The power of RAW vs. JPEG

For example, RAW gives you the power to create a beautiful portrait, and allows room for adjustments to fine detail, but if you are shooting for a newspaper, RAW would generally not be needed.

Since my work doesn’t require RAW files and working with JPEG’s is easier and faster, I’ve never really shot in RAW. But a few weeks ago I decided to experiment, and the results opened my eyes. RAW has the reputation for being so much better than JPEG, and for some type of photography it really is, for other types it is not necessary.

For example, RAW gives you the power to create a beautiful portrait, and allows room for adjustments to fine detail, but if you are shooting for a newspaper, RAW would generally not be needed.

What exactly is the difference? In RAW your camera records all of the information as light passes over the sensor and does it in a 12-bit file meaning your file is showing all of the colors as they are in a wider spectrum. JPEG files are 8-bit files meaning a smaller color spectrum. JPEG’s take in all of the information and “average” the color information as the file is recorded. Here is the photograph that sold me on the fact that there really is more information in a RAW file vs. a JPEG file:

This lizard was in the shade of the inside of a bush with just a spot of light hitting its back. The spot in the JPEG showed up burned out with little information to work with, the RAW file had a lot of information where the light was hitting.

I was amazed at how much more of a complete file of information from my photo the RAW format provided vs. the JPEG format. In addition the colors from the RAW file were visibly more vibrant. Most photo editing programs have a RAW converter, make sure you are using one that does convert your RAW files before you try this experiment. To read more about RAW vs. JPEG, check out Debbie Grossman’s Digital Tool on the topic.

—Melissa Macatee
Contributing Blogger