Raw vs JPEG: Real-world photography examples, advantages and disadvantages – Howtoshtab – how to, lifehacks, tips and tricks

Hi, I’m Tony Northrup, and for the book Stunning Digital Photography I’d like to talk about raw files. Raw files take all the data captured by your camera sensor and put it into a really big file that you can process later. Now that’s distinct from a jpeg file. If you use jpeg files, your camera takes all that raw data and processes it in camera and then you get to work with that processed file. Now you might notice that a jpeg file tends to be about three megabytes, whereas a raw file might be 25 megabytes.

The difference is important. The raw file’s giving you way way way more data. In fact, it’s giving every bit of data that the sensor captures. The jpeg file drops an awful lot of that data. Your jpeg pictures might still look good, but they don’t have all the data in them. For example a raw file will capture, let’s say, 10,000 different bits, different gradients, from black to white and it will store them all. When you save it as a jpeg file, it has to clip the top and bottom part of that. It clips some the shadows and some of the highlights and that means you’re losing detail. To demonstrate that, let’s look at some jpeg files and raw files in my photo editing app, Lightroom.

Here I have a picture of a train shot in both raw and jpeg. And you can see that this is a pretty challenging scenario, I’m shooting directly into the sun here. I’ll switch over to the develop module and try to recover some of the highlights. You can see I am able to retrieve some of the information. Now let’s look at the RAW file instead. Now, you can see how much more information I was able to recover there. I was able to see quite a bit more of the train in that one than in here. You can see how much more that sunburst covers up. Now I’ll switch over to the raw file one more time and bring up the shadows a little bit. And you can see that I’m able to get a much clearer picture from the raw file than I could from the jpeg file. Another good use for raw files is white balance. In this night shot of the Brooklyn bridge you can see the white balance is terrible. With a jpeg file you can adjust the white balance, but it’s not quite as perfect because your camera has already decided upon the white balance in camera and set that permanently for you. With a raw file, you have quite a bit more flexibility and you don’t have to worry about any data loss, so you can fix the white balance and you will still retain perfect detail as if you had set the white balance correctly in the first place.

Of course it’s always ideal, but you don’t have to make those decisions at the time you’re shooting with a raw file. You get to make those decisions later. Which means, if you happent to make a mistake or if the lighting situation is such that it would be impossible to pick one right answer, you can fix it in post as long as you shoot RAW. This gives you more power later on. Let’s look at a couple more examples. This is Shibuyo station in Tokyo, Japan and it’s the busiest intersection in the world. Which means I couldn’t necessarily bracket shots, because you can see just how much movement there is here. So HDR wouldn’t work to capture this huge dynamic range between the darks and the blown-out highlights here. You know, look at the sign up here and you can see you can’t read those words at all, this is completely white. With raw, I can drag these highlights down and suddenly the sign is completely readable. Take a look at this area of the sign over here and how much is lost versus how much can be recovered.

Now I’ll switch over to the jpeg file and we’ll look at the same blue sign up here. I’ll try to recover the highlights and you’ll see it’s just not as good. Do a before and after with the raw file. That’s the raw file, and that’s the jpeg file. Once again the raw file shows far more detail and the jpeg just has more and more blown out. Here is another example, this is a sunset shot of the Boston skyline, and you can see it’s at dusk but the sky is completely blown out. This is actually a great exposure for a night shot because I’m capturing all the detail in the shadows here and if it were a jpeg the shot would just be a loss. But with a raw file I can drag those highlights down and you can just see a ton of detail in the sky. You can see even though the sky looked over-exposed initially there’s absolutely no detail lost.

Lot’s of dust here, but you can see these wispy clouds. Now let me switch over to the jpeg file and I’ll drop the exposure down to recover the highlights, and you can see what happens. There’s a little bit of detail that can be recovered but you see these terrible lines up here. Switching back to the raw file just looks so much better. Here’s another high dynamic range situation, this one in the day. You can see this ruin in Ireland is completely in shadow because you have these overcast skies here. But there’s a great deal of detail in both the shadows and the highlights here. So, with the raw file I can drag up these shadows and drag down these highlights and just overall reduce the contrast of it. Now, let me pull the blues down a little bit to show some more detail in the sky. And, wow, that’s just a lot of detail that was recovered in that picture. Now let’s take a look at the jpeg file. That’s the jpeg file.

.. and this is the raw file edited. Now I can try to do that same editing here in the jpeg file. And you can see I’m able to recover some of it drag the blues down. You can see after processing the raw file just looks much much better. because you have all that extra information. When you choose jpeg files, your camera processes that in the camera and just throws away that information forever. When you pick raw, you can always go back and save it and you have all the detail that your camera sensor was able to capture. Wildlife shots can be really challenging because you don’t necessarily get to make adjustments and shoot later. Here I saw this ibis flying and I had to captured it with whatever settings I had, I didn’t get to take a picture and then look at my settings and think about it. And I did a pretty good job but you can see it’s a little bit underexposed. That the detail that we wanna see are these gorgeous colors in the bird’s wings and in a jpeg file, that would be lost.

But, look here in the raw file and you’ll see that we can recover a great deal of detail in this picture. I’ll drag the exposure up and pull these shadows up and you’ll see what happens. Now that’s just amazing, you can see all this metallic color in this ibis, just really beautiful. And with a jpeg file all that would be lost. Here is a little more extreme example, this osprey had caught a fish but because the sky was overcast it’s completely blown out and he’s completely in shadow. Now, here’s an answer- wait around for better lighting, right? But you don’t always necissarily wanna waste a whole day of shooting because I had bad weather that day. But with raw, this file can be recovered. So the first thing I’ll do is pull the highlights down to recover some blue in the sky and then I’ll just drag the shadows up some. Pull the exposure up a little until the bird is well exposed. Some more shadows and then drop the blacks down And you can see I ended up with a pretty good picture Another wildlife picture.

I shot this flycatcher at sunset and it was just beautiful. And the lighting is beautiful, you can see, because the reeds are backlit, that they’re kind of glowing. With wildlife usually want the subject to be front-lit, but I wouldn’t have had the beautiful lighting on the reeds if I did that. With raw, however, I can expose it properly for the reeds and then recover so much of the shadow detail that you’ll be able to see the bird nicely. So I’ll pull up the shadows here bump the exposure up just a little bit and you can see it ended up being just really nice picture. So I hope you’ll check your camera’s manual and learn how to turn on raw files for it. There are a few disadvantages that you should know about. Raw files are way bigger and that’s where the disadvantages come from. You can fit fewer pictures on a single memory card, so you are going to need bigger memory cards or more of them. You fun out of buffer faster, so if you’re, say, shooting wildlife or sports and you’re holding down that shutter on continuous you might find that you run out of buffer in six or seven pictures.

It depends on the camera, but after you run out of buffer the number of pictures you can take is gonna slow down a lot. Like it’s gonna go from being 4 or 5 pictures a second to one picture a second. So if you find that you’re running out of buffer all the time, it might be better to switch back to jpeg. It also takes up a lot more disk space. If you take thousands of pictures a week you could find yourself buying a new hard drive pretty soon, but nowadays hard drives are so cheap I say go for raw, delete the pictures you don’t need and you probably won’t have any problem with that at all. If you liked this video, please click subscribe up above and like down below. And I hope that you’ll check out my book, Stunning Digital Photography, which has more than two hours of instructional video. It focuses on photographic technique, so you’ll learn how to get the picture right in camera but I also show you all the advantages of using raw in different scenarios including for night photography and HDR. Thanks.

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