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. ;)

jared polin's picture

Thank you.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

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 :)

jared polin's picture

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.

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.

LA M'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.

jared polin's picture

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.

Corey Rive's picture

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

filip Mulder's picture

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.

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.

jared polin's picture

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

jared polin's picture

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

Anonymous's picture

Youtuber.

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?

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.

jared polin's picture

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.

jared polin's picture

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?

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I'm not sure if it was a rhetorical question or directed at me specifically, I shoot at the college sports level for several different universities/sports, so I'm not at the level such as wire services where they are tethered and sending files immediately. The JPG to one card allows me to get the files to communications/athletics people during halftime and after the game, and the raw files are for my portfolio to really tweak later. I have enough of a relationship at this point with communications people at the universities I shoot for that if a JPG card failed, I could get a couple of extra minutes to process a few raw files to send out. I generally mark my photos in my camera during down moments to speed my editing workflow.

Anonymous's picture

It was just a question in general because the few people that I've known who have had such jobs had worked wirelessly tethered so I figured that was the standard until I read about handing off an SD card full of JPEG's. It confused me a bit, I'll admit.

Shawk Parson's picture

LR taking a full day to download files must have been more a figure of speech rather than true ... or, as you hinted too, the guy who said it must have had a lot of files and a very slow computer, which i have experienced with an old laptop too ... :-)

there are at least a couple of reasons why i don't shoot JPG normally and do RAW for my serious work ONLY ...

1. i can always convert RAW files to JPG while retaining at least 50% of the image quality as well ... while we all know the other way around is simply IMPOSSIBLE!

2. a couple of times i did change my camera's setting to lowest 1* quality JPG-only for some unimportant jobs ... and guess what: i forgot to change the setting back to RAW-only later and well, the rest is of course history!

yes, i used to shoot in JPG-only for sometime although i was already aware of the fact that RAW is better ... but when i did also run some tests shooting the same subjects in both RAW as well as JPG and saw how the former is better, MUCH better in fact, then i started shooting RAW+JPG for quite sometime as well, mainly because my old WinXP laptop at the time could not show RAW (Pentax PEF) files by default and i wasn't quite into running Bridge or similar programs either since my computer was too slow for that kind of software anyway ...

so, eventually, to save both storage space as well as time deleting the unwanted JPG files later, i have been doing RAW-only for a long time now ... and quite comfortable with it too! :-)

client wants JPG-only at the end of a shoot and without editing? fine! i'll either 'force' them to change their mind and let me convert all RAW files to JPG and deliver the finals, or, i'd shoot RAW+JPG, hand them over the cards and let them delete the RAWs themselves! how `bout that? ;-)

Patrick Hall's picture

As for the Fro quote, do you take snapshots on your phone to remind you of memories? Those are not super important photos and I you aren't shooting raw on your phone....so why are you taking photos at all? That quote doesn't make sense to me.

Anonymous's picture

I think Fro was basically pointing out that Tony's statement about using JPEG's for pictures that aren't really serious doesn't make any sense because:

A) Going into a shoot with a mentality that you are not going to be taking a photo worth taking in RAW is already defeatist from the start and if that's your mentality to begin with, why are you bothering?

B) Photography being what it is, you have no way of knowing how significant or insignificant something is going to be until after the fact so if RAW is what you use for your "serious work", it doesn't make sense to switch away from that since the next shot can always be the most important of your career and it's not like you're going to recognize it and then go into your menu to switch your file format before you take it.

C) Unlike the cellphones we carry around everyday that we can pull out for a quick snapshot, using a dedicated camera is a very deliberate act and should be approached as such. There's a disconnect between going through the trouble to carry around hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment and then saying that you're not looking to shoot anything worthwhile or meaningful by virtue of the settings you apply before you even press the shutter.

I think he could have expressed it better, but that's the general gist I got out of it. In general, I get why Northrup says some of the things that he does, but there doesn't really seem to be much consistency to his beliefs. It seems like a bunch of separate arguments that sound sensible in isolation, but sound bad when you mash them together because they seem to contradict each other in spirit. In this regard, Fro seems to have a much more solid and consistent overall "world view" on the matter than Northrup.

jared polin's picture

I agree. Thanks for taking an honest look.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I actually am shooting raw on my phone (ProCam)! But whenever I can, I try not to shoot on the phone unless I'm caught without my camera. With a 3-year-old, it's hard to get anything useful of him with my phone because he's moving so much, so I shy away from that.

jared polin's picture

Is that the quote I used? I’m not really sure at this moment but that doesn’t sound like what I was saying.

michael buehrle's picture

i shoot raw to one card and jpeg to the other. best of both. i might be lazy but i don't wanna process a huge batch of family or friends photos. besides "i have a nice camera so it must take great pics". i don't let anyone tell me the "right way" to save them. both have good and bad points.

