- How good are my photography skills?
- How often do I shoot something completely on the fly, without first setting my camera the way I want to for the particular moment?
- How fast is my computer's hard drive?
- How much RAM do I have?
- How much flash memory do I own?
- Which lens am I using?
- How soon do I absolutely HAVE to have the pix ready for sharing?
- How good are my archival practices?
And, here's how I'd choose (in fact, HAVE chosen), in response to all the situations:
- I'm a beginner. Therefore, I shoot RAW. I'm not good enough to get my camera settings right with enough reliability that my JPEGs come out looking like I want them to more than 25% of the time. You class yourself as "Advanced Amateur," which I think I've come to understand means "Could be making a living doing this, and probably an extremely GOOD living, except that I choose to earn my keep doing something else and enjoy photography as a hobby." Do I have that right? If so, you can afford to shoot JPEG, because your shots are going to come out the way you want them to the vast majority of the time. You might switch to JPEG+RAW for special, unrepeatable occasions (Christening, Bris, first Christmas, first visit by the grandparents, etc.), but otherwise, your JPEGS will be fantastic, almost all of them, so why waste time verifying it on a computer?
- Completely contrary to the previous point, the more you shoot on the fly, the more you'd want to be in RAW. I disagree with the previous poster that said you might lose a shot or two but you'll always have other keepers, so you'll still not need to go looking for that "perfect shot" and process it. Maybe this is because I'm still such a beginner, but my experience is far more like "if one pic stinks, they all stink," on account of I will be shooting from the hip with some inappropriate white balance, ISO level, even lens, left over from last time. In all these occasions, boy am I glad I have the option of going to RAW to see if anything is salvagable! Yes, you can correct all these things with JPEGs, but you lose so much quality, especially if you have to do more than one fix ... and some white balance issues are sooooooo much easier to fix if you can just reset your white balance in RAW, rather than having to try to find a nice gray point to set the color cast on a JPEG (or any of the other things I'd have to do to a JPEG). If I took pix inside, and then went outside but forgot to reset the white balance (my D80 doesn't do auto-white balance all that well), then in RAW I just change the RAW white balance to "sunshine," "overcast," or "shade" and see what I get! It's usually pretty good! And I can copy that setting in a batch process to all the others, or just to the two or three I care about. Nothing remotely to do in JPEG if you have the choice of doing it in RAW.
- Slow hard drive? Shoot JPEG or upgrade your harddrive. It's up to you, depending on how much money you have and how much it matters. A faster hard drive makes N-I-G-H-T-A-N-D-D-A-Y difference when going through a batch of vacation photos! RAW + slow hard drive = early death from stress.
- Not much RAM? Get more, if you can at all afford it, and make sure it's as fast and as much as your computer can handle it. Amount of RAM and speed of the RAM makes even more difference when editing one photo -- regardless of whether it's one of a thousand or just one of two that you want to send to Grandma -- than the speed of your harddrive will make. With a harddrive, if it's got enough space and the program is stable, lack of speed can be worked around by doing everything at night (even opening up the pix you want to process!). But nothing can substitute for lots of RAM. And extra RAM helps e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g you do on your computer, not just the nasty stuff (like processing your pix).
- Very little flash memory? Shoot JPEG for the weekend, until you can get to the shop and buy more. There's no way on earth I'd shoot JPEG-only if the only thing stopping me from shooting JPEG+RAW is lack of CF space. Cheapest way to solve that problem is a couple more CF cards and an Optech Media Holster.
- If I'm using one of my 18-xyz's, the pictures isn't going to have captured but so much anyway (I'm almost always indoors in low light), and the very fact that I'm carrying that particular lens is that these aren't my Photos-of-a-Lifetime, so whadeva. But if I'm shooting with my Precious Baby, that means that (a) the lens is going to capture a heck of a lot of exquisite detail, and I really didn't buy that lens to then turn around and throw half of it away, and (b) these are the pix that I really, really want to look good. So in that case, no way I'll shoot in JPEG-only; for me, that would negate the investment of money and sore muscles (lugging it around).
