Northrup Vs. Fro, JPG Vs. Raw: Why Is It Even Still a Debate?

It’s the equivalent of a presidential Twitter feud, but for the photography world. Everyone’s favorite Anderson Cooper lookalike Tony Northrup released a video on November 4 about the benefits and downsides to shooting raw files versus JPG files, and in this video dispensed some advice on when to shoot raw files and when to shoot JPG files (and when to shoot both). Naturally, this elicited a strong response from everyone’s favorite (only?) Fro, Jared Polin of “Fro Knows Photo” fame, who is known for his shirts indicating to the world that he does indeed shoot raw. All the time.

Northrup fired back, talking a little bit about the behind-the-scenes between him and Polin leading up to Fro’s fiery response. He also took on each of Polin’s points. Let’s take a look at what some of those are:

Speed and Buffering

Polin makes the argument that you should always shoot raw files because most cameras will get 20 raw files or more to a burst anyway; a point which Northrup demonstrates using a Canon Rebel that can’t muster more than six shots to a burst. Polin’s point just isn’t true with most popular consumer cameras. It sounds like a case of someone shooting a D5 all day and forgetting how the rest of us live.

Northrup and Polin also disagree on what to do when shooting raw plus JPG. Northrup suggesting one format to each card, and Polin suggesting both to both cards, a recipe for long write times and slower overall performance, for sure. I understand the point of having all formats on all cards for backup purposes, but when shooting weddings or sports, I do one format for each card, Northrup-style. That way I have a way to send off files to couples or editors quickly (the card with the JPG files on them) and files with more information to edit and create a more polished gallery later with (the raw files). As Northrup mentions, importing raw plus JPG files takes a long time, and so when my editors need my files yesterday, working from the JPG files means a faster edit across the board.

Storage Space

Northrup talks about how $100 for storage is a lot to swallow for people on fixed budgets, and this is a point where no one wins here. At the end of the day, finances are a personal situation, and so while Polin’s right about storage being cheap, cheap is relative.

There is a key point in Northrup’s video though that the cheapskates among us should heed: there is no free lunch, and storing photos in free services such as Google Photos is only asking for trouble when those companies start charging for services they roped you into for free.

Important Photos

Aside from sports and weddings, where I’m shooting raw plus JPG, I’m shooting raw files all the time. There’s one quote from Polin that sums up my argument for always shooting raw files, no matter what: “If you’re shooting unimportant images, then why shoot them at all?”

What’s your strategy for shooting? Are you a Northrup or a Polin? A raw or JPG shooter? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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118 Comments

Jason Lorette's picture

I'm with Polin...I can turn a RAW into a JPG...not the other way around. ;)

Last Friday I've photographed one event where they needed "warm" delivery of photos, i.e. I shoot 15 minutes and then hand them card with photos to transfer and publish online.

Guess what? They didn't have a tool to turn RAW into JPG and I couldn't do that for them as I was shooting. SOOC JPEGs was the only solution for them.

So, never say never and always :)

Personally I would shoot both just to have the Raw files. And yes the JPEGs for their needs will be fine.

I still would shoot both myself.

Chris PLUNKETT's picture

When I used to have my photos published in a magazine,the editors all insisted on JPEGs straight out of the camera.So specifically no RAW and no Photoshopped JPEGs.

Dan Howell's picture

I have only heard of this from Reuters wire service submissions. I have never had a magazine specify JPEG capture. Whereas I have had magazines request camera raw files in addition to JPG or TIFF; and commercial clients specify TIFF delivery.

Chris PLUNKETT's picture

It was about ten years ago and was low circulation (about 10,000 ish),but that request came from a couple of different editors that I can remember.I was always on a VERY tight deadline (i.e. less than a day) and there could be 300 or more images for them to get through,so maybe just the time factor to convert from RAW? But they were also specific about JPEGs out of the camera without any sort of post processing.

Leigh Miller's picture

I'm inclined to side with the guy who has more than 20 years of experience in the photo business and has written many books on the subject...also he has a real portfolio with quality images.

Many so-called "social Media Influencers" talk a big game but their actual photo work rarely measures up.

Anonymous's picture

I can see why you might be so inclined, but I know plenty of people with decades of experience in this industry and produce wonderful work who have no freaking idea what they're talking about when it comes to stuff like this.

This is not a topic of subject matter, lighting or composition. It's completely a technical matter so it really doesn't matter how much experience each person has or what their portfolio looks like so long as both people have a firm grasp of the actual technical merits of their arguments.

Hi, I actually have 23 years of experience and you can see my work in many places. Jaredpolin.com has some and I have a ton I haven’t shared or posted.

Sorry, but Jared's portfolio has far more 'quality images' in it than Northrup's

Agree! He has his own style and he does own it, Northrup more common.

