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Shoot in RAW ain't no buts about it!

I always try to be objective when I am having a discussion or making a point. My teachers used to always say that there is always two sides to the story, at least two or more options or considerations! Well I’m not going to let you down on this front, this little dissertation is about as balanced as I can make it, so that you get all the information you need and make the right choice.

Ok, let’s look at the advantages of making photos soley in the JPEG format. Other than the fact they are smaller in size and are readily available to use unedited, there aren’t any other good reasons why you would choose this format over RAW. You see the chances are that fancy new camera you have is going to output a 12+ megabyte Jpeg file and when your files are that size it’s equally as problematic as handling a file that is 50mb.

You see once a file reaches a certain size (around 5mb), you need to start looking at bigger storage, they become harder to email, transport and work with. If you consider that a 1TB external hard drive is only 10% cheaper than a 2TB version, why would you bother buying the latter. Technology has made mass portable storage cheaper than ever, so the size of your file is not really the issue. You’re getting my drift right? Ok so now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on 😊.

Essentially you are doing yourself a disservice by not utilizing all the resources at your disposal. Saving your initial image file as a Jpeg only, is like going through all the effort of making a great photo and ending up with half of it! Really, yes really! You’re not getting all the data, the details, the gazillion megapixels that you sold your kids for! It’s like cooking a ‘home cooked’ meal from a packet. The packet food tastes fine and your guests may not know the difference but you will. In most cases a meal you cooked yourself, following a recipe and using fresh ingredients will most always taste better than the one from a jar. There is only so much you can do to a packet meal to make it your own. Once you’ve experienced what you can do from scratch, you’ll never open a packet again.

The point I’m trying to make is that, if you take the time to create a photo, make sure that you have all the details of that moment, every pixel of light and all its information, stored for all eternity. That image can then be turned to art, cropped, adjusted and manipulated to create amazing things but it all starts with the source file, the one your camera creates when you press the shutter. Look at it this way, a modern camera will output a RAW file on average about 50mb and a Jpeg file at 12mb, that’s roughly an 85% loss of information from one to another. Which would you prefer, 100% of your picture or 15% of it?

Remember this – A camera’s RAW file is the original source file the pictures genetic code, all the visual data that was available at the time it was created. A Jpeg is an output or final file, it appears at the end of your workflow not at the beginning. It’s a compressed, cutdown version of the source, looks the same right, but if you look closely you’ll see major differences particularly when there is gradient light, like a sunset. You can create, hundreds (infinite actually) of Jpeg files for friends, family and clients in all different versions and sizes from a single RAW source file, that never changes. Today’s non destructive editing suites means that your source file stays intact and untouched.

I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy of doing the hard yards in the beginning, then the rest of the ride is all about refinement and efficiency. When I first picked up a camera 35 years ago, I had a Canon AE1, a great film camera. I always used the best films but found that depending on where I got my film developed my image changed drastically. Not the composition so much but the colours and exposure. Then came the age of digital cameras and year by year the technology advanced by leaps and bounds. Today’s camera technology is really quite remarkable with unsurpassed, speed, accuracy and detail at the push of a button.

The RAW file format was created initially for the film industry back in the early 2000’s. The brief was if you wanted us to go digital, then we need a format that captures everything. By 2006 it was starting to become a standard feature in all, higher end DSLR cameras. Fast forward to 2020, I would say that all DSLR and Mirrorless cameras support this file feature as standard. While each manufacturer’s RAW file has slightly different processing methods, they are essentially the same thing from a pixel point of view. A Camera’s RAW file construction is a brand specific thing and does vary from brand to brand. Thanks to companies like Adobe and Capture One, we’ve got a slew of processing suites at reasonable prices, to help us manage and process our amazing, future award winning pictures.

The way I see it is that no matter what you save your files in, you’re going to shoot the picture, edit it, share it and store it. You can do all that and more by saving it in RAW format and saving it in your favourite editor and/or catalogue software. Being able to recover any lost detail (within reason) can be the difference between an image lost or the next winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

I have made many photographs over the years from all over the world, most of them are pretty average but some of them are amazing (if I do say so myself). In the years I shot with my entry level DSLR I always saved my files in Jpeg because it was fast and no fuss. Years later, when I became more experienced and realized some of my amazing images were not exposed correctly or the White Balance was off, my rookie mistakes were not correctable. I have since spent the last 8 years and a considerable amount of money, trying to recreate some of these images in a higher resolution and more balanced finish. Needless to say I have created some amazing new images but I’ve never been able to recreate those images as I shot then years before. This just reinforces the point a photograph is really a moment in time that is NEVER exactly the same.

At the very least do yourself a favour and save your files in RAW + Jpeg, use your Jpegs as you normally would and archive the RAWs for later use when you get competent in editing. It costs you nothing and captures that moment in time, exactly the way it was, forever.

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