JPEGs: Where Do You Stand?

JPEGs: Where Do You Stand?

In digital photography, the type of shoot that you are doing often dictates whether you shoot in JPEG or raw format. Both options have their own set of advantages and drawbacks.

Is it wrong to shoot JPEG solely with its editing limitations or should you shoot in raw where you have greater scope in post-production? Why not shoot both as many photographers do, shooting both JPEG and raw allows for a quick review of client work plus the ability to send the images quickly.

This article, I understand may seem pointless if you have been shooting for years and know the pros and cons of each but those new to photography may not, and are we not here to help everybody? I’m not trying to open up an age-old debate here either as it’s been covered in many other articles here on Fstoppers. I shoot raw 90% percent of the time then JPEG and raw the other 10% because of its intended purpose. There are pros and cons to both formats and If it's a client shoot more than likely you will shoot raw, perhaps it's just a day's outing and you choose to shoot solely JPEG. Could you not shoot in JPEG for a client? Yes, but what's the intended purpose of the image file, a large print or billboard perhaps, what would you do then? The same edits have been applied to the images above and although I could push the raw file further in post, you can see the limitations of the JPEG especially in the sky. 

Pros of Shooting JPEG Photographs

Convenience and File Size

One primary advantage of shooting in JPEG format is the convenience it offers. These files are significantly smaller in size compared to raw files, allowing photographers to store more images on memory cards and hard drives. This can be beneficial when capturing large volumes of photos during events or assignments, where transmission speed and storage are defining factors. 

Straight Out of the Camera Results

JPEG files are processed in-camera and often produce great results straight out of the camera. The camera's image processor applies the adjustments, including sharpening, noise reduction, and color correction. This can be ideal for photographers who prefer a quick and easy workflow without the hassle of post-processing. 

Compatibility and Sharing

JPEGs are universal and this file format is supported by all devices, operating systems, and software. Being this compatible makes it effortless to share images with clients, friends, or family members, as they can easily view and print JPEGs without the need for specialized software. 

Speed and Burst Mode 

Shooting in JPEG allows for faster image capture when continuously shooting. Since the camera doesn't have to process large raw files, it can write JPEG to the memory card more quickly, enabling photographers to capture rapid sequences of images during fast-paced events, such as sports or weddings. Cameras today are quite proficient in raw high burst rates although the cameras capable of this may come at a higher price range for some. 

A Positive JPEG Example

Recently my colleagues and I were providing end-of-term high school light painting workshops with small groups of 10-15 students each time. On average they took 50 images per session which if photographed in raw format would have meant we would have to download, edit, save as JPEG, and then send the files via WeTransfer. All of this would have been time-consuming as we had four sessions per day. Shooting in JPEG however meant that we could download 50 images straight away, upload them to WeTransfer, and email the link so that the teacher had it before they even left the room. Sure the images were not edited but at least the high school kids had a keepsake of their time before they even returned back to their school.

Cons of Shooting JPEG Photographs 

Limited Dynamic Range and Editing Flexibility 

One significant drawback of JPEG is the reduced dynamic range compared to raw files. JPEG files are compressed, discarding some image data during the compression process, resulting in limited latitude for adjusting exposure, shadows, and highlights during post-processing. Your image edit settings are baked in by the camera's firmware. This limitation can be especially problematic in high-contrast scenes or when trying to recover details from over or underexposed areas. Software these days is slowly taking care of this, however.

Lossy Compression Artifacts 

JPEG compression employs a lossy algorithm, which means that some image data is discarded to reduce file size. This compression process can introduce compression artifacts, such as blocky or blurry areas, particularly in images with high levels of detail or when using aggressive compression settings. Camera technology these days has minimized this issue, but it is still a consideration for photographers aiming for the highest quality output. 

Less Flexibility for Artistic Manipulation 

Since JPEG files have limited editing flexibility, photographers who enjoy extensive post-processing and creative manipulation will definitely find raw files more suitable. Raw files retain all the data captured by the camera’s sensor, allowing for greater control over white balance, color grading, and other adjustments during editing. 

It Just Makes Sense To Shoot Raw

Clearly, from the above that is the case, shooting raw allows for editing flexibility and a non-destructive editing workflow, sure the raw files are much larger in comparison to JPEG. Editing smaller JPEG files involves compression which can can result in loss of image quality over successive edits; a photocopy of a photocopy reduces quality.

I'm sure there are many photographers who solely shoot JPEG, get the results they seek, and earn a living doing it, and this by no means makes them any less of a photographer, as it's ultimately the final image that counts. Editing raw images can be time-consuming and require some expertise

So Where Do You Stand?