Reginald Walton's picture

Well you know, they both are "media influencers" and they both have a big presence on Youtube and other social media sites. And they both are very experienced in what they do, but I do agree with Jared's points. I mean, why spend all that money for a camera with the capabilities it has and then limit yourself to shooting Jpeg? If anything, as suggested, shoot both RAW and Jpeg.

Korey Napier's picture

Even if you don't agree with Jared, you can't deny that he knows how to get good photos. I've been following his work for a while now and the guy can flat out shoot! He has a signature style to his photos as well. He probably shares just as much if not more of his work when reviewing a camera or lens than most other reviewers. He's legit.

Dan Howell's picture

That is an incredibly naive methodology for determining your own workflow. It is possible that you might have a particular need for in-camera JPG workflow. You're not going to figure that out by comparing resumes from two people arguing. I came to my raw workflow by understanding the fundamental properties of both.

michael buehrle's picture

the angry photographer is soooo annoying though. he just talks crap and never shows his work. he has said more than once that no one sees his portfolio until they book him. plus he has been caught stealing photos and passing them off as his. every week he has a new story that is crazier than the last. he is a gear whore. i can't watch him anymore unless i want to see how high i can get my blood pressure. i think he might actually be a little bit crazy.

Christoph .'s picture

He has photos on his Flickr. They're worse than I would have ever expected. I find his reviews informative, but there is something severely wrong with him and he seems to be a terrible photographer.

Johnny Rico's picture

Is Tony Northrup actually a working photographer or just an educator? I feel like this is some kinda turf war between those who teach over selling tutorials to beginners.

I was just sharing my opinion on his statements and he was sharing his on mine.

The title of his video also changed........

Anonymous's picture

Youtuber.

Dan Howell's picture

I remember an article on Model Mayhem written by Penthouse photographer Ken Marcus about 5 years ago that he shot jpg and not raw for a variety of reasons (mostly inaccurate or emotional on his part). It was met with overwhelming criticism and also the sentiment that at the time the debate was already out of date. Again that was 5 yrs ago. Seems even more archaic now.
https://www.modelmayhem.com/education/photography/3611-ken-marcus-opinion

Dan Howell's picture

I shoot RAW (NEF) exclusively for a number of reasons. I started with an exclusive raw workflow when I switched to Hasselblad H1 with Leaf digital back which only worked in raw thru their proprietary capture software. At that point I didn't have any choice but to adopt the raw workflow, but now I suppose I could select between shooting raw and jpg on my projects.

More than anything raw offers non-destructive editing on a number of aspects to refine a file. It goes far beyond making mistakes in exposure. Day to day I use aspects of the raw workflow for precise color control on color-critical projects, highlight suppression to modify the exposure curve--not because I don't know how to expose a file, but because I want to enhance detail capture to suit my clients needs, specifically in highlights. I like and need the ability to re-ouput different refined files without generation degradation.

The criticism of storage and render time is a bit pedestrian in my view. I typically save all my raw file. I do not render every file to TIFF as well which is what I think is what Northrup was suggesting. I'm not sure why anyone would do that. You can keep the raw files and only render the selects to TIFF. I typically output everything to proof-size jpg for selection and then output only the selects to full sized TIFF for later retouching in Photoshop. I use Capture one for most color control. 75% of the time or more I am shooting tethered into Capture One where raw workflow make considerably more sense than any other.

RAW workflow preserves options. I have never given Ken Marcus' misguided observations any weight. In fact I believe quite the opposite, in the studio raw workflow is without question the far more sensible method for me.

Shawk Parson's picture

great points!

and imo, you're talking professional, while many others who do consider themselves to be pros in this business, don't even know about these facts!

long story short, if some job (or client) calls for JPG files, ok, you can always give them JPG files generated out of RAW (or TIFF or almost any other format) but if someone does want RAW files, can you regenerate RAWs out of JPG files?

yes, theoretically you can save a RAW file of a JPG image in Photoshop or some other programs, but that wouldn't be a true RAW file, would it?

btw, now that you're doing everything so correctly, from the choice of image format to editing software etc, what monitor do you use for editing? i'm sure it's a really high resolution best quality one, is it?

Dan Howell's picture

yes, a file saved as Photoshop Raw would only have the information included in the source file which would be different than a native raw capture. I am not qualified to speak about all of the differences.

As far as my set-up, in my studio I shoot into MacBookPro attached to Apple Cinema Display (not the current generation, maybe 1 generation ago). I also shoot in a client's studio where they have similar. Generally my digital tech does the color control and render out to TIFF on to their hard drives. I keep the .NEF raw files. At my office I have iMac (also maybe one generation old). On location I will often shoot into the MBP, but I prefer to keep it in raw form and go to the Cinema display or my iMac to do the color in a more controlled environment. We rely on color checkers for virtually every shot, but I find that the highlight/shadow look can be effected by the environment as much or more than color.

