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How-to's Travel Stories

The Debate Rages On: RAW or JPEG?

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens)

Keywords: wildlife, travel, d500, 200_500mm, postprocessing, concept, via_the_lens, raw, jpg

I follow photography conversations on a couple of different web sites, as do many of us.  I also take photography trips to various areas with tour guides, again, as many of us do.  Recently I took a guided photography trip to Costa Rica.  One of the things I like about taking these trips is meeting new people, mostly other photographers, and talking about our shared love of the craft. This trip I was reminded about the seemingly apparent divide over shooting JPEG format versus shooting RAW format.  

This topic is one that comes up routinely on photography web sites. While I decided long ago to shoot using the RAW format, many photographers have chosen to shoot using JPEG format; I really don’t care about the decisions that someone else makes regarding their photography as long as it does not affect me. I’ve found, however, that many people are vehement about the choice they’ve made and they want others to make the same choice or they simply to argue the point for some reason.  I love to debate and discuss any issue about photography but some of the people who make comments on the various websites or in a one-to-one discussion seem to feel compelled to push the point.  On the trip to Costa Rica I met someone who seemed to feel compelled to push the point on why he shot in JPEG format. I believe that there are reasons to shoot both ways, depending on the circumstances.

Hawk Before Editing-1
Click for an enlargement


Hawk After Editing-2
Nikon D500, Nikon 200-500 lens, 1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 250, +1/3 EV, matrix metering. This photo, like all of my photos, was processed in Lightroom and then in Photoshop as needed. In this case, after using Lightroom, it was as simple as using Photoshop to remove a branch that poked into the image area on the right.
Click for an enlargement


This person, I’ll call him Mike, appeared to believe that shooting in JPEG was a badge of honor of some sort, “I take photos straight out of the camera,” he said. He intimated, in one of our conversations, that what I did, shoot in RAW and edit (sometimes with a bit of “slight of hand”) was somehow “less than” what he did.  He went so far as to say that processed photos did not look real and that his photos were “real.”  In his mind, apparently, if you did any processing at all the resultant image was not realistic.  I told him that I was a photographer who wanted to do art, not photo-journalism. I said that my photographs did look real and that they represented the scene I saw.  I showed him some of my finished work and his comment was, “they're ok.” I’m not really sure what that meant but I accepted it and attempted to avoid any further conversation with him. The very next day he approached me at breakfast (before I had even had my coffee!) and showed me a shot that he took and said, “this is my art.”  The shot, which was nicely done, was of a bird in flight with a blurred background, a scene that many photographers favor.  I told him the shot was very nice and moved away.  I don’t know why he felt so compelled to prove a point of some sort; I told him very early on that one of the reasons that I loved photography was that it is, to me, a solo craft in that I take the photographs I want in my way; I don’t have to consider what someone else wants when I’m taking photographs, only what I want and if I’m happy with the end result.


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Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on September 16, 2020

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Hello to all and thanks so much for your very interesting comments. Photography has a history of being debated intently and the debate does still rage on today in many ways.

Jeff Daum (Jeff_D) on September 4, 2020

Connie, I fully agree that one's personal decision is just that and should not end up being a situation where someone feels justified to push their logic on to you. As to the RAW vs JPEG orientation, I tend to shoot primarily in JPEG (unless the client requires otherwise), and use as much Lightroom and Photoshop (in combination) as necessary to end up with the image as I 'saw' it in my mind. With my D850 and Z7, the JPEGs (as I've set up each camera) carry a data even in JPEG, so that I never feel I am being limited by this set up. It is also my understanding, that even if you shoot in RAW, either the camera setting or the editing software impose interpretations on the data (though, to a far lesser extent than JPEG.

User on March 22, 2019

I, too, wonder why other photographers feel the need to be "right" about their choices. No painter tells another: You must apply the paint this way, you must use oil, you must use this format, etc. It just doesn't happen. I completely agree with you. Let others do what works best for them. That said, I belong to a small group that meets for critiques a couple of times a month. We have all learned immensely from each other, both artistically and technically. Occasionally someone brings an older image they would like to re-work given their new knowledge and experience. If it was shot in RAW, it is often quite re-workable. If in JPEG, much more challenging. Excellent article. Thank you for it.