Ultimately it's down to you how you approach your images and their final requirements, a raw file can be turned into a JPEG and not the other way around. You can upscale JPEG files using various software, and at the incredible speed AI technology is being applied I'm sure the ability to enhance them further won't be too far off. The information that the raw file captures will of course be greater and offer more editing flexibility allowing you to achieve optimal results with the right tools and techniques.

I personally enjoy the look of the cooked JPEG files I get from my X-T5, but not from my z7ii, and yes I understand that this is to do with film profiles that the Fuji provides, but I can count on 1 hand the number of times I've had the Nikon set to JPEG. However, JPEGs are the most widely used image format in the world, and for good reason as they offer a good balance between image quality and file size.

In summary, there are pros and cons to each format, and a harmony in using both simultaneously, but where do you stand on this?

Gary McIntyre's picture

Gary McIntyre is a landscape photographer and digital artist based on the west coast of Scotland. As well as running photography workshops in the Glencoe region, providing online editing workshops, Gary also teaches photography and image editing at Ayrshire college.

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Shooting jpeg only, is a huge waste in most cases. With a camera, the jpeg processing is designed around being fast and not computationally intensive, thus you get more noise reduction artifacts and other issues.
Simply put, even if you do not want to do a ton of editing, the ability to have access to 200+ watt CPU and 300+ watt GPU in your PC having computational resources and power to spare for such tasks, rather than stripping down the process so that it can be processed quickly on a 2-3 watt SOC and a supporting low power ASIC to handle the compression more efficiently.

Overall, there is a limit on what can be done in camera.

Wanted to also add a link to some examples of what I am talking about. Open the full res jpegs from the camera and download the raw file and examine the fine detail. Adjust the noise reduction to get similar levels and look at which has fewer noise reduction artifacts. There are 56 full res images form just that one camera to play around with.

JPEGs are the whole reason I shoot Fujifilm. I shoot FINE+RAW and it's nice to get back from a trip and be able to just download a bunch of photos to share and be done with it. Most of the RAWs get deleted but for some of the really nice pictures I feel might be print worthy, I'll save them and do some postprocessing.

I also shoot raw plus jpeg. I am very pleased with the quality of the Fuji jpegs.

Certainly depends on the intended use of photographs. If you are uploading to social media or sharing with friends, jpeg might be more than enough but a professional doing events like weddings or an artist intending on printing to sell and display at exhibitions might be better off with RAW. I'd still have a problem with Fujifilm jpegs as I often tend to underexpose to protect the highlights plus my editing software has all of the Fiji simulations as styles anyway. Of course taking jpegs straight from the camera is a massive time saver if no editing is required.

I have not shot jpegs intentionally in many years, I think jpeg only shooting negates the reason for even using a dSLR. For me to send a jpeg from a dSLR it has to be downloaded to a computer and downsized. It adds very little time to do a basic global fix on a raw file that, for me, yields better results than what I ever see in a SOC jpeg, I see jpegs as the optimal solution for someone who has to shoot large volumes of images, hopefully under uniform/controlled lighting conditions, with no time for turnaround, but that is a professional use case. If I want instant jpeg sendout with no intervening computer, for me that is cell phone territory. It can be satisfying to go back to a raw file from many years ago and digitally inflict things on the data you never could back in the day.

For pro sports shooters or some event shooters, it's a must since these people need to get images to their editors in a hurry and don't have time to process the shots. I shoot RAW only to both cards (R5) just to ensure that if one card fails, I have the data. Yes, I had a card fail but it was in a 5DIII (SD card) but the CF card was fine.

No need for Jpeg, the whole file structure and file needs to go Bye-Bye! It's only 8bit! I shoot in 16bit and wish we could shoot in 32bit raw! Then you would see some dynamic range! Soon Jpeg will go away, and the net, and hardware and processors will get so fast that you will only need very little compression.

All modern cameras are EXCEPTIOINALLY good nowadays, thus, as long as you know your gear + expose properly JPEG is actually a genuine and valid option.
Only photographers + graphic designers pixelpeep, in effect, regular customers (even many photographers) are unable to tell you if something was shot JPG or RAW when looking at a properly shot image.
True, technical photography or special scenarios might require RAW, but for general/normal use/print a Pro photographer can perform miracles with JPEGs only.

Agree but I personally find jpegs too much of a faff. Along with the picture profile I use, I would have to fine tune the white balance using the colour grid to get satisfactory colours. Imported RAW files on Capture One just look so much better than the jpegs. Secondly is exposure and I always need to edit just to fine tune that - correct exposure of the sky and ground for example. For me, RAW is just simply the easier option. All just my own personal experience though.

Evidently, you have not experienced jpeg artifacts in Post. Most enthusiasts and Pro Shoot Raw, primarily for Dynamic Range, especially when printing bigger than 11x14, and 8bit jpegs are not going to get it! Period.

