Balance, Colour Space, Picture Control as these setting will affect the final recorded image.
RAW files are a recording of the raw data recorded by the chip set. No compression is done to the information recorded by the sensor. You don’t need to specify file size or white balance when shooting. RAW files require a special conversion program such as Photoshop to be processed and viewed. Even the image you see on the back of the camera is a temporary JPG created by the camera to allow you to see the image. The RAW format file sizes are quite large, my 12MP camera can store about 300 images on an 8GB card in RAW and nearly 1200 in fine JPG
So what do I do with the RAW file?
A Raw file as I mentioned before is just raw data not an image. The data must be processed by a programme like ACR in Photoshop and Lightroom, Capture NX2 for Nikon, CR2 for Canon. There are other programmes but these are the main ones used on the market. When you open the RAW file in these programmes you will see an image on screen. Most people find the image flat and lacking contrast, even the colour will appear lifeless. The first thing to do is adjust the White Balance. In RAW you can leave the camera on Auto for WB as you can adjust it now in processing. For the images shown the RAW the WB settings I choose was 6600K with a +8 on the tint. The camera chose 5950K with 0 tint. I used a grey card to get the correct Colour Balance. I adjusted the brightness up by 1.4Ev and the contrast by +25. I dropped a little highlight and increased the shadows but not too much to create a halo effect. I didn’t change the saturation but did increase the Vibrance by +15. I added some clarity and saved the image as a Jpg which is what you see here. In all about 2 minuted of processing. This image is not over done and looks more the way the scene did than the Jpg recorded by the camera. The image had more dynamic range and the colours are not clipped. Look at the yellow area in the sky near the Copacabana headland for what I am talking about.
How was the Image shot?
I usually shoot the brightest point in the image at +.67 Ev, Shooting in Manual Mode, with point metering and single point focus. The camera was a Nikon D3s and the Lens a Sigma 24mm f1.8, the camera settings were f11 with a ½ second exposure at ISO100. The JPG settings were WB- Cloudy, Colour Space- SRGB, Picture Control- Vivid.
As I said at the start this is my opinion and I will restate that there is now Correct way to shoot and Process. It is all up to the Photographer. having said that I personally find that shooting in RAW gives me more ability to capture the image I want. I think most people who have followed my work will find I try and keep as close to “reality” with my images. While I may try and catch the Ureal the image is still essentially the image as the camera caught it. Looking at the 2 images I have attached I find the RAW image to have more depth colour, vibrance, Dynamic Range, and more personal appeal.