Anonymous's picture

For me, the story here is the fact that both of these guys are in the business of educating people and they clearly have wildly differing opinions on something that really shouldn't be a cause for much disagreement.

jared polin's picture

True

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I've found it varies - I've found Nikon and Canon files are OK, but I can still pull just a little bit more out of my raw files. What I can't understand are how everyone raves about Fuji JPG files - they seem to throw away a lot of detail that I can recover from a raw file, and then throw on the same preset in Adobe Camera Raw (such as Classic Chrome) that I would have in the camera. I get much better results that way.

My Panasonics are a lost cause on JPG. I can get awesome results working with raw files - actually pretty much the same as any good APS-C or DX sized sensor.

To be clear this is when I'm enlarging the files or looking at them on a 5K monitor or something. On a phone or something they all look about the same.

What do y'all find in this aspect?

Anonymous's picture

I think it's a bit of the romanticism of film going on there that has people liking the Fuji JPEG's so much, which is a bit funny because I feel like as far as presets go, Fuji's in-camera film simulation for Fuji films are not actually as accurate as some of the other ones out there that are available for Lightroom.

Anonymous's picture

Well, I haven't done any scientific tests, which is why I point out that it what "I feel like" rather than saying that it's absolutely true.

It has more to do with my experience seeing those films in the past (I pretty much spent my entire life from 4th grade to college working at my father's photo lab) and comparing my memories as well as prints that I know come from those films to the various presets that I've tried out.

Whatever the case, whenever I see photos using Fuji's film simulation, something just seems off about them. It almost seems as if they're trying more to invoke how we THINK we remember the look of those films rather than actually mimicking them.

It's entirely possible that much of the difference that I feel has to do with the fact that I've always viewed film negatives in the past as prints vs. the fact that I'm seeing the presets primarily on screens. Also, memory can always be a funny thing so my memory is probably just as effective (not very) as everyone else's.

Anyway, the last point really is just my personal opinion. It'd be interesting to hear how other people feel on the matter, though.

Anonymous's picture

Well, there's the issue of viewing radiated light vs. reflected light. Also, I would guess that in order for me to speak with any authority on the matter, I would have to do some sort of controlled study where I am photographing the same subject under the same lighting conditions with both the film and using the preset, which I haven't gone through the trouble of doing.

There's also the issue of the prints discoloring from age (my father's lab closed years ago now), so it's difficult to say what effect time has had on the color of the prints compared to when they were first printed.

So basically, all I can go by is the overall "feel" that I've developed for these films over the years and the vast majority of emulation presets (including Fuji's own in-body version) just haven't translated that. I would say that the closest that I've personally seen so far has actually been Mastin Labs, although even those feel a bit off the mark.

Out of curiosity, have you found a set of presets that does well in matching the respective films that they are trying to emulate?

----

As for whether you doubted me, I didn't really think one way or the other. I just wanted to emphasize for everyone that this is just my own personal opinion as it's a subject that I've had some heavy debates about in the past with people who feel differently about their respective emulation presets.

Anonymous's picture

Well these days I mostly just shoot black and white film since C-41 is just annoying to develop at home and I'm not willing to pay $20 a roll to get it developed at the only lab near me that still develops it.

For me, shooting film is just about the experience at this point. It won't match my DSLR in resolution or accuracy, but there's nothing quite like developing a roll or stepping into a darkroom to do some printing to Zen out for a while.

Anonymous's picture

On the surface, a JPEG can have all of the same detail as a RAW file. The strength of the RAW file is not in the detail that you see when you first open the file, but in its ability to stay together when you start to make edits. That's the only time when the lossy nature of JPEG's start to become an issue and in truth, you're right that there's actually quite a bit that you can do to even a JPEG (assuming that it was initially converted at full quality) before the average user will notice anything amiss.

As far as the JPEG files coming SOOC, I'm not sure what's going on there. Maybe the cameras are applying a more aggressive compression algorithm in-body than you might otherwise on a manual conversion.

Anonymous's picture

It's the only explanation I could posit as to why this might be occurring at the time. Your explanation seems to make sense, though.

Anonymous's picture

On the issue of uncompressed vs. lossless compressed RAW, I've always been curious about something. I assume that the act of compressing the RAW file (even in a lossless way) will require processing from the camera, which will slow down the rate at which the files can be written to your card. My question is whether any slowdown from the compression processing plus the time saved on writing the smaller file size will be less, more, or equal to the extra time it would take to write the larger, uncompressed file without that extra processing.

jared polin's picture

I’ve heard that as well because now the computer needs to process and unpack the file.

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