RAW vs. JPEG

A couple years ago, and more and more serious since, I devoted myself to my photography.  I have made a concerted effort to improve my photos, by reading multiple photography books, watching numerous educational videos, practicing lots, and even taking online college courses.  I believe I have improved, and it can be seen in my photographs.  Since I was a kid I have been into photography, but in truth (particularly now that I look back at those pix) I was never really very good.

Last year, we made the plunge, and I bought my first full frame digital SLR (Canon 5D, Mark III).  Prior to that I had a crop camera (Canon 40D, APS-C DSLR), which in effect is a digital SLR with a .6 size sensor to a full size 35mm sensor.  The nice thing about the crop camera is that all your pix are 1.6x using crop lenses, thus a 300mm lens yields 1.6x or 480mm.  My full frame camera 300mm lens yields 300mm, so if I want 480mm, I have to buy a 500mm lens or use a teleconverter.

But I digress.  Once I got a full frame camera, one of the first things one must decide is to shoot RAW or JPEG.  It seemed an easy decision for me.  I thought, I’m not a professional, I don’t need to shoot RAW.  Moreover, RAW had 2 distinct disadvantages that I wasn’t willing to deal with, (1) every single picture I wanted to print, email, post, etc, would have to be manipulated and processed in a photo editing program to add the color, exposure, sharpness, white balance, etc, and (2) each photo would be at least 2 – 3 times the size, requiring a lot more memory to store all these RAW photos.  So I choose JPEG, and off I went, satisfied with my decision.

As I have journeyed down this path, my photos have improved.  I post my photos on this blog (and my other blogs, www.kritterpaw.com and www.krittersmenu.com), I email them, I enlarge them, and I print them.  I have sold a few, and submited a number for publication (still waiting for that one to work out).  And I have cropped photos.  When you crop a photo you loose a lot of very critical pixels leaving the photo with less integrity and graininess.

The other day I saw the most compelling argument for RAW over JPEG.  A JPEG photo has all of 256 bits, while a RAW photo has some 65,000 bits!  When I edit and save a JPEG it looses more and more integrity every time I save it.  I’m still learning to properly edit my photos, without overdoing it.  I can use all the ‘margin’ I can get.  And I want to keep the integrity and all it’s pixels in my digital negative.

The irony is…  I thought as an amateur, I didn’t need RAW, JPEG was good enough.  The truth is, as an amateur I need RAW because I am learning, because it can help make up for poorly exposures pix because RAW retains all the data, and because data lost when editing still leaves crucial data left, even more so than a pro, who knows what he/she’s doing.

Thus… I made the leap, and the switch to RAW.

Of any given shoot, I only ‘keep’ maybe 5 pix for publication.  So the editing is minimized to only those keepers… and I have found that those keepers I wound up tweaking, albeit minor, via Photoshop in JPEG anyway.  So the editing of RAW photos wasn’t a hardship at all.

As far as the memory, I delete all the RAW files of the non-keepers.  But for those great shots, I have digital negatives that are full of information I can tinker with as I see fit to my hearts content without the fear of degrading my files.  I’m happy I have the switch, and glad I did it sooner rather than later.

I’ll have more external storage devices as a result of my decision, but fortunately they are cheap enough these days, that it’s not much of a hardship either.  Storing a few extra external drives in return for more pixels and integrity in every photo I take (particularly the great ones), is worth the trade-off for me.  So win-win in my book.