A Beginner's Guide to Why You Should Shoot in Raw

If you're new to photography, you've likely heard other photographers talking about shooting in raw and how it's a crucial step in one's workflow. This helpful video will give you a quick rundown of what raw is and why you should be shooting in it to maximize your image quality.

Coming to you from David Flores at B&H, this video examines what raw files are and why they're a great thing for photographers to take advantage of. One thing to note: Flores mentions that raw files are much bigger than JPEGs, and while that's true (they're normally about triple the size), I generally believe that we're at a point where storage is cheap enough to justify overlooking the larger file sizes. The amount of post-processing flexibility one gains far outweighs the additional storage needed, and once you see the control you have over the final image, I doubt you'll ever go back to shooting JPEGs, except in cases when you specifically need to turn around files very quickly. And if you'd like a comprehensive beginner's course, check out "Photography 101: How to Use Your Digital Camera and Edit Photos in Photoshop," which you can get for half off during our holiday sale. 

Lead image by David Bartus, used under Creative Commons.

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21 Comments

Anonymous's picture

In before NORTHRUP v. FRO... :D

michael buehrle's picture

Fro vs Ken Rockwell

David Hynes's picture

LMAO.

Elan Govan's picture

Useful info for beginners from a reliable source. The wonderful journey into modern-day digital photography.

In the end of the day, the photographer must know when to shoot raw and when to shoot jpeg and how to manage those two type of files.

No reason for JPGs to look as bad as they do. For whatever reason it's like all the camera manufacturers got together and came to an agreement to make in-camera JPGs look poor in comparison to RAW. More specifically, especially when it comes to maintaining detail. Is there a camera, for example, where all noise reduction can truly be turned off? I haven't found any.

An ideal JPG would be one where no noise reduction or sharpness is applied and where shadows and highlights are recovered to something like what you get in LR/ACR at 50% values for each, and of course where compression doesn't visibly harm quality. That would eliminate the need to shoot RAW for many photographers.

Anonymous's picture

I feel like that would result in some rather large JPEG files since the ability to recover detail is directly tied to the compression algorithm, which is the primary benefit of JPEG in the first place. It seems like what you're looking for is essentially compressed RAW with a JPEG file extension. It would be interesting to see to what degree something like this could be implemented.

The other thing to take into account here is given the fact that most people shooting in JPEG are looking to use their images SOOC, disabling noise reduction and sharpening would probably cause the average consumer would perceive the camera to be outputting lower quality images than its more heavily processed (and visually pleasing for the average person) competitors.

I don't think it's collusion so much as the natural result of the competition to make their cameras stand out to consumers. It's like how every TV you see in an electronics store has ridiculously hyped colors to make it stand out more than the one next to it or how music has gotten louder and more compressed over the years as a natural result of competing for attention on the radio.

The files would be no larger than spitting out the same kind of file in LR. The recovery is taking place before the creation and compression of a JPG, just like in LR, or like in any other RAW developer.

As I said, what I'm looking for is simply a higher quality JPG with better shadows and highlights and that hasn't had its detail visibily affected, like all other in-camera JPGs. That's all. With such higher quality JPGs it would be possible for many photographers to not have to shoot RAW at all.

I would still shoot RAW alongside such a high quality JPG for special cases, but my needs would be met with such a higher quality JPG for most of my images.

The ability for a camera to produce such high quality JPGs doesn't prevent a camera from still producing the garbage quality JPGs currently produced, for those that like that.

The collusion part was made in jest. The fact is though, they all produce crappy looking JPGs compared to what can really be produced. Why that is? Beats me.

When you outsource your thinking to a computer, you have also tacitly excepted the computer's decision of what is best. I won't outsource my right to decide to a computer.

That's why I said I would also shoot RAW alongside such high quality JPGs, for the times where I would want the ultimate control. But even without RAW such an expanded range JPG would be capable of handling most of the edits that most photographers do.

Of course in the instances where I would use such a JPG I have accepted the camera's decision of what is best because the fact is all of the camera manufacturers, by default and otherwise, do a really good job with exposure (though that I'm always in control of that by typically spot metering), color and contrast. Fujifilm, for example, pumps out attractive looking JPGs. The only things really lacking are the things I mentioned.

I understand that there are some cameras now that can create expanded range JPGs, with better highlights and shadows through user options, but that still leaves the big problem that affects in-camera JPGs, less than original detail.

Finally, I don't know about you but I have no interest in developing and editing every single image that I take beyond the basics, and especially as I've gotten older. The kind of JPGs I mentioned would allow me to forgo messing with a RAW file for the majority of my photography.

I'm a control freak, once a year there is 16 hour PR event shoot I do, maybe 500 gigs of raw images. They want them quickly. One year I decided to shoot in JPG. Client was happy with them, I wasn't. The following year I went back to RAW.

In the 90s I was a drum scanner operator, I thought I was pretty good at processing photos. After getting my first digital camera I color corrected the RAWs, saved the tiffs, then threw the RAWS away. What a mistake. I often revisit my old RAWs to see if I can get any more out of them. I'll open of those old tiffs not realizing they aren't RAWs and I'm so disappointed for throwing them away just so I wouldn't be wasting hard drive space.

I am used to my workflow, and am happy with the results even if it is more work.

I wonder if a JPEG you get out of a D850 or a7Riii would be better than a RAW file taken from a 20 MP Canon Rebel.

michael buehrle's picture

define "better".............

I was thinking in terms of dynamic range and how it might look printed at a very large size. I figured at some point the D850/a7Riii JPEG would have to beat a RAW file (e.g., a 6 MP RAW file from a Canon 20D), but was wondering where that break-even point might be.

In my opinion - no.

David Hynes's picture

Everyone knows .BMP is the best duh!

LOL!

A member of the local camera club gave a presentation of how he prepares for print competitions. One of the things he has set on his camera is to use the Adobe RGB color space. The sRGB is a subset of Adobe RGB, so information is being lost. Why intentionally throw information away?

Such a setting in-camera has no relevance when shooting RAW.

I'm 100% behind shooting RAW. But if you take the time to get to know your gear and set the parameters right and get your exposure and white balance right, then there is no reason not to get great SOOC JPG images. That's how we did it back in the days of transparency film, which had far less margin for error than digital ever did.

If you can get to a level where you are producing great JPG's straight out of camera and then you switch to shooting RAW you'll have a level of flexibility that you would never have if you simply use RAW as a get-out clause for poor camera craft. And you will inevitably have a faster workflow as well as you spend less time correcting 'mistakes'.

Comparing to film shooting is not a fair comparison since digital camera JPGs are still compromised when it comes to detail compared to RAW. Can they be acceptable to many people? Of course, but they are not the film equivalent, unlike RAW.