Edinburgh based landscape photographer Tom Foster

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RAW vs JPEG (a practical comparison)

I know that this is one of those contentious topics so I appreciate some won’t agree with me! I used to shoot JPEG, since trying RAW out one day I have never gone back and have taken thousands of photos in RAW since. It has many benefits in my eyes, especially if you want more flexibility in editing the image afterwards or the image is tricky to capture in some way (perhaps due to range of exposure).
For example in the image below (which is the Chinesischer Turm in the Englischer Garten in Munich), the sky is overexposed and initially the image is reasonably bland.
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However, you can see that there is still some detail there. I took this in RAW+JPEG to make a comparison. I went into Lightroom and reduced the highlights, increased blue saturation and decreased blue luminosity (equally) for both the RAW and JPEG files. I ended up with the following two images (click for full size):
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The sky is looking much more interesting now and both images look reasonably similar, although I feel that the colours on the RAW image are nicer (the JPEG looks a bit washed out to me).
However if you look at a 100% crop of pretty much any area, you can easily see a difference (again best clicking for a full size comparison):

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Besides the difference in the colour, the JPEG crop shows much more obvious banding in the sky (particularly on the bottom right of this crop), the clouds also look very poor in comparison to the RAW crop. I also noticed artefacts around the sky/tower boundary on the JPEG crop and these were not present on the RAW crop.

If JPEG works for you, fine, it’s just that there is no real reason not to shoot RAW. There is additional detail in the images which is great for digital manipulation of images (which is obviously a large part of modern digital photography) and handy if an area is under or overexposed.

Of course file size might be an issue as here the RAW file is around 2 times the size of the JPEG (this will vary). However, with storage space being so cheap nowadays, this shouldn’t be too much of a stumbling block. If you don’t already shoot RAW then I would seriously recommend at least trying it out to see how you get on!

What do you think? Do you shoot RAW or JPEG? Something I didn’t cover here was 14bit vs 12 bit RAW…do you think the 14bit makes a difference?

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