Digital Shooting: RAW or JPEG

Jan 31st, 2006, 07:41 AM
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Digital Shooting: RAW or JPEG

I have recently purchased a Nikon D50 to enter the digital world on my March safari. Previously I have shot professional grade slide film which I was reluctant to give up as the color and sharpness are wonderful but the cost and time spent buying, carrying, developing, sorting, and then scanning has become too much for me.

I like to do enlargements, typically 11 x 14 but I have gone as large as 20 x 30. Please advise me on shooting in RAW format vs. JPEG fine.

Another more general question. My go to lens is a 200-400 which is why I stayed with Nikon, to avoid buying a new zoom. I took some test shots at the zoo and with the digital factor making the lens a 300-600 it is amazing power but now I am worried that I there are many times that I am going to be too close with this lense for any flexibility. I am not willing to invest in a second DSLR at this time. I do have a point and shoot 4.1 mega pixel or I can use my old camera with slide film for the close action. Thoughts? Thanks.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 09:35 AM
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if you want any confirmation of the way to go then you should use one of the forums on a website such as Nikonians which is

The people who want to get very impressive prints always shoot RAW, in this way they can use Photoshop as their digital darkroom and adjust the lighting to suit.

Up until recently I have done almost everything in JPEG Fine Large format (D70). The results up to 20 x 24 inch prints are stunning; however this means that you must have perfect camera settings. If not you can throw the picture away. Therefore shooting JPEG often involves adjusting the camera settings such as white balance, etc in addition to the aperture and shutter speed.

RAW takes up a lot of memory space and therefore you will need some form of additional storage device as well.

On my last safari I was switching between JPEG and RAW, however Murphy’s Law decided the most stunning shot was a JPEG, because I did not have time to swap over.

If you are really going to do something with your pictures, competitions or sell them, then RAW is the way to go. If you want to have them as a keepsake then JPEGS will be fine.

On the point of the size of the lens, I use a Sigma 50-500 (75-750 on D70) and find this perfect for wildlife shots. I must admit that I am a fan of close ups so I rarely use this under 200 (300 on D70). If you like to include all of the background in your shots then the lower limit of 200 (300) may well be a hindrance to you.

I will not comment on the use of P+S cameras on Safari as I am sure
I will only offend their owners.

Maurice_M is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 10:01 AM
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You'd be amazed at the detail. Also, RAW files will give you more latitude when overexposed and underexposed, since they hold more information than JPEG.

As for telephotos on safari, I was told to go with something more like a 70-200 or 80-400. My understanding (and I'm about to learn this on my safari this august) is that you tend to drive up close to animals on safaris. So you want as much flexibility as possible. Unless you're planning on carrying a second camera.

Or you could use the lesser camera for the close ups.

But, definitely shoot RAW. You'll just need bigger memory cards.
okow68 is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 10:07 AM
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PB I went through a sharp learning curve about RAW about a year or so back and now never shoot anything but RAW for images that are anything more than a snapshot for ebay!

There are a number of advantages to shooting in RAW - getting the most out of these is easier when you really get into the nitty gritty of understanding what the data recorded in RAW and JPEG formats actually is.

But the big disadvantage is in the time consuming work flow involved in transforming the RAW files into finished image files.

I'll try and sit down and summarise this for you tonight - I teach a one day Photoshop course just on this very topic - and give you a crash course, if I can, to point you in the right direction.

Kavey is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 10:24 AM
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We have the D70s with a 18-70 and 70-300 lens.

I did shoot some RAW, but most were JPEG Fines. The 12x24 images (when shot properly) were really good in either. I shot the sahara out the plane, in RAW and needed to do a lot of work with it to get rid of the blotchy images, but shooting JPEG Fine of a Zebra came out nice.

I guess it really depends on the settings (and some screwups can be fixed by the photo software), and the subject.

If you have the storage, shoot RAW, if not, mix it up (it is relatively easy to change on the D70s - should be similar on the 50).

Shooting RAW eats up a lot of media - not all of us have/want laptops to lug around, and bushcamps may or may not have CD burners available.

Remember to get it printed at most places you need to go JPEG anyways.

