If you want the best image quality possible, shoot in RAW!
Raw vs. JPEG? Why does my JPEG image look better than my raw image? Do I have to shoot raw and JPEG? – There are still many photographers undecided which format to use, this article should help you to make a decision.
Many digital cameras today, including both DSLRs and higher end compact cameras, give us the option of saving our images as either raw files or JPEG files or both, raw & JPEG files at the same time.
Every time you press the shutter the camera takes a picture and saves it to the memory card. If the camera saves that picture as a JPEG file, a lot of data contained in the original file gets thrown away in order to get a reduced file size. A lot of this detail is lost forever when shooting in JPEG.
When shooting in raw format, all this detail is saved to the memory card and we have a lot more information to work with. As a result we can push the images a lot further than we could with JPEGs. Little mistakes we made in relation to exposure and white balance settings can be corrected without loosing detail, giving us the flexibility to produce images of the finest quality.
A raw file is like taking the original film negative into the dark room and developing the photo yourself, with complete control over the final result. Raw files are often referred to as digital negatives, and we use programs like Lightroom or Photoshop as a digital darkroom to process the raw files and convert them to JPEG, TIF or PSD before it can be published or printed.
Here’s one example of how you can get details back from a raw file, which are lost in the JPEG file:
When I was shooting this manta ray in Komodo, the ray was too far away and my strobes didn’t really do anything (other than creating some backscatter). When I tried to process the image in Lightroom, all I could do with the JPEG file was this – the image is very blue, the water on the left is totally burned out and there is absolutely no color or light in the reef.
Because I recorded RAW & JPEG at the same time, I was able to get some of the details back with the raw file. With a simple white balance and a little processing in Lightroom I managed to get an acceptable image.
Of course it would have been better to get it right in the first place, but sometimes it is impossible. The Mantas on that day in Komodo were just very skittish and didn’t want to come close. This image was shot in 2011 while diving on MSY Seahorse. This was the last time I recorded JPEG & RAW images at the same time. After that trip I set my camera to record only RAW. When will you make the change?
If you don’t already use Adobe Lightroom, I strongly recommend using it. It does not only let you process your raw files, it will also help you getting organized with your images. Adobe Lightroom is available for MAC and PC.
There is the option of getting Lightroom and Photoshop as a bundle with the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan (Photoshop CC + Lightroom) for $9.99/month, which I find is a pretty good deal, given that you will always have the newest version of Photoshop and Lightroom.