Read any photo guide book, magazine, website, you name it, and the first cardinal rule of photography they preach is the importance of shooting RAW files.
The digital equivalent of a film negative, a RAW format file records the scene without the processing and compression of a JPEG, allowing you to retain more detail.
You can also revisit older RAW files and reprocess them multiple times with different looks or effects, all the time leaving the original file untouched and uncompressed.
So why on earth would you want to shoot anything but RAW? In our latest post we’ll explain some of the reasons why it may be better to opt for the convenience of JPEGs.
If you’ve been taking pictures for a while now, you might remember the early days of digital photography when a 64MB memory card cost about £64. Thankfully, they’ve come down in price. But they haven’t come down in size. RAW files can be 5-6 times the size of JPEGs, and if you plan to be out shooting for a long time, you better have a large stash of memory cards to fill with RAW files… or just shoot JPEGs. Some cameras allow you to record images as smaller RAW files, which alleviates the problem a little.
2. Continuous shooting
If you’re shooting sports or action photography, you’re likely to be using your camera’s burst shooting mode. And if you’re shooting continuous RAW files your buffer will fill up quickly. Your camera will freeze up trying to process all of the large RAW files, and you’ll miss the action as a result.
3. Save time editing
There’s photo management, and then there’s letting your photos manage you. Editing RAW files on the computer can take considerable time when fine-tuning key areas of an image. Experienced photographers learn to shoot RAW files for their high-end work, but shoot JPEGs for those images where absolute precision isn’t as critical.
Learn how to improve your workflow by reading our photo management tips
4. Where will your photos end up?
Are you shooting for the web, or are you shooting images to get published in magazines? If the latter (or the latter + the former) then carry on with RAW files. But if, like many jobbing photographers these days, you’re shooting for web-based clients or even for your own web and social media platforms, JPEGs will give you all the quality you need and save you time in the process.
5. Long-term storage
In the first point on this list we talked about saving space on your memory card, but it’s also worth thinking about your long-term photo management needs. Do you want to fill stacks of external hard drives with 50MB files of every frame you’ve ever taken? Of course not. Naturally, you can always store your RAW files in an online service like Project1709, but, as we suggested before, stick with RAW for your bread and butter work. Everything else? JPEG.
Again, whether this is an advantage or a liability depends on how serious you are about your photography. JPEG images will have a certain level of sharpening applied during the processing stage. If you’re taking holiday snaps or photos you only intended for Facebook or small prints, this level of sharpening will suffice and the JPEG option offers a much quicker solution.
7. No RAW file is the same
RAW is a non-standard format. Every camera manufacturer has its own RAW format, and third-party RAW software often has to play catch up when new cameras come along. It also means you can’t reliably send your RAW files to other people to see. You’ll have to convert them to – that’s right – JPEGs, and then people can view them.
Of course, as we said at the top of this article, for pulling the maximum amount of detail out of your pictures, there’s no substitute for shooting in RAW.
What is your prefence: RAW for everything or just for those killer shots? Let us know below.