Why I ONLY Shoot RAW — “Friends don’t let friends shoot JPEG” — Why throw all those pixels away? You may want them someday.

NOTE: many compact cameras don’t shoot in RAW anyway [these do], but they often come preset to a low quality setting. So people buy a 10 megapixel camera, and then literally throw away most of the pixels!

Here are reasons to at least consider shooting in the ‘highest quality’ JPEG mode, and perhaps even using only cameras that can shoot in RAW, which allows us to shoot in JPEG and RAW simultaneously, to keep the most amount of data for archiving (RAW) and a JPEG of practical size for everyday use.

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I thought I’d share this really well written, short piece on why non-professional photographers should consider shooting in RAW too.

Some may be thinking: ‘What are you talking about, Jeff?’ Basically:

RAW, is one type of file output from a DSLR or advanced camera that writes ALL DATA from the digital sensor to the memory card. Other file types are TIF and JPG. Most photographers start out shooting JPG [or JPEG] because they don’t know better or believe everything they read online.

Check out this really cool analogy from this article:

Think of it this way…from the days you used to shoot -FILM– of all things. When you had your photos processed at the lab what would you do with your negatives? Always keep them safely stored and filed, right? Of course! Well RAW files are your negatives and JPEG files are the 4×6 prints you would get at the same time. About 50% of the time they are fine, but many times the young kid who was clueless behind the print processor in the lab didn’t know how you liked your prints. Sometimes they were too dark, other times they should have corrected for the very bright flash and dark background.

So why, now that you are shooting digital, do you toss away your negatives (RAW files) and settle for only the 4×6 prints (JPEG files)? Would you ever make a 20×30 or 30×40 print from a tiny 4×6 print that was poorly printed in the first place? Never! Heck no! So why do you settle for JPEG files that are tossing more data than you keep while the camera is converting it from RAW?

Friends don’t let friends shoot JPEG.

So maybe most of your photos are just for the memories, and you’ll never want to display them in the highest quality. But what if you shoot an image that is flat out gorgeous, or for some other reason you’d like to print it bigger to hang it on your wall someday, but all you have saved into your memory card is a low-quality JPEG?

There are two issues here. Are your photos saved only as JPEGs, and what resolution size is selected in the camera’s menu?

Many compact cameras actually don’t shoot in RAW at all, so shooting in RAW may not even be a possibility unless you buy a RAW-capable camera, which I always make sure I do. Then you can shoot in RAW and JPEG at the same time, called RAW + JPEG. And JPEGs can be as large or small as you’d like. Small is great for sending in emails, for example. But then you always have the RAW file if you need to make (or have someone make for you) a larger JPEG — or the best possible image that you could get from the uncompressed RAW file.

Since memory is so cheap these days, why not just get a bigger memory card and shoot in RAW + JPEG? This will slow down download times though. And the “write times” (time it takes to record the image into the card during shooting) can be longer in many cameras too.

The highest quality, archival RAW files aren’t practical for most people to get their everyday images from, because they require editing in software to look good (like film negatives required specific tweaking) — whereas the JPEGs are ready to go, having already added the standard adjustments, like saturation, contrast, white balance, sharpening, etc.

So you have the best of both worlds if you shoot in both RAW and JPEG, with the few limitations I show above.

Shooting in the highest res JPEG is also far better than leaving it in low-res, if you want a higher quality or bigger print someday. But these generally should probably be downsized in a computer program to put on the net or sent in an email.

Personally, I shoot in RAW only, no JPEGs at all, from which I can always make a JPEG. But for the shooter who wants to do as little as possible in the computer and still have a best quality, archive copy, shooting in RAW + small JPEG may be ideal.

And if you only shoot in JPEG, increasing the resolution to maximum may not be quite as good as RAW for getting the best larger print someday, but it’s many times better than throwing away all of those pixels by compressing in the smallest size.

And what if you want to crop, print or put on the web just part of the picture? This can only be effectively done from the larger file sizes.

The larger JPEGs really are too big to be sent to friends in an email, so they would need post-processing to make them email/web-ready.

Small JPEG + RAW may be the best solution for keeping the negative and the small print (in terms of the illustration above).

Why throw all those pixels away? You may want them someday.

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