Dennis Drogemuller (dennis1946) on February 21, 2019

I have been shooting images for over 30 years. These days I'm all digital. My belief is simple shoot either jpg, raw or both, your choice and anyone arguing one or the other - who cares. I shoot raw now always and nobody will change my mind. However I can not stand morons you use stupid reasons for only using jpg like 'jpg are straight out of the camera and are unprocessed'. jpg images are ALWAYS processed by the camera! This type of photo nut obviously prefers a camera and therefore a third party processing their images. What a twit! Also, most modern cameras permit changing the jpg output to suit the photographer. Your choice, it's your camera, lens and subject; just have fun and be creative.

Paul Naish (DS256) on December 6, 2018

Thanks for the informative article but I still can't understand the debate since you can record in both RAW and JPG. I do this in case there is a picture I want to post before I get to post processing in LR. When I do transfer my pictures from the camera I only transfer RAW. These days, when I talk to a new photographer shooting in JPEG, I suggest they also shoot in RAW even if they just file them away and only use JPEG. In the future, if they get into post processing, they will be grateful for having RAW of past pictures they like. Another reason is that we are starting to see some very sophisticated programs come on the market for editting pictures, including one to correct blurs. I imagine they will benefit from more image information that is provided in RAW.

John D. Roach (jdroach) on December 6, 2018

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In my opinion the debate is created by those who are still learning and some who want to force a certain way of thinking on others. It is truly not a debate, in how I believe as photographic art creator. If folks understand what they are want, it can only be a choice based on what their camera can provide them and how they want their output to be presented and used depending personal taste, final product deliver, customer assignments, creative skills, and myriad other options and factors. That is why our most advanced camera give us choices for creating either or both. There is a time and place of either jpeg and/or RAW and it is up to the the image creator to make the determination based on on his or her experience and goals.

Henry Sautter (hsautter) on September 3, 2018

I suspect that this discussion will always be with us.. It seems that discussing the Art would be more beneficial than debating about the tools used to create it. In reality the discussion only exists because cameras give us a choice! We get to choose how to use the tools we have, which is certainly better than no choice. We get to evaluate the process from idea to image and decide what works best for our personal intent. If I have no intention of editing why not let the camera do all the work? The new Z7 camera actually will give you the choice to "batch" process raw images to jpeg at a rate of about 1000 images in 38 min. On the other hand if you want to "develop" an image having more data makes that easier. It's great to have choices.

Kelly McGrew (kmcgrew) on September 2, 2018

Oh, the joys of a photo expedition! All those opinions and some seem to think they need to prove theirs are the only valid ones. I view photography as a meal: the menu is set, herbs and spices added, the entrě cooked, and served in a pleasing presentation. "the menu is set"--i decide what I want this composition to be when completed. "herbs and spices added"--if a filter is required to accurately capture the scene as I see it, that filter or those filters are used. "the entré is cooked"--the exposure is taken. "served in a pleasing presentation"--includes both post-processing and matting, mounting, and framing...some, all, or none. "Mike's" attitude is that his recipe is the only one that's tasty, and that's OK--for him. But it's no more right for him to instruct you on what to eat than it is for you to tell him what to eat. What I will say is what my Daddy told me repeatedly, "You can always cook a steak more but you can never uncook a steak." Other than filters which must be used at time of capture--polarizers and ND in some cases--with RAW you can cook the steak over. Like Mike and many others on this site--and you, from your article--I do my best to capture the image as I see it in my mind when I fire the shutter. Unlike Mike, if I have to use post-processing techniques to create what I want, I will.

Ronald Whitney (CaptRonaldo) on August 7, 2018

Thanks for the article Connie. My response to people such as Mike is...if editing a photograph was ok for Ansel Adams, then it is ok for me as well. Seriously, I want my photographs to be as top quality as I am able to present them, and often enough that requires some editing, so I prefer to shoot in raw. It almost seems that people who push there personal views (whatever they are) on others are trying to validate themselves. Ron

Gary Worrall (glxman) on August 3, 2018

Awarded for his high level skills, specially in Wildlife & Landscape Photography

Great Post Connie IMHO, its a no brainer, the speed of jpeg conversion is so fast, I can see no need for jpeg shooting Landscape/Wildlife shooters are just going to shoot Raw Something weird happened with my WB a few days ago actually, I asked some really dumb questions, Thank God I was shooting RAW! Somehow, the sensor just came good?........Still a mystery but not such a big deal in RAW Regards, Gary

Jim Donelson (jcdonelson) on August 2, 2018

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First, sorry Mike annoyed with his thing. All I can say is try and forgive him as advocating for your way is kind of human nature. Also perhaps he was not completely aware that you were annoyed. While I certainly don't agree with Mike on his thoughts concerning post processing, he does have a point - getting things as right as possible in camera is a good thing. Many of us (like me) could benefit from attempting to do that and to improve our skill set so that we can get things more right in camera. Rescue jobs are not the same as artistic creativity PP. I rarely choose an image that needs rescuing for an elaborate PP endeavor. Of course there are cases where you really have no choice because you didn't get a better shot in the session, but the goal should be to get things right in camera (this is a point Versace made in class - who does VERY elaborate PP). As for keepers, a Nat-Geo photographer once told me only about 1 out of 1000 shots were used. If you really want to get critical, mine is about 1 out of 3500 shots, that are really good (I have more keepers than that, but mostly because I like them). What I want to say is take the good points from Mike and overlook the somewhat misguided points - you will enjoy your day much more that way. Remember what Mike says is more about Mike as a person than you.

John D. Roach (jdroach) on August 1, 2018

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Wonderful article. For me, I sometimes do both jpeg and RAW. At times I am quite pleased with in camera rendering using picture controls of a jpeg. Other times, it is a good reference point for the final rendering I do of the RAW image. I use only RAW almost universally with my Nikons. The exception is occasionally I will do both jpeg and RAW with my Nikon Df. I always use both file formats on my Fuji X-Series units. The jpeg options are delightful more often then not. I get jpegs that need minimal tweaking often. The debate will go on and on. Those who understand their craft know when and how to make choices and not to ever try to persuade someone to subscribe to a only a certain format method.

Julia Baum (Modgirl) on July 30, 2018

Great points. It's quite likely that people who shoot .jpg and vehemently want others to make the same choice simply need validation for their choices. I agree with you that someone else shooting .jpg is fine, but when they start arguing against everyone else shooting raw is when you know other insecurities are at work. Perhaps "Mike" is not so comfortable with technology or his ability to learn. He probably doesn't understand exactly what raw is. After all, if you look at a raw image in camera flat, it doesn't look impressive. But it's putty to our sculpting hands! Mike likes his images sculpted for him, which is his prerogative. But you and I know that we're both smarter than an inanimate object and can make our own editing decisions.

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on July 30, 2018

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Hi. Thank you to everyone who has commented on this article and thanks for the kind words regarding my work. A lot of good insights in all of the comments.

AL Stroh (alstroh) on July 29, 2018

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of Art is; "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power." Your photos are the definition of art. Don't listen to anyone who suggests otherwise.

John Hernlund (Tokyo_John) on July 28, 2018

You propose a perfect solution: Those who want to shoot JPG, shoot JPG ... Those who want to shoot RAW, shoot RAW I don't understand why some people want to impose their ways on others.

Kevin Hoag (Grandpaparazi) on July 27, 2018

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my understanding that the software within a given camera is already making decisions, perhaps simply in the way compression is done, but perhaps slightly more, in creating its JPEG image. It has been my thinking that all other photographic conditions being equal, a JPEG coming out of two different camera models will not be exactly the same - the camera has made its own interpretations. If this is true (and again, I could stand corrected), my response to someone justifying his decision in the way he did would be along the lines of, if you really want to get only exactly what was shot, shoot RAW, do no adjustments, and convert it to a non-compressed format such as TIF.