- If I want to give the pix away soon, I HAVE to shoot JPEG. Which isn't that often actually. Then I load all the JPEGs onto a USB-stick or CD and hand them over. The other party can pick out the ones they like. Maybe I'll sift a little, depending on my own pride (don't want them to see that one ... or that one ... or for that matter, n-o-n-e of those ... But if they're just for me, I download them and process them when I get around to it. If ever. Which is not remotely related to whether they were shot in JPEG or RAW, so why not just have them in RAW. More flexibility, when I finally get around to processing them to begin with. They're there when I want them. It's amazing how many hundreds of shots I take that seem so great at the time and then a year later I really don't care about them. Good thing I didn't waste any time in PP. If I ever want one or two for a slideshow somewhere down the line, they won't have gone anywhere. My folders and folders of RAW are like my boxes and boxes of prints (from the good old days). This pressure to process everything you take is, in my opinion, misguided. I didn't get all those photos into albums, now did I? Am I sorry? Not at all. Does that mean I throw them away? NOT AT ALL. They're there when I need them.
So for pix I'm (possibly) not going to process anyway, who cares how long it takes? Twice as fast as nothing is still nothing. In fact, it's worst than that: twice as fast might tempt me actually to dive in and process all that stuff. And that, in my case, would be the real tragedy. In my case, if I were burdened by a sense of duty to process everything I shot, then shooting in JPEG might mean that I actually processed them, in which case I'd spend far MORE time processing than if I just shot everything in RAW, which might discipline me only to process the stuff I care about.
And the ones I DO care about ... boy am I glad I have those in RAW. I can do so much with so little loss of image quality in RAW!
- If my archiving is good, then in my opinion JPEG+RAW is the way to go, bar none. So much so, that I fix everything else (buy more memory cards, etc., to make it happen) and don't look back. I get all the advantages of JPEG, plus ALL the advantages of RAW. When I worked in NX, I opened my photo folders in Windows, sorted the pix according to file type to separate all the JPEGs (at the top) from all the NEFs (at the bottom), making it easy to select all the JPEGs and move them into their own sub-folder. Then I could work really quickly with the JPEGs, opening that folder in whatever program I want, etc. If I found a Shot-To-Die-For, I'd just find its partner in the NEF folder, and run with it! Now that I'm messing about with Lightroom, I can skip the sorting stage, because Lightroom deals with the JPEG+RAW combinations as one file when it displays, tags, etc., the pix. Fantastic! I haven't tried NX2, and if it does the same thing, that would be great. Otherwise, I really like this part of Lightroom: I can do sort and do the initial processing on an entire day's worth of pix in very little time. Then anything that actually needs editing I can flag it, display just those, and note which ones they are. Then I can go into an editing program and just do those, working on the JPEG or the RAW, whichever I choose.
I've discovered (the hard way!) that on a V-E-R-Y regular basis I need to backup all the pix to another medium for storage, and as quickly as possible get them OFF my hard drive.
I know everybody says that. I'm just not the organized type, and I'm REALLY not the "clean up your room/desk/project area type. So I figured, why on earth did I buy this mammoth hard drive space if I still have to spend half my life (it always feels like half my life if it involves cleaning up or putting away) moving things off the hard drive?
Then I found out ...
(maybe everybody else already knows this; maybe it's really just me being thick; but I really didn't know this; I mean I truly learned this T*H*E H*A*R*D -- read: ex-PEN-sive -- W*A*Y)
... that if you stuff your hard disk, your computer works far more slowly, crashes more often, and basically makes your life miserable. At a completely utter minimum your hard disk needs to have 15% of its capacity EMPTY!!! in order for your computer to function properly. I don't know where the divide is, but if your hard drive is nearly full, then the more you can remove the better. So I've discovered that if I keep the hard drive free from anything image-oriented except what I'm currently working on, then life is great, the sun shines, my photos improve straight out of the camera, and there's world peace.
Well, maybe not all that.
But still, keeping myself organized and my hard disk tidy solved literally HALF the problems I was having in post-processing. Once I figured that out, not only did all the rest of it get so much easier, but it also became fun to put in the time to get better at it.
Anyway, that's my $2!
Congratulations on what proves to be an amazing year!
(For the rest of you, teachers live in a parallel world when it comes to time. The year starts a few weeks from now.)
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing