canon_eos50d.gifWhich format do you prefer to shoot in? RAW or JPEG? I ask as there’s an interesting discussion going on over on the Digital Photography School forums.

Raw image files are sometimes called digital negatives, as they fulfil the same role as negatives in film photography: that is, the negative is not directly usable as an image, but has all of the information needed to create an image. JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, the name of the committee that created the standard which was approved in 1994. In producing a JPEG file, which is a compressed format, some visual quality is lost in the process and cannot be restored.

There are arguments both for and against both formats:

RAW: Pros

  • Higher image quality
  • Finer control. Raw conversion software allows users to manipulate more parameters and do so with greater variability.
  • Camera raw files have 12 or 14 bits of intensity information, not the gamma-compressed 8 bits stored in JPEG files
  • Amends such as increasing the exposure of a dramatically under-exposed photo, result in less visible artifacts when done from raw data than when done from already rendered image files.

RAW: Cons

  • Larger file size
  • Slower to process and save resulting in less frames per second when shooting high speed
  • Requires intermediate program to convert to final format
  • Camera manufacturers format many not be supported in the future

JPEG: Pros

  • Minimal post processing required
  • Smaller size
  • Single standard format

JPEG: Cons

  • Lossy, compressed format
  • Post-processing can result in images with visible flaws such as posterization.
  • Contains embedded colour profile

Personally I always shoot in RAW. I’m not a great photographer, and I like the ability to post-process my images after a shoot without worrying about the quality being degraded. I do however always convert my RAW files to Adobes DNG RAW format. Their Digital Negative format is a response to demand for a unifying camera raw file format and they have submitted it for ISO standardisation. If successful this means there will be a great chance of this being supported in the future.

So what format do you shoot on, and why?