Have you ever wondered if it’s worth it to shoot in RAW or JPEG format? I’ll show you three reasons to choose RAW!
- What happens when you take a picture all the way to saving it in the camera?
- What happens to this data packet?
- Digression: How does compression work?
- Now what happens if I use the RAW data format instead of JPEG?
- My own experience (and why you should review it yourself)
- RAW vs. JPEG: My 3 most important reasons for the RAW format
- Why RAW needs post-processing
In your camera, you can choose between JPEG or RAW as the storage format for your images. RAW files take up much more space on your memory card. Why should it be worth it? To understand why the RAW data format can be useful for you, let’s first take a look at what happens in the camera when you take a picture. Then I’ll show you three specific examples of exactly how the differences play out.
What happens when you take a picture all the way to saving it in the camera?
A digital camera uses a digital image sensor. This sensor consists of many different pixels. The sensor captures the image of what is thrown at it through the lens. Without it having any idea what you, the photographer, are capturing, this sensor produces a lot of data. It only knows that there is a red pixel here and a green pixel there. And that these pixels have different brightnesses. To put it simply, the sensor delivers a data packet with the arrangement, colors and brightness of the respective pixels.
What happens to this data packet?
In the camera, you can define a few settings that affect your images. For example sharpness, contrast, white balance and colors. If you have selected JPEG as the data format, then exactly these settings are applied to the data packet. Then the data packet is compressed to take up less space on the memory card.
Digression: How does compression work?
The data in an image is, of course, stored digitally. A computer does not see directly what is on the image. For him it is again only a certain arrangement of pixels with colors and brightness. To put it simply, this data is also stored in text form. The picture of a meadow with a river the computer reads perhaps from a part of these data: osijd3d3dpooooddlkmcrlnvirrrrmmmmmmmmef3fefeeeee. Of course, this is only an excerpt of the image, the text for it is much much longer.
If a letter occurs several times in succession, then this letter string takes a certain width. So the sequence mmmmmmmmmm takes 12 characters in the image. Now compression comes into play. Instead of mmmmmmmmmmmm, you can also write 12 x m. This then takes only 6 characters width. So it takes less space than before. So when the image is compressed in the camera, it checks the image to see where it can replace such consecutive characters. This works especially well with monotonous areas, such as a blue sky.
The more monotonous areas there are in the image, the more it can be compressed. The opposite happens when there is a lot of detail in the image. Imagine a picture of a forest. There are few monotonous areas there, everywhere there are many different details to discover. So such a picture can’t be compressed as much as the one of the blue sky. Therefore it takes more space on the memory card and cannot be compressed as much.
Now what happens if I use the RAW data format instead of JPEG?
Again, as a reminder, with JPEG, the settings you chose for colors, white balance, and sharpness in the camera are applied to the data packet. Then follows the compression of the processed data packet and the final saving on the memory card.
If you use the RAW format, then no settings are applied to your image. Additionally, the image is not or only minimally compressed before saving.
So you get almost directly the data that the sensor delivers.
My own experience (and why you should review it yourself)
So what does the whole thing look like in practice? There are some big advantages for me, why I almost always take my pictures in RAW. In my experience, these points are especially true with Canon. From talking to other photographers and reading in forums, I know that it also applies to many other manufacturers such as Nikon. But there are also manufacturers like Fujifilm whose JPEG files are already very good. That’s why I really like using the Fujifilm X100F.
So before a discussion breaks out in the comments about which manufacturer this applies to or not: these are primarily my own experiences with Canon.
As always, it helps to try out what your camera does. On your next photo trip, just set RAW + JPEG as the shooting format and compare the images on the computer itself.
RAW vs. JPEG: My 3 most important reasons for the RAW format
Below you will find the three most important reasons for the RAW format for me. Beyond that, of course, there are more points.
The main difference in saving RAW vs. JPG is that the JPG files have already been processed in the camera, while in RAW format you get the raw data and can set the settings yourself.
Set white balance afterwards
If you use RAW, then you can set the white balance later on the computer. Especially if you shoot in tungsten light, this option is very helpful. In daylight, most Canon cameras are quite good at setting the right white balance themselves. In tungsten light, things are quite different.
When I shoot in the city at blue hour, I have many different light sources in play. Here the camera often does not find the right white balance. With RAW, I can set the white balance myself later on the computer.
Set sharpness yourself
My Canon RAW files are much sharper than the JPEG files. Also, I am not dependent on how the camera re-sharpens a JPEG before saving it. I can set the desired sharpness myself in post-processing.
Better dynamic range
Especially in landscape photography, dynamic range plays a big role. The RAW files of my Canon EOS 77D have more dynamic range than the JPEG files.
In the example below, I darkened the same image heavily in post-processing in each case. In the sky there is no more image information in JPEG. Here only white area is visible, the sky is overexposed. With RAW, on the other hand, this image information is still present. So I can make the clouds visible again in post-processing if necessary.
Of course, not every underexposed or overexposed image with RAW can still have details everywhere. But the reserves are much larger than with JPEG. In post-processing my landscape images, I often use an exposure bracket from several RAW files.
Why RAW needs post-processing
Newsletter Lead 3 – New PostsPost-processing is a good keyword here. With RAW, because the images come out of the camera with no preset settings, they need to be post-processed on the computer. If you just shoot RAW and convert the images to JPEG on the computer without processing, the results will be flat and lack contrast.
So with RAW you are forced to post-process every image by hand. On the other hand, you can adjust all settings such as white balance, contrast, sharpness and colors yourself. So you have more freedom to design how you want your final image to look like and you don’t have to rely on a few predefined settings of your camera. You can design everything yourself. That alone is actually the most important point why you should use RAW.
What are your experiences with RAW vs. JPEG? Write me in the comments!