When I first got my digital SLR, I set it to take the highest quality JPEG photos. I had read a lot in the DP Review forums about raw and jpeg and, for my camera in particular, a lot of people said that the jpegs that came out of the camera were really good, and if you’re crazy and want a lot of extra work, you might be able to sqeeze a little more quality out of the raw format. It kind of made sense to use jpeg – with raw you have to process every single photo you want to print, post online, or do anything with. The other thing is that raw takes so much space on a memory card compared to jpeg.
So for a long time, I only shot with jpeg. I was very pleased with my photos, especially compared to my old point-and-shoot. I sometimes did adjustments to lighten or darken areas of my pictures, or add more saturation here or there. You can only do so much before you start to notice a lot more grain, or loss of detail. Some things you just can’t fix – like blown (completely white) skies.
I’m not sure what prompted me to finally try raw. Maybe I was just feeling adventurous that day. Anyway, I set my camera to raw, and of course it makes no real difference when shooting. When I got home, and transferred the images to my computer, it took a lot longer. When I took my first look at the pictures I was disappointed. They were okay, but not great – my foray into raw didn’t leave me impressed. They all seemed too dark, or too light, and all of them seemed pretty flat. The next morning I looked at the pictures again, and I thought I’d see what I could do with them in Photoshop (I didn’t really know about Adobe Camera Raw at that point). When they opened in ACR I tried fiddling with some of the settings. This is when a whole new world opened before me (okay that’s a little over-dramatic). The range of developing I could do without any loss in quality amazed me. I could get detail out of areas that looked black. I could get blues out of overexposed skies. Raw is no substitute for properly exposing photos of course, but when there is a large difference between the exposures for different parts of the image, raw can help immensely.
So I was impressed, but there’s still the problem of editing any photo you’re interested in in ACR or other software. However, now that I’m using Adobe Lightroom it is very easy. You can batch develop photos you import, and it’s very easy to switch between viewing all your pictures and making a few quick adjustments.
With the right software, raw is definitely the way to go. You get more dynamic range in your photos, and adjustments don’t cause any loss of image quality. Files are significantly larger than jpeg, so you do have to have larger memory cards and hard drives, but the difference in quality of the final image is easily worth any extra hassle.