FYI as bad as it sounds Walmart does a reasonable job on 18x24s - for about $6 per print up here in Canada. One option I would suggest is printing the image in a smaller format (8x10/12) to check the colour correctness against your monitor.
drehburg is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 11:01 AM
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Thanks to all of you for the wonderful responses! I thought RAW was the preferred method. I am planning to shoot with 1 GB ScanDisk UltraII cards (will bring 2). I am going to purchase either a 30GB Photo iPod or the 40GB Epson P2000 so I think I can handle the larger file sizes for a 2 week trip without any worry.

Kavey, I look forward to your summary on processing the RAW images -- that is the part that was really unclear to me from a quick read of the manual.

I did switch back and forth between RAW and JPEG Fine taking some sample pics so I can do a little practice on the processing.

Thanks again to all of you for your input!
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 11:40 AM
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OK, here's a first stab. See if this helps or hinders!

RAW images record much more information than JPEGs. The camera sensor collects a huge amount of information at the point of image capture but the act of saving a file as a JPEG throws away a huge amount of it. The reason serious digital photographers shoot RAW is because they are then in control over which of the recorded data to keep and which to discard.The downside is that this takes a finite amount of time for each image processed, even when using batch processing facilities.

Colour Depth
One of the areas where that matters most is colour depth. Most camera sensors capture at least 12 bits per colour channel for a possible 4,096 levels in each channel. The human eye can't appreciate that many levels of tones (though it's better at differentiating detail in light than in shadow areas of a scene or image) but, as much of the post-processing we apply in programs like Photoshop results in discarding some of those levels, it's good to have as many as possible at the starting point. A RAW file stores 12 bit colour depth, a JPEG file format is limited to 8 bits per channel so a third of the information captured is thrown away.

(Infact if you want to get more technical, which you probably don’t, a RAW file doesn’t store colour information at all. Sensors are just photon receptors – they record how much light they receive, not what colour the light is – so the value they record is grayscale not colour. Filters are applied over the sensor array alternating red, green and blue; there are twice as many green ones as red and blue as human eyes are more sensitive to greens so it’s most important to ensure accuracy in greens. The RAW file records the information from each colour channel as greyscale values labelling each with a colour to assign on conversion).

If the image needs post-processing that adjusts contrast, colour balance etc. that limited information is sometimes stretched to the point that uneven gradiations (posterisation) between tones/ colours become clearly visible.

White Balance
Another important area to considedr is white balance. WB is related to the colour of the light under which the image was captured. In real life situations our eyes automatically adapt to different lighting situations and we compensate for the colour of the light without really noticing. We interpret the brightest thing in the scene as white and everything else accordingly, even when that brightest thing actually has a blue or yellow tint from the light colour. The trouble is we don’t do that when viewing printed images or video recordings.

White balance settings allow us to tell the camera what colour light is lighting the scene so that the camera or conversion software can compensate accordingly.

If the lighting is blue, the colours can be shifted towards the yellow slightly. If the lighting is yellow, the colours can be shifted towards the blue slightly. This restores the colour balance to a more neutral one.

When saving a file in JPEG the camera applies the WB setting to the data as it records it. Although one can adjust colour balance within a JPEG file using most image processing sofware applications, it’s much harder to achieve consistent results and again, you often end up condensing/ stretching the limited information you have leading to image degradation.

In a raw file, no adjustment is made to the information recorded – the camera’s WB setting is recorded alongside the picture information. When you convert the file using a RAW converter you can either choose to apply the camera’s WB setting or discard it completely and specify your own. You are not limited to the settings provided on most cameras (cloudy, shaded, daylight, tungsten) but have very fine control indeed.

Dynamic Range
Dynamic range refers to the number of stops between the dark and light areas of the scene to be recorded that a given camera is sensitive too/ can record. At either end of the range the data is less reliable than the data further away from the edges. In the highlight areas the sensor may have managed to pick up information in only one or two rather than all three colour channels. In the shadows the sensors are recording many less “hits” on their photon receptors and a few stray “hits” are enough to skew the value recorded.

