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Friday, August 14, 2009

Is JPG Making A Comeback?

Periodically, I hear of another photographer who shoots JPG, and sometimes it makes me pause to consider the old JPG vs RAW debate.

1001 Noisy Cameras, a great photography website to keep up to date with all the latest comings and goings in the photography world, made the comment that "there seems to be a renewed JPG-shooters movement". They note "the very popular Pioneer Woman Photography blog" as an example.

I started thinking about who else I knew of that shoots JPG. Ken Rockwell came to mind. Ken's an avid JPG shooter, when he's not shooting film, or the Real RAW as Ken calls it. Ken explains why he shoots JPG in his article JPG vs RAW. The subtitle, "Get It Right The First Time" kinda gives you an idea of where the article is going, and what Ken's feeling are on JPG.

If memory serves, the Bebbs, "one of the top 10 wedding photographers on the planet" shoot JPG with their Canon 5D MarkII DSLRs, which actually brings up another point.

Does the DSLR you're shooting with factor into whether you shoot JPG or not? Obviously the newer DSLR cameras are most likely to render the best quality JPG files, so this might be a factor in whether a photographer is shooting JPG or RAW.

Jeff Ascough is another world renowned wedding photographer (one of my personal favourites) that shot JPG for the longest time, although I seem to recall hearing that he's switched to RAW in the last couple years.

These are the only JPG shooters that come to mind off the top of my head. I'm sure there are many others out there. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know if you're one of them!

Now RAW shooters, or those that shoot RAW + JPG, I can think of loads of them! Since we're on wedding photographers, Neil van Neikerk of Planet Neil shoots RAW, not JPG.

Roel of Roel Photo doesn't shoot JPG, he shoots RAW.

Ray Prevost of Prevost Photo shoots RAW, not JPG.

Bruce Dorn, a Canon Explorer of Light, doesn't shoot JPG. Bruce shoots RAW.

Cliff Mautner, a great Nikon shooter, shoots RAW, not JPG.

I think the great Denis Reggie shoots RAW too, not JPG.

Most landscape photographers don't shoot JPG. They shoot RAW. Micheal Reichmann of Luminous Landscape shoots RAW. He also has a great article on Understanding RAW Files.

Prolific Nikon writer and shooter Thom Hogan doesn't shoot JPG. Thom shoots RAW.

The incredible IR and UV photographer Bjorn Rorslett shoots RAW, not JPG.

Most commercial photographers don't shoot JPG, they shoot RAW.

Joe McNally, one of my absolute favorite photographers in the world, shoots RAW, not JPG.

Dave Black, another great Nikon photographer, doesn't shoot JPG. Dave shoots RAW.

Ok, you get the point. Most of the biggest names in photography today are shooting RAW, not JPG, and there's a really good reason for that. JPG cuts your options down. JPG doesn't give you the processing latitude that RAW does. JPG is a lossy compression standard, meaning that you'll lose some quality when the JPG algorithm compresses you're image into a JPG from your camera's native RAW. JPG quality gets worse the higher the compression you use.

JPG also doesn't give the exposure correction latitude that RAW does. With Adobe's Lightroom, you can boost your exposure around 2 stops without negative effects, and while you can do this with JPG files, the quality isn't as good.

JPG files don't allow you to recover blown highlights and correct for overexposure. RAW files give you quite a bit of latitude to do this, especially with Lightroom. Sure, you can espouse the "get it right the first time" theory, but everyone makes a mistake sometime. Or maybe it's not a mistake. Maybe you just realize after the fact that you like the way an image looks with a stop or 2 of exposure adjustment. You're FAR better off with a RAW file than a JPG file in this case.

And what about white balance? All of us have had those images where the lighting was a mix of tungsten, ambient, flourescent, incandescent, candle light, car headlights, other camera's flashes, DJ strobes... well you get the point. :-) JPG doesn't do white balance correction nearly as well as RAW. Sure you can correct a JPG file's white balance, and it's fairly easy to do now that Lightroom handles JPG files, but your result will be nowhere near as good as it would have been from a RAW file.

You can test these things for yourself. Set your DSLR to RAW + JPG and take some photos. Make sure to take some in mixed lighting if you can find it. Set your DSLR manual and intentionally overexpose some photos. Now intentionally underexpose some. Back at your computer, start pushing them in Lightroom or whatever photo program you use. Push them to varying extremes, save them, and compare them side by side. You'll see the difference.

I'm not saying you can't take a great photo using JPG. I periodically do it myself, as I noted in the Joy of JPG where you can see some great shots (check out the White Tiger) shot in jpg taken straight out of camera. Note though, that while these are all OOC JPG photos, I shot in RAW + JPG so I had both the RAW files and JPG files in case I needed to go to the RAW file for some post processing. Best of both worlds!

What I am saying is that you're really cutting down your processing options by shooting in JPG. JPG doesn't give you the power in post that RAW does. JPG also doesn't give you that nice insurance policy in case you overexpose or get your white balance way off. RAW does. Check out my article Lightroom vs Nikon Capture / Nikon View for more on why RAW is so great! If you shoot Canon, check out my article on Canon DPP- Digital Photo Professional for RAW & JPG and my Canon DPP Workflow.

