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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why I prefer JPG, but still shoot RAW

Lets face it- there are some valid arguments for shooting RAW. However, a most all of them are based on the premise that you will need to "save" your photo- to rescue it from some mistake you, the photographer, have made.
Most arguments are heavily weighted on the need to fix color range in the form of an improper white balance setting that JPG codes into your image, resultant contrast issues/black tone issues as you post-process your image, etc. Others are on the premise of fixing slightly blown out exposures, citing things out of your control, such as the model moved to close to the light source (except as the photographer you can control just have to be observant and correct the model's positioning; if she's struck the ideal pose, she can do it again once you've centered her properly once more).
As professionals (for those of us who are), we should know how to set our cameras correctly, and to do so with great frequency on the fly. IF you set your camera correctly for the given lighting, or if in a studio you properly control your lighting, you will never have to worry about not having the latitude of color values saved into your image. (Yes, I admit that RAW files do indeed have more data saved into them, including larger bit rates for color data).
Following this same thought, people who argue RAW over JPG may mention the Zone System. Fantastic. Yet the zone system was created decades before digital technology, so really it's an argument for JPG/in camera processing. IF you follow the zone system, you don't necessarily NEED the extra data/flexibility of a RAW file...a JPG will give you everything you need, will be done expertly, and at a mere fraction of the processing/review time. You can still tweak and edit JPGs. You just can't correct what should be fatal flaws in a photo. If you're a Pro, hopefully you're not often producing images with those fatal flaws, and the ones you do you simply throw away knowing you've noticed your error during the shoot, and recomposed your shot properly.
Likewise they may say: storage space is so cheap these days; cameras can process RAW so quickly that there is no noticeable difference in workflow; if the extra data is available to me, I might as well keep it. True...You might as well keep all your ripped, faded, outgrown, outdated clothing from childhood through adulthood, too. You could keep every cent you ever earn and never make a charitable donation. You could keep every camera body or lens you've ever purchased, even though you only use a small portion of them, and never intend to use the others ever again. You could do a lot of things...but why do you? If you don't need, it, why are you hoarding it? We hold onto effectively useless things when they have sentimental value to us (or in the case of money if we're selfish and greedy- I'm not here to have a discussion on accumulation of's none of my business what you chose to do with your money! -but it's an example of this we do, that we don't Need to do).
Moving on...Here's the meat of my argument For JPG:
A) Back around 2002-2005 (and earlier), JPG processing on-camera was still in its infancy. Magazine editors, fine art photographers, etc, wanted that RAW file because they were not happy with the JPG their camera put out, OR because as a photo editor if your boss (the Editor) got a bug up his a$$ about one minutia of the image, with a RAW the photo editor could go back and fix that problem easier than with a JPG. It comes down to fear of saving one's  a$$. Just like the photographer's fear of not setting up for the exact lighting, white balancing, etc.
B) Canon, Nikon, Sony (who makes Nikon sensors), etc, have been working on their sensors, processors, algorithms, etc for over 10 years. They've spent Billions of dollars on research, processing, and coding these color conversions/JPG profiles. There are committees, experts, and various professionals from the photography, graphics, and computer engineering worlds working on the optimal color conversions for their JPGs, and how to code the digital files so the conversion happens uniformly Every Time. If it was just a random group of computer coders hired to write code with no direction or quality oversight, then this argument would not hold water, but we all know that the actual computer engineers coding this data are a portion of the team. (If you were an executive chef, would you allow your line cook to conceptualize your menu??) The big "risk" comes in the form: did you set your camera up properly? By saying "I will only shoot RAW so I can control the color balancing, image tones, etc." as a photographer you are actually saying your experience of digital image manipulation (at maximum 13 years, but lets face it, probably more like 5 or 6 years, and even then your mastery of Photoshop and like software is in truth limited to that of full time graphic designers) is better than that of the developers of this technology, and the huge bags of money the major players have thrown at them to get it right!
I know some Photographers who are amazing at image manipulation. I'm exceedingly good at it, though I know many who far outpace me. Having said that, I also know many more Graphic Designers who are even better. Why are we, as photographers, all of a sudden claiming to know this better than the professionals specific to image manipulation? When you think about it, it is a little arrogant to say "I can process images better than the combined weight of Nikon, Canon, and Sony; better than any professional graphic designer." Note, a graphic designer will not have the same eye for composing a shot, the technical knowledge to capture that shot, to pose that model, etc. THAT is still the realm of the photographer, and we can wander over into graphics as digital manipulation is indeed our new darkroom, but we can't claim to be the masters of it.
So in conclusion why do I still shoot RAW despite my obvious favoritism towards JPGs? Editors/Photo Editors. Most out there, as a result of the infancy of the digital age, are still wary of JPGs. They'll argue with me on every point I made and agree 10,000% on all the "reasons" to shoot RAW that I've cited above, or those posed by anyone who disagrees with me may leave comments. As a result, it's often easier (and of better piece-of-mind) to shoot a RAW. Inevitably there will be a discussion/argument with an Editor or Photo Editor when they ask you to send the RAW file over, if you tell them you just have a High Res JPG. Completely irrelevant to whether you've set the photo up correctly. It's not that they want to make serious changes to your image or processing there of, they just want to be able to cover their own a$$'s if they get heat from their superiors.
One last argument I know people will press: losing data in a JPG compression compared to a complete RAW file...these days that's really not an issue, even when shooting studio work. There will be those who disagree with me and will try to throw tons of technical data at me to support their arguments. Some are valid. Most were more valid 5 years ago, and will become less and less valid with each new camera put on the market. They'll cite artifacting, etc. To that let me respond, you can still get artifacting even in RAW, and if you truly want the guarantee of none, switch back to medium or large format cameras. They'll cite preserving the original image and all its pixels (when editing a JPG you are changing its pixels...when editing RAW your edits are saved in the metadata, and only applied to your image file when you export it as a JPG or TIFF). To this argument, let me say: start using Lightroom or Aperture, as these programs do not edit any original image (JPG or RAW), but instead save your series of edit commands, saving those edits in their library files, only applying the edits to the exported final image, all the while preserving the original image, regardless of whether it's JPG or RAW.
Think about it and make up your own mind.
Ben Ginsberg/
Orange County, CA