Why you should be shooting in RAW
There comes a time that every photographer wonders what the hype is around setting your camera to shoot in RAW. There are a couple of reasons why shooting in RAW is at a disadvantage, but personally, I think that the benefits strongly outweigh the negatives.
What is RAW?
First, we should talk about what a RAW image really is. If you don’t know what RAW is, that means that your camera is probably currently set up to save images as jpegs to your SDcard. RAW images are an alternative to that.
Why have the camera do the work!?
When your camera saves a jpeg to the SDcard, it has to do a little bit of processing to it first. These include, but are almost certainly not limited to:
- Applying the white balance.
- Doing some minor sharpening.
- Compresses the image.
You, as the photographer have very minimal control over what decisions the camera actually makes when it does this, and the decisions you do make are likely global to all of the photos that you take.
When you shoot in RAW mode, the camera just dumps the data directly from the sensor, into a file and when you then import your photos into your computer, YOU, the photographer get to make all the decisions about how the photo gets processed instead of having the tiny little processor with some pre-defined rules make those decisions for you.
JPEG vs RAW levels of brightness.
Flat out, RAW is just better about this. A jpeg holds 256 levels of brightness, which, compared to the RAW format that can hold (depending on the camera) from 4,096 to 16,384 levels of brightness.
Although those numbers are pretty hard to argue, you might be asking “but what does that mean for my photographs?” Well, when you are processing a photo those levels of brightness reduce or completely eliminate unintentional posterization which is what sometimes causes the ugly banding commonly seen in skies, particularly in black and white photos. Additionally, because of the larger amount of brightness captured some mistakes can be recovered from where if shot with the jpeg format, the data would be permanently lost.
Always have perfect white balance.
White balance that is even slightly off can completely ruin a photograph, and when you are shooting in jpeg you are just trusting your camera to make a decision on one of the most critical parts of your picture.
WAY better prints
When you’re shooting in RAW, the increased amount of photographic information including the increased levels of brightness reduce things like banding so when the photo comes out of the printer they look far better, with much cleaner gradients and sharpness.
Recover those underexposed or overexposed shots.
Obviously, we try to get it right in camera, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. When you’re working with the RAW format there is much more data to work with, so recovering from those missed shots is significantly easier, and would sometimes be impossible if shot in the jpeg format.
Like I mentioned earlier, when you are shooting with the jpeg format your camera does some processing on the images, and this almost always includes some sort of sharpening algorithm. I will forever question why anyone would let the tiny CPU in their camera run any sort of blanket process on their photos when we have the option to import it into software like Lightroom and control in detail how that algorithm should be applied if at all.
When you shoot in RAW, however, you control the white balance in post, so you will almost always be able to recover from a borked white balance.
Overall, we are all just trying to get the best photo we can and when you are shooting in jpeg you are literally letting your camera irreversibly throw away a significant portion of the data that makes up that photo. Especially if you plan on printing or selling your photographs, it’s important to get the absolute best quality you can, and you do that by shooting in RAW.
If I missed anything, or if I messed this little information piece up I would love to know. Drop a reply here!