Rohinton Mehta (Rohinton_Mehta) on July 27, 2018

Agree with you Connie. Yes, there are those who scorn at any kind of post-processing. Last year I visited a photo exhibition here in Mumbai, India. All the 30 - 35 images were poor in quality, to say the least. When I spoke to the photographer, he scoffed and showed his dislike for editing; he said "I don't edit my images", implying that those who edit are cheating. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind but then I said to myself, why should I get into this unnecessary squabble? After all, a man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still! I sometimes shoot in JPEG Large & Fine, but mostly shoot in Raw for the added benefits of the Raw format.

User on July 27, 2018

(Edited by bgs Friday, 27 July 2018 ) Comment removed. Please see our Terms of Use and specifically our policies on no politics at Nikonians.

Mike Rehmus (mrehmus) on July 27, 2018

JPEGs use destructive compression so some of the picture information is lost. Try resaving a JPEG a few times and notice the artifacts that appear. TIFF, Tag Image File Format is a non-compressed format that allows different programs to put a tag in the file telling how to manage it. TIFF was developed in the early 80's to handle the issue of no image file format standards.

Martin Marchyshyn (MartyD800E) on July 25, 2018

Good article, Connie, and excellent image results - however you arrived at them. But at the end of the day, raw, JPG, film - does it really matter to anyone else what you or I shoot? There are just way too many people in this world who seem to be on a self-proclaimed mission to make me "see the light" their way, regardless of subject (religion, politics, raw vs jpg, etc.), and convince me that my way is wrong, just because they "believe" their way is the only right way. I nip such discussions, regardless of topic, in the bud with as many well-placed expletives as are needed to get my message across - "Leave me alone." "Thank for your unsolicited and completely uninformed input. You can do you and I'll do me, for my reasons, not yours." BTW, FWIW - I shoot 100% raw because it is the right way for me for a lot of reasons that I'll not go into, because I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. Any unsolicited arguments anyone makes to the contrary fall on my deaf ears, and risk the expression of expletives hurled in their general direction. I just gotta be me.

Robert Van Doren (Van5169) on July 25, 2018

Nicely done article. I always shoot in raw (OK, occasionally raw + jpg fine). Like you, in post processing I'm trying to replicate what I saw (and eliminate distracting elements), and RAW files give me the most flexibility, especially under difficult lighting conditions. But, to each his own - over the years I've met many people who are uncomfortable with post processing in Lightroom or Photoshop (& similar programs) and for them shooting in jpg is basically the "only game in town". When asked I've demonstrated the enormous advantage of post processing raw compared with original jpg images. That has convinced quite a few people to switch over to raw - at least for critical work.

Roger Lee (Fleurde) on July 25, 2018

Good article - photography should be all about personal choice and making informed decisions. I take the easy route - shoot in both. Can run through the JPEG's straight away and pick out what I think are the goodies. Open those RAW files to work with and have fun creating my interpretations. Cheers, Fleurde

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on July 24, 2018

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments and for adding to the discussion. I particularly enjoyed reading the technical explanation from yvesbodson. But, everyone really added to the discussion with their comments and stories.

User on July 24, 2018

Hello! I read your paper and as a technical person I may perhaps add something to the discussion about RAW vs JPEG or PNG or DNG and the like. Technically, a camera raw image file contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of either a digital camera, image scanner, or motion picture film scanner. Raw files are named so because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be printed or edited with a bitmap graphics editor. On the opposite, JPEG, JPG, PNG and the likes are bit mapped images and compressed file format. Two states of the data that are important if one needs to work on them. First once a RAW file has been converted into one of the bit mapped format, it cannot be reversed because mathematical process is one way transforming sequences of data into pixels. In addition once the conversion is done, a compression is applied using mathematical formulas. Given that we are prodcing larger and larger files, Gigabytes of data, the numbers of data segments to be converted are very large and as such arithmetical rounding is applied following the precision applied (8bit, 16 bit, 32 bits and son on per channel) So this is where loss less compression process is important. Also this is why JPG and JPEG have had a bad reputation for losing data in the brilliance or color channels when doing many changes to the matrix of pixels. In fact the choice is a matter of what will the file used for? If it is for small size printing, or web, whatever format is ok. If it is for industrial printing like advertising in magazines where colors is key then one need to make sure that the format used will not lose too much data particularly when going to print. If it is for large size prints, or projection on large display panels, then TIFF is best format to keep the data integer. But in fine it is a matter of personal taste looking at the resulting work.. In scientific applications, we use TIFF because the need to handle files in the Giga bytes (satellites imagery)

