Digital photography – RAW vs JPG

I known several people, including a new friend from work Andy Piper who will tell you that shooting digital photos in JPG is like throwing away your negatives with a film camera. I personally have not seen any reason to use RAW as i cannot actually see anything that you can really do in RAW that you cannot do in JPG.

I searched and found an article on the subject: RAW vs JPG. This author thinks that there is little advantage in RAW as you don’t get much more from it than with JPG. One thing he did say you get is you can recover for 1/2 a stop underexposure with RAW slightly better than with JPG.
I use gimp for most of my hardcore photo editing, but try not to need to do much to my photos. Just as well as a raw plugin is hard to find. I am of the belief that once I have taken a photo that is what I have. Occasionally I may polish up the contrast/brightness curves to make it a little brighter, or adjust the colour balance to make the colour more natural, but for most shots I don’t do anything to them (unless I want to mix them up a lot (like the coral on the top of this site, which is actually snow covered branches).

I try to take all my photos with the proper exposure, and do tend to check my on camera histogram to check that the exposure is not way off. The camera does a very good job with white balance too. Unlike with my old Canon G2, on my EOS 300D I hardly ever need to set the white balance to anything other than auto – though this might be due to the fact that if I am taking photos indoors I almost always use a bounced flash to give me some more light (which works wonders most of the time though a tall roof or odd coloured root makes it useless). Generally though I don’t have to correct many photos, and when I do a simple colour balancing and simple histogram manipulations look great.

One issue I think people see is what the image looks like pixel per pixel at 100% on a computer. I hardly ever look at my pictures at that size, as that is really low res for printing… I like real prints of my photos (Yes, I need to get more of them as I hardly have any) as a real print always looks far better than the image on screen (assuming you have a printing company that has sense and doesn’t mess up the colours, or if you print your own you have to have the colour matching set up really well).

I welcome your comments and opinions on this issue, as while I may sound made up if there is a serious advantage for using RAW then I will. I can write a script to dump all my raw images to JPEG for the web, and I may even end up cleaning up all my images before saving them (which would be a first) so that I can save them as something that isn’t too proprietary (maybe something with some compression, preferably lossless)

About Anton Piatek

Professional bit herder, amateur photographer. Linux and tech geek
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4 Responses to Digital photography – RAW vs JPG

  1. The GIMP is a bad choice if you’re trying to compare RAW with JPEG, as it cannot handle more than 8 bits/channel and a RAW is 12 bits/channel. CineGIMP is a variant which can handle 16 bits/channel but it was still alpha when I last looked.

    In my experience, you can recover a RAW from 2 stops either side of optimal exposure. If you’re only getting 1/2 it’s because you’re processing in an app which doesn’t know how to interpret all the extra bits. I generally use the Photoshop RAW importer as it does a much better job than Canon’s DPP. DPP-processed images look like they’ve been shot through a vaseline smeared window. Dcraw is pretty-good, but it’s a lot more tedious than the graphial PS importer.

    As to archiving them, you want to use Adobe’s (free as in beer) DNG converter to convert them to DNG format. DNG is a publicly documented specialisation of TIFF, so it isn’t going to be unreadable any time soon (or ever if you don’t mind writing the software yourself).

  2. Anton says:

    Ok, so GIMP is a bad choice.

    I had a good look through the RawShooter manual recently, and the software looks like it has a really nice interface, but I am not entirely sure about the benefits of shooting in RAW.

    Basically it looks like the adjustments are really, really minor or they could just as easily be done in JPG

  3. Andy Piper says:

    I wouldn’t advocate using RAW as an excuse for not trying to get your exposures right in the first place. I’m the same as you, and try to use the histogram to get a decent shot first. But I think the range of adjustments possible with RAW – crucially, without loss of detail – is wider than with JPG. I’ll try to come up with a more convincing argument in the form of some kind of demo of RSP – but it looks like you’ve done a lot of research on the issue.

    I have to say that I think I struggle with colour matching, and need to think about a monitor calibrator. I don’t print my own currently, we get them done by commercial services, and they are often darker than I’d thought.

  4. Anton says:

    My monitor is very simply calibrated (full contrast and brightness set so it is as bright as possible with black still looking dark black), but then maybe I got lucky with my monitor. My laptop TFT is much darker than my CRT so I use my CRT for working on photos.
    Prints from online printing companies come out looking far better than on my computer, but that might be because of sharpening/unsharpening that occurs with the print process. Even large prints (up to A3) look really nice from just 6Mpix.

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