How To Decide To Shoot JPEG or RAW
by William Lulow
Recently, I came across an ad for the Mamiya Leaf Aptus II digital back for medium format cameras. It boasts an 80MP CCD sensor and sells for only $31,000! I’m sure there are photographers out there who would swear by this piece of equipment. One would need 20 days of shooting at $1,500 per day just to pay for it. Whereas I used to have days that paid quite a bit more, those kinds of paychecks, these days, are a thing of the past for many of us, perhaps with the exception of some wedding shooters and high-end advertising photographers. The digital revolution has taken care of that! Everyone with a 10MP point-and-shoot now thinks they’re photographers.
With my Canon 60D (love it because of the rotating LCD) at 18MP resolution, and the 6D at 20.2MP or so, I’ve been making beautiful 11×14, 16×20 and 20×24 prints that don’t lack a thing when it comes to detail. And, I’ve been shooting mostly JPEG files! Most photographers swear by RAW because they are far more capable of being edited and preserve all original information without compression. However, I normally don’t like to spend excessive amounts of time at the computer. And, even though Adobe Lightroom has greatly simplified my workflow, I’m not sure I really need to shoot RAW. There are times when a client has asked for images to be shot in RAW, but then they’re paying for it and probably have an assistant AD doing the processing work. In addition, most of the social media and other sites to which I upload files, can only handle JPEGs anyway. And, once you’re done with your editing, you will probably save your file as a JPEG.
Here’s an example of a straight JPEG shot with the Canon 60D and an 85mm prime lens. Exposure was f/10 at 1/125 of a second with an ISO of 100. It was processed to an image with 400 dpi resolution. Do you think you need more detail or sharpness?
I would say probably not. This image produced extremely sharp 11×14 inch prints. So, again, in today’s digital world, it really all depends on how the images will be used and how much time you wish to spend processing the files. I’ve been able to make great prints from my Epson printer from files that were only 8 – 10 megabytes. It’s true that larger files are always easier to work from, but how often do you really need to make a really big enlargement? As a matter of fact, I made an image of The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia back in the 1970s. The shot was made on Kodak Tri-X film from a 35mm camera. I scanned the negative on my flatbed scanner and was able to make an enlargement to 30 x 40 inches which looked great.
So, if you think that RAW files will give you better resolution, they might and then again, they might not. If you like to process the images yourself and not let the camera do any of it, then, by all means shoot RAW. If you are looking for your images to give you maximum information so that you can process them yourself, and get some additional tonal range, shoot RAW. But, I have done many magazine covers, not just a few individual portraits, some product shots and most of my own private work with JPEG images that have been more than adequate for the task. For my money, I think it all depends on how you like your images processed and what you plan to do with them in post-processing. There’s no question that RAW images give you all the available information to each file. The question is, how much of all that information will you actually use? And, how much of a difference in quality will you see?
I’ve come to view RAW files as great for personal work and the JPEGs best for commercial work.