Build complex toys and simple tools
by Tony Karp
Mythbusters - More raw vs JPEG myths
Seoul, Korea - From the
From the "Mixed-blood Orphanage" series -- Korea 1965
Canon ASLR with Kodachrome II film
You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
-- Johnny Mercer on the raw vs JPEG debate
I want to thank all of the people who responded to my first post about raw vs JPEG myths for giving me some new myths to write about. This is not a complete list, just the highlights:

1. Raw has more "headroom" than JPEG
2. Raw has a wider dynamic range than JPEG
3. Raw has more detail in the highlights and shadows than JPEG
4. You can recover detail in blown highlights in raw
5. Raw files have more bits per pixel than JPEG and this makes a big difference
6. Raw pictures can be "batch processed" to save time, even though the individual pictures might be shot under different circumstances
7. Pictures shot with JPEG have less detail than raw
8. Vague references to "JPEG artifacts"
9. JPEG processing messes up the colors and the contrast and dynamic range
10. JPEG is okay if you're only going to make small prints
11. Software for processing raw files is getting better in the same way that in-camera JPEG processing is getting better
12. Yes, you can modify a JPEG file, but raw lets you do more
13. You can set your camera to record high-quality versions of both formats at the same time (raw + JPEG)
14. Raw is better for shooting weddings
15. Raw will save the day if you get the exposure or white balance wrong
16. There is no downside to shooting raw (This one by implication)
17. Everyone should shoot raw

And the incontrovertible fact that everybody just plain knows that raw is better than JPEG.

Note that all of the above are unproven generalizations, not based on a comprehensive comparison between raw and JPEG on any specific camera, or a comparison with some of the newer cameras that do some really gee whiz JPEG processing. They're what's referred to as the "conventional wisdom."

Most were given as absolutes, without any qualification or exceptions.

I think that the most interesting responses were from the people who said they would shoot JPEG but preferred raw because it would "save the day" when they got the exposure or white balance wrong ("I would shoot JPEG if I knew I would get the right exposure and white balance every time"). Maybe I should write about how to get the right exposure and white balance and save these folks the extra work that goes with shooting raw.

There were also responses from the quibblers who said, "We never said JPEG couldn't be fixed." If that's true, then why are you shooting raw? "Well, JPEG can be fixed, but not as much as raw." You betcha.

There was also an edge to some of the responses. Things in the nature of, "If JPEG is good enough for you, that's okay, but I require the best." Or, "People who let their cams do the processing (jpegs) mostly likely eat packaged dinners." Talk about generalizations. But they all had a "real men shoot raw" feeling to them. All in all, the responses seem to show that people do feel strongly about this topic.

Please note that at no time did I state that JPEG is better than raw.

What I am working at is disproving some of the myths surrounding the controversy. Fair and balanced, and all that.

With every new generation of camera, with ever-increasing megapixels and improved in-camera JPEG processing, it becomes harder and harder to prove the supposed benefits of shooting raw. At some point, these benefits become more theoretical than real. Perhaps raw can show a benefit when shooting with a full-frame DSLR, but most of the people taking pictures are shooting with relatively inexpensive cameras, with tiny, noisy sensors. With these cameras, in-camera JPEG processing, using the best settings, can often yield results indistinguishable from raw.

The real problem in comparing raw with JPEG is generalization. There are hundreds of cameras that can shoot JPEG, and for each of these cameras there are multiple settings that affect picture quality, and for each of these results, there are different photographers with varying levels of skill at producing the best result, both in the camera and in post processing on the computer.

And likewise, each different camera that can produce raw files will produce them in its own unique format, since there is no industry standard for raw files. And there are different raw development programs which produce varying results, again with the varying skill levels of the photographers that use these programs.

Given the size of these two universes, there really is no way to do a fair comparison between the two formats. So if you were hoping to see some sort of raw-vs-JPEG shootout here, it isn't going to happen. And, as far as I know, there still hasn't been a real comparison, with lots of examples, comparing these two formats under many different situations, anywhere on the Internet. So for now, it's all about talk, not about images.

There are many other things that can be compared between the two formats besides looking at the finished results. Sometimes it's what happens along the way.

Which brings up another point. Taking pictures is a statistical game. You win some and you lose some, and you have to be willing to live with "the one that got away." That's why the average pro shoots more pictures in a given situation than the average amateur -- to increase the odds in their favor.

Shooting JPEG, I can take twice as many pictures in the same time as the raw shooter and they'll take up less storage space. So if the subject blinks, I can snap another shot right away instead of waiting the four seconds it takes to write the raw file to the storage card. (When I tried shooting raw, my wife referred to this interval as, "How many bad words can Tony say in four seconds?")

That's the sort of odds I like.
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Recent Entries
Variations on a skink
Andy shoots raw. Ann always shoots JPEG
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