Ultimately, it's your decision, but I shoot RAW and most other PRO photographers do too!

Do you shoot JPG or RAW? Why? Leave a comment and let us know!


Tim said...

For every *big* name who shoots RAW, there's one who shoots JPEG. I don't think it matters as long as the end result is awesome.

I shoot RAW, but I would LOVE to be so good that I can dial in WB as I'm shooting, and score perfect exposures so that I come home and dump perfect JPEG's and be done. That's the holy grail, but I'm not that good. And there's some people out there who ARE that good.

Matt said...

"in times of slower computers and expensive hdd's jpg was the choice."

Thorsten Moortz of in Hamburg, Deutschland via Twitter

Totally agree with you Thorsten! When hard drive storage size and price was a consideration, JPG was the way to go! Now, hard drives are so cheap, as are flash memory cards, this argument for shooting JPG doesn't hold much water. :)

Matt Ballard said...

"Fact of the day: I've been shooting jpg all year. Love it. It gives me a reason to try and get the perfect image straight out of camera. Raw I was getting sloppy."

Taylor Jackson via Facebook

Matt Ballard said...

Paul via Facebook

"Actually I find RAW, even the Canon sRAW is too much for the average family birthday shoot. Maybe if it was a paid gig and I was worried about saving some photos. Guess the old addage about taking a good shoot to start with can go a long way in saving on post processing software."

Carolyn Fox said...

I started shooting RAW about two years ago & rarely go back to jpeg.

Enche Tjin said...

I shoot JPGs when shooting sports simply because I shoot a lot of images in continuous burst. I will run out storage spaces very fast if i shoot RAW.

For other occasions where the lighting is terrible or mixed, I use RAW so I can set WB later.

Matt Ballard said...

RAW rah rah!!! Overall, there are more reasons to shoot raw than JPEG, and I welcome anyone to put up an effective, objective counter-argument to that. Be warned, though, you won't win. ;-)

Brian Tao via Facebook

Matt Ballard said...

RAW :)

Rina Jerilee Outzen via Facebook

sharmo said...

A couple of interesting things while reading this. Wedding/events photogs are sometimes more likely to shoot jpg as they need either space on memory cards and/or higher shots in burst mode.

Some of the others are not known to be overly technical, so raw might just frighten them off.

Ken Rockwell? Well for me the jury is totally out on him. Sure he has a lot of technical information and opinions, but if the proof is in the pudding then his portfolio (from browsing his site) doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.

I guess if you can get it right with exposure and white balance "in camera", then that is certainly an argument to shoot jpg.

Otherwise I don't know why you would when everybody agrees that you have more "latitude" with raw.

Now talking about lightroom/camera raw? Unfortunately they way they render raw files (at least nikon ones) is still nowhere near the quality as the camera manufacturers software which is very annoying :(

Greg said...

I have my camera take a "small" JPEG thumbnail and a RAW file. Later, when I have to work quickly I grab the JPEG. Where results really matter, I tweak in RAW.

Don LaVange said...

I shoot raw. And I find Lightroom's profile's to be just right.

Matt Ballard said...

Noel Carboni via

Was it gone? No need for a comeback if it was never gone.

They called me stupid back when I questioned their unwavering devotion to Raw.

David Buzzard said...

David Buzzard via

JPG was the preferred format for a long time because it was faster and less labour intensive than working in RAW. Now with faster computers, and programs like Lightroom and Aperture, it's now faster to work in RAW, and you get a much nicer image to boot.

George said...


I shoot a Canon 5D. I have used both RAW and JPEG large. Most of the time I use JPEG large. I have heard many arguments that the quality of RAW is superior to JPEG.

However, in my photos I have found no detectable loss of image quality/sharpness with JPEG. Regarding color I understand that the JPEG file has a max color bit of 8. A difference of 256 colors per channel JPEG vs. 4,096 RAW on my camera. That many colors are undetectable by the human eye and cannot be printed by any printer that I know of. I make many prints that are 24x36 that have great color and image quality. Very sharp. These findings are also based on the comparison of two 24x36 prints made of the same subject. One each from a RAW file and the other from a JPEG large file exposed at the some time.

Perhaps under strong magnification a difference can be seen but that is not the way a framed photo is viewed or intended to be viewed.

Regarding exposure and WB, it is pretty darn good. Admittedly I usually shoot -1/3 stop exposure comp. This applies to both RAW and JPEG. If I have any concerns I bracket the shot.

99% of my work the past 2 years has been JPEG. It's fast, requires less space on the card and it has worked well for me.

I welcome any comments and proof that the JPEG large images have any detectable loss of quality.

By the way, I save all of my JPEG's on the computer as TIFF files.

niagaragirl said...

I started shooting Raw in 2004 and never wet back to jpeg. To me it's a personal preference, and raw gives superior results for some subject matter such as power lines against a deep blue sky, architecture against sky etc.

I haven't willingly shot a jpeg until I recently got a Leica D Lux 4 to fill P&S needs, and it was only a test. I must say they were pretty good and I may do some more playing around with it, especially in the ca,era's dynamic B&W mode.