A JPEG excludes these extremes completely. A RAW file includes them. A RAW convertor allows you to adjust exposure up/ down (to include or exclude more of the highlights information) and to adjust shadows up/ down (to include or exclude more of the shadows information). Unlike playing with exposure when working with film (when decreasing exposure at highlights end means losing more detail from the shadows end too) these two controls can be moved independently to each other (compressing or stretching the data) to provide a greater control over dynamic range.

Whilst the sliders provide +2/ -2 (or even more) of exposure compensation in practice I have found that I can recover no more than half a stop or so of highlights and similarly little in shadows. However that half a stop is enough to recover blown highlights (or what would be blown highlights in a JPEG file).

Getting the most from the RAW format involves really getting your head around this feature and even shooting a little differently. Because shadows are so noisy, it’s not good to rely on recovering lost shadow detail whereas recovering highlights detail is usually more successful. For that reason it makes sense to “shoot to the right of the histogram” when working with RAW. You still need to take care not to overexpose but will see benefits from setting exposure so that your recorded data is as far to the right of the histogram as it can be without clipping. This is made harder to judge by the fact that on-camera histograms tend to be RGB combination histograms and don’t show information for each colour channel seperately.

Sharpening, Noise, Saturation etc.
Most digital cameras have a range of additional processing that they apply when saving images as JPEGs including sharpening, noise reduction, boosting saturation and so on. Many cameras do allow these to be turned off if preferred.

None are applied to a RAW file which is just a data dump of what the sensor records. This does mean that the photographer needs to apply any such processing changes to the images manually, which is more time consuming but gives greater control.

Lossy versus ossless
The RAW format is lossless – that is to say that all the data is retained within the file. JPEG is a lossy format – it’s compression algorithms throw away some of the data when saving. Choosing lower compression settings does result in less data loss but some still occurs.

Every time you open a JPEG file, make changes to it and then resave it you will likely degrade the image further as the compression algorithm will run from scratch each time.

For those who shoot in JPEG but wish to minimise further loss, I would recommend converting the JPEGs to TIFF files. TIFF is a lossless format even when LZW compression is applied as this compression does not throw away data but simply rearranges how it is stored. Of course a TIFF takes a lot more space than a JPEG so again, there are advantages and disadvantages. However it does at least mean that each time the file is opened, changed and closed, no further data is lost. The finished file can always be saved out as a JPEG as the final step before sending to a printer if the printer you use can only accept JPEGs.

Kavey is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 11:46 AM
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Another great Kavey tutorial to print and save. Thank you ever so much!!!!!

cooncat is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 11:52 AM
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Kavey--Thanks for a great roundup. I use a Canon Digital Rebel XT and was planning to use highest jepg setting for my upcoming (June) safari. Now I'm reconsidering. I do have a new Ipod video for storage and I'm going to confirm that it will download RAW.
martync is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 11:56 AM
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You're welcome!

Do keep in mind that working with RAW means converting every image you want to use - although you can batch convert those taken with the same settings at the same time in same light etc. you'll need to work out from scratch the best settings for each different set. It takes a long while compared to a quick crop and curves adjustment on JPEGs.

I have become much quicker the more I do but I cannot deny that this is a serious time investment. Worth it to me; not to some.

BTW I use Adobe Raw Converter into Photoshop CS2. I started off with CS and it works almost identically.
Kavey is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 12:09 PM
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Wow -- Kavey thank you so much for taking the time to provide such detail!!

It is going to be an interesting experience to go through. Hopefully in a couple of days I can work with the sample photos I took and put your explanations into practice.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 12:23 PM
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You're welcome...

Which RAW converter are you going to use? Some are much more user friendly than others. I love ACR as it integrates with Photoshop and I really like the interface. RawShooter Essentials is also well thought of and so is Capture One though I haven't used either myself.
Kavey is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 12:54 PM
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Very good information, Kavey. I wish you lived down the street from me! There is so much about Photoshop that I'd like to learn and I'm one of those "show me" people rather than learning from a book.

For a RAW converter I use BreezeBrowser and I use Downloader Pro for downloading from the P2000 or camera. If you want to read about it, here is their site. You can download it for a free 30 day trial.
You can also google breezebrowser to read what people in the industry have to say about it. One example is Art Morris. He is a well respected bird photographer (he has had over 11,000 images published) and has written several books and he recommends Breezebrowser.

There are several good RAW converters out there.
sundowner is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 12:55 PM
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That is a good question. The camera came with Nikon ProjectPicture which I think is going to be pretty basic, not even sure if it does conversions as they want you to buy Nikon Capture 4.3 I think it is.

I will probably go with Adobe as well.

PredatorBiologist is offline  
Jan 31st, 2006, 01:08 PM
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We tried to use Nikon's Picture Project too as our first DSLR was the Nikon D70 and that's what it came with. All I can say is "run away, run away!".

Sundowner, sorry too you don't live closer... now if I could only find people who live near me and are interested in this and thereby sell more of this particular course!!!
Kavey is offline  
Feb 1st, 2006, 04:42 AM
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What about shooting RAW+JPEG? I am not that great with PhotoShop yet and don't have any of those other RAW converter programs. Makes me nervous to just shoot RAW. Although it takes up a lot more space on the card, is this a smart compromise? Thanks~!
cooncat is offline  
Feb 1st, 2006, 07:13 AM
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I used to shoot RAW + JPEG back when I hadn't really got to grips with my RAW workflow nor found the tools that make it easier for me to view what I have produced.

Having the JPEGs meant I could do a very quick and dirty processing job to see the potential in the image, back when processing RAW files took me quite a while longer.

Now that I'm much quicker at processing RAW files I actually find dealing with JPEGs is often slower for me so I don't bother. It doesn't make sense for me to spend time processing a JPEG image and then, if I really like it, I'm going to have to go back and work through the RAW file because I know I'll have more information there to play with so I'll likely get a better end result, even if it's only marginal.

Another disadvantage for me is that shooting in both formats means taking up yet more space per image on my CF card. Then again the 20D does allow you to specify the size/ quality of that JPEG to some extent so you could mitigate this somewhat.

Whether you'll want to do this is very much a personal decision. I know it took me time to get into the swing of working with RAW files. BTW I use Photoshop CS2 (which costs a bundle) and Adobe Raw Converter which is a free PS plugin. I don't use any third party conversion software outside of PS.

That doesn't really help much does it?

Kavey is offline  
Feb 1st, 2006, 07:14 AM
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Oh, btw, Microsoft do provide a wee little upload that allows Windows Explorer to show RAW file thumbnails - worth uploading. Normally, Windows Explorer cannot read/ show RAW file data at all and simply lists the file details - name, date, type.
Kavey is offline  
Feb 1st, 2006, 08:11 AM
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Hi Kavey,

I use Mac's myself, so I'm not aware of the MS app for viewing Raw files in Windows Explorer.

I was trying to talk a client through looking at some PSP (Paint shop) files in WE and he was not seeing thumbnails.

Not sure if this free download will work on his PSP files, but thought I'd ask where he can find the download.

jweis is offline  
Feb 1st, 2006, 08:22 AM
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Kavey, Does that Microsoft plugin work with Canon raw files?

Also to PredBio: I've said this before and at the risk of sounding like a scratched & repeating CD: you can easily set up a test yourself and have personal experience on your side when you decide what to shoot. Just set up a shot, outside. A tripod is good because then you are sure that you haven't moved the camera and made the comparison how steady your hands were on each shot. Very quickly shoot in the various modes. Compare results. I think you'll see why you will want to shoot RAW for animals: you never know when that absolutely great shot is coming, and when you catch that elusive moment, you'll be happy to have the camera on RAW.

Also, if you are in situations where you end up cropping (often significantly), you'll be even happier to have all the info from the camera at your disposal.

Sometimes I shoot things that I know are of limited use (say the light is just not very good, or there is something about the composition that bothers me, but I want to remember behavior...or perhaps I just want to ask someone what that bird was...) I'll shoot in JPEG. The problem is that something exciting happens next, and I forget to switch back to RAW. Curses! That would have been spectacular, but now I'm limited to jpeg. So switching entails some (significant for me) risk.

I do take the obligatory people shots, camp shots, etc. in JPEG, just because...well just because I don't really care as much about quality there, and these will never go farther than snapshots.
ddgattina is offline  

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