Although Raw imaging has become more popular in the last year or two, many people are still reluctant to try it. This may be because of the size of Raw files eating up memory cards faster than JPEG, or because an extra step is required to convert the Raw file into a usable image. But, never mind the pitfalls, what are the advantages?
1. Revisiting picture settings
Your camera processes raw sensor data at the time you take a photograph based on in-camera settings, like saturation, contrast, sharpness. etc. If, later, you don’t like the results, you can change the settings. You can’t do this with JPEG.
2. Correct your exposure
It’s not always easy to tell if your photo has come out properly from the LCD panel on a digital camera. You may find that your photo is slightly under- or over-exposed, or has a colour cast. Whilst it is possible to make alterations to a JPEG, the process will reduce your image quality. Exposure and White Balance adjustments can be easily made to Raw images without any loss of quality, and you may even be able to recover blown highlights or reveal hidden detail in blocked shadows.
3. Save disk space
It’s a commonly-held belief that shooting Raw eats up disk space. This is true if you never post-process your images, but, if you like to give your photos a polish, you’ll soon find that you have a collection of large Photoshop PSD files on your computer. Conversely, post-processing a Raw image will only produce either a small text file (or make your Raw file slightly larger). This is because the processing is stored as short instructions, rather than large image layers.
I started shooting raw in 2007. Since then, my Raw converter software has gone through at least five upgrades, where useful new features have been added. On top of this, my workflow, calibration, and processing techniques have gradually improved, and will no doubt continue to do so. At the same time, printers, monitors, and projectors improve in quality. So it’s good to know that I can return to those old images, and re-process them, with better results than before.
5. Tonal Resolution
JPEG is a data format which was invented to save on storage space and speed up transmission. It’s fine for archiving and display of pre-processed images, but it just isn’t suitable for post-processing because it does not record enough tonal and fine-detail information to withstand manipulation, without a significant loss of image quality. Raw files preserve everything which was captured, and at much higher tonal resolution, giving you the best possible chance of getting the finished image you want.
Keith Nuttall, 2011