Once committing to raw workflow it is really not much more difficult than JPG workflow and preserves options for the future.

Shawk Parson's picture

Mac monitors are among the best for editing photos and video imo, especially photos, that are always much higher in resolution and DR than videos ...

yes, if you're into digital photography, RAW is the best (so far) and editing RAW is not any more difficult or time-consuming than JPG, is it? but the difference in quality is at least 50% better with RAW!

Patrick Hall's picture

I shot the first 4 years of my wedding career in JPEG and actually preferred the look I got out of my camera compared to trying to get my raw files to look similar to those same jpeg files. I only started shooting raw files once I outsourced my edits. Unless I'm shooting for a client or I feel like the photo could be printed for the wall, I usually like shooting jpeg.

Shooting film back in the day was sort of like shooting jpeg as well. You'd pick either daylight or tungsten film and burn that white balance into your images. As long as you expose property with digital, you can pull a ton of detail out of today's camera's jpeg files.

I used to develop people’s wedding photos in the darkroom and it went well beyond just selecting film type. It look at a negative as if it’s a raw file. I wouldn’t print a 4x6 and whenever I needed to make a change try and print from that. The negatives needed some much work, dodging, burning and color corrections. Without negatives they would have been even worse. So I see the point about we selected film for a look and agree. But I also know how much work was needed in post.

Correct on the color dodging. Even still, those photographers never knew how much editing was being done, color correction in the machine, density corrections so on and so forth. Never did the lab just hit print on a roll of color without color correcting or tweaking the negs.

Anonymous's picture

Usually RAW+JPEG mirrored on both cards. Very few reasons not to and those reason tend to be pretty specialized situations. If I know for sure that I will not need the JPEG's, then I'll just use the RAW files, but I generally like to have the JPEG's on hand for previewing.

Buffering is not an issue for me since I don't shoot sports or find myself in situations where I am burst shooting for that long. Frankly, I don't imagine that the average low-end Canon Rebel user is doing that either (I haven't seen Tony's video demonstrating it hitting the buffer after 6 shots, but I would like to know if he was using the fastest cards that the camera can use when he did that). Chances are also fairly high that someone with a low end camera that will run into buffering issues quickly like that is also exactly the type of person that would benefit way more from the latitude given by RAW files over JPEG's than from being able to capture more images in a series that they are probably not nailing the exposure on in the first place. If for some reason, you are hitting the buffer regularly on your camera, I would say that maybe your first course of action should be to adjust your shooting habits to match the capability of your gear or to invest in gear that more suits your shooting rather than gimping your files. We're not talking about the difference between shooting 12-bit or 14-bit or the difference between shooting sRGB or Adobe RGB (something that most consumers would never notice since their images never leave the screen). The difference between a RAW files and a JPEG is huge.

For certain things such as sports or journalism where you might have to quickly send off JPEG's, I guess I can understand shooting RAW to one card and JPEG's to another, but part of being a professional is also ensuring that you can deliver the files so what happens when something happens to the card with the JPEG files? Are you going to send a bunch of RAW files to your editor to slow them down? What happens if something happens to the card with the RAW files? You're just stuck with your card full of JPEG's that you can't edit properly? That doesn't really seem professional to me either. In this situation, I suppose it's a bit of a risk/reward trade-off. Out of curiosity, though, if you're shooting sports professionally, aren't you generally tethered view wireless or ethernet anyway? You could shoot RAW+JPEG and just set your camera to push only the JPEG's in real time through your tether.

Another very important consideration is the fact that JPEG is a lossy format that is being processed in-camera (out of your control) whereas RAW is essentially lossless. I don't know too many professionals that are keen on ceding their control over processing to their camera's built-in software with no chance of doing any edits themselves in the future (without losing data). I also don't know a whole lot of professionals that even incorporate ANY lossy format into their workflow except as a final conversion.

Frankly speaking, I can't think of a single reason to ever shoot JPEG only in this day and age except maybe if you don't ever edit your photos or know how to process a RAW file.

The storage argument is really weak because if that's an issue, then shoot RAW, edit your files, convert them to JPEG's for storage after making the edits you want and delete the original RAW files. You get the best of both worlds—the flexibility of RAW with the storage advantages of JPEG file sizes. You can do the conversion from RAW to JPEG, but you can't go the other way (at least not really).

P.S. I don't care how slow Lightroom is... I call BS on it taking 24 hours to import a shoot—especially given that I am sure he, of all people, has access to an up-to-date computer. What the hell was he importing that it took that long?

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