You leave yourself with no fine tuning option or color balance corrections. I'm pretty certain that someone who "expose properly" in jpg won't have any problem do it it in RAW. That's an old argument that never made any sense. I have heard many times people say that jpg is the same as shooting film. That's totally inaccurate, RAW is like film and jpg like a canned profile. In fact slides used to be a real problem to print, especially Kodachrome, but, again, to the exception of Kodachrome, slides provided much superior results with a scanner. Your rolls had to be perfectly exposed and processed in a good lab in the first place. I think that's how people started comparing jpg as a "native" vs RAW (erroneously). But most people never used positive film and a very tiny percentage of those ever scanned their slides until digital cameras and have no comparative argument to back that "native" concept.

So, what about other formats like the HEIF. Like a JPEG but with better algorithm of compression and less degradation of quality

HEIF is no way until it is supported by browsers.

I have a picture profile on my Sony camera that I use for colour photos. Try as I might, I cannot seem to get the jpeg to look anywhere near a good as an edited RAW file. Picture profile actually affects the RAW files so you start with a very pleasing colour photo and only need a few tweaks in post. I still have to underexpose an image to preserve the highlights, sky being an obvious one so RAW just makes more sense.

Gary McIntyer asked,

"JPEGs: Where Do You Stand?"

I love jpegs! I use them on a daily basis.

I will never shoot in jpeg, but they are my file format of choice for uploading for "final output" uses. It is what I convert most of my RAW files to when I need to actually use them for something.

Why would you throw away 8bits of info from your Raw file after you have edited it? If you process 16bit raw, why not save it to a 16bit .tff file?

Most of the places I upload to require that files be in jpeg format. Online photography forums such as Fstoppers, novelty item print services such as Vistaprint, social media such as Instagram and Facebook, stock agencies I sell through such as Alamy and Adobe Stock ..... almost all of the things I do with my images will only accept jpegs.

Of course my edits are nondestructive and I will always have the original RAW files at my fingertips. And of course I save my edited images as TIFFs. But like almost every other photographer, I convert to jpeg whenever I actually do something with a photo.

I'm not really understanding your disdain for my use of jpegs for end use. What other file format do you think I can use when submitting to all of the places I just mentioned?

If the scene is exposed properly (think using Kodachorme 64) the JPEG output ranges from fine to exceptional. Having said that I realize most folks will disregard it as "old (maybe even ancient) school" but it still works astonishingly well.

For many years I was shooting in JPEG and RAW and rarely edited the RAW files. The few times I remember were when I converted to B+W and used some of the NIC presets.
For the last 4 or 5 years I have been shooting JPEG only.
However, just like there are RAW programs with differing capabilities, there are also JPEG programs with differing capabilities. I believe the JPEG program I use is quite capable of recovering details from shadows and offers good controls for sharpening, colours and a noise attenuation. I rarely use photos straight from the camera but always apply a certain degree of editing.
I have stayed away from certain editing programs in part due to their tendency of going the subscription (rental) model. In the past I used to purchase LR, but I refuse to become a renter.

The right format depends on your goal. Images from a sports event need to be pushed online within minutes with little to no editing. The content loses relevance by the minute. There is no incentive to capture raw files for high volume content being immediately consumed.

For a studio portrait session where considerable retouching may be done before final delivery, a raw image makes more sense. Plus raw offers better options for possible future reprints to larger sizes.

Raw is preferred for archival, evidentiary and copyright purposes. Possessing the raw file is like holding a film negative. It can be the ultimate proof of ownership.

I've gone from shooting jpg only to raw+jpg, to raw only over the recent years and now I'm probably going to cycle back to jpg only again.

I'm tired of spending/wasting(?) time tweaking my photos in post. I can tweak anything and everything in my raw files in post, but will I ever really be satisfied with my results? There's always one more tweak I can make. My editor is very good at editing but buggy and not so great as a DAM. If I want to view my edited raw files outside of my editor, I have to export them. I have spent far too many hours editing & tweaking my raw files in order to get the results I want and far too much time fighting with my photo editor and dealing with corrupted catalogs. I'm not a pro and I'd much rather spend my time scouting and shooting than editing my photos.

I have no use for jpegs other than the ones i produce from edited raw files. I just started shooting with the Fujifilm 100s. The only way to get to the myriad number of aspect ratio choices is to shoot raw+jpeg. Periodically, I go in and delete the jpeg files. I even shoot raw on my iPhone. I actually enjoy editing and I can quickly produce an edited raw file which is more to my liking than a camera produced jpeg.

That's good. Spending time processing you, learn to fine tune for neutrals and pleasing colors. Many people don't want to bother with this but it's 100% part of the photographic process.

Absolutely. Moreover, I don’t have to mix and setup trays of chemicals as I did in the darkroom days. Though, I enjoyed it then….