Jim Robinson (n6jah) on July 24, 2018

Good article! I'm pretty sure if Ansel Adams was out there today taking digital photographs, he would be shooting raw. It's a bit sad that there are some out there that will judge a photograph based on the process rather than the results. Meanwhile, whatever works best for you is the best for you. Right?

Juan Tolentino (JuanT) on July 23, 2018

Great article Connie! I agree with you 100%. I don't really see the point to limit yourself and not get the most you can get out of the camera. Since I was calibrating my lens two days before I traveled to Costa Rica I was using Jpeg since that's the format that allows me to transfer the files to LensAlign, long story short, I forgot to switch back to RAW and on the first afternoon there in CR a juvenile Black Hawk was standing just outside my balcony, I was very excited, grabbed the camera guess the settings as better as I could and started shooting before the hawk takes off, I knew that I was going to be underexposed since it was raining and dark (I think I was at 1/100s and 2000 ISO wide open) but didn't give it another thought since I knew I was going to be able to pull the shadows since, to my understanding I was shooting in RAW. I wanted to kick myself on the head when I realized my mistake!

Eric Bowles (ericbowles) on July 21, 2018

Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Landscape and Wildlife Photoghraphy Writer Ribbon awarded for for his article contributions to the community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Good article, Connie. There are a number of situations where JPEG images straight out of the camera are appropriate. For those situations, it's good to be able to optimize camera settings, make a correct exposure, use Picture Controls, customize settings, set a correct WB, etc. For high volume photography, quick turnaround, or pure journalistic integrity, a JPEG straight out of the camera is often required. On the other hand, for professionals shooting landscapes, stock photography, portraits, etc. - it is expected that you will shoot RAW and edit the image appropriately including whatever is required. For stock photography, cloning in a missing wing tip or foot, removing stray sticks or other distractions, and other techniques are expected of a professional. Competitive photography is different and may have rules or other requirements that limit or prohibit editing. Those competitions may be fun - kind of like playing golf with one or two clubs rather than the limit of 14 clubs. When teaching classes, I'll often use exercises that use monochrome picture control or limit the number of images that can be taken. That does not mean you should always work in that manner. I don't expect there are many images that would not be improved through editing. But beyond that, JPEG files are normally 8 bit sRGB files. If I am printing, I can print more than the gamut of 16 bit AdobeRGB files. Using a JPEG reduces the quality of my print. Even if I create TIFF files at capture, the files are 8 bit TIFF's and lack the bit depth of a RAW file.

David Powell (DaveP142) on July 21, 2018

There are pros and cons for both file types and it is or should be a personal choice. Few of us would be happy if manufacturers were to say "It's all going to be this way from now on..." whichever way that might be. Which makes it hard for me to understand why some individuals are so willing to take upon themselves the burden of bringing the unenlightened into the fold. Your before and after shots certainly justify your choice...

Alan Dooley (ajdooley) on July 21, 2018

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Fortunately for the argument, our cameras will work either way. So nothing is being forced on anyone. But remember -- if you shoot only .jpg, you are allowing the camera to make a LOT of decisions for you -- without consulting you -- and throwing away more than half of what was in front of you at the time the shot was made. It's your choice.

Bonnie Christensen (BChrisRad) on July 20, 2018

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Very nice article, Connie. I think many of us when we started digital photography used JPEGs, but quickly progressed to RAW as we understood the "advantages" or options with RAW. I shoot both, but rarely use my JPEGs. I encourage my 87 year old mother who is still a world traveler to shoot both. She gives programs about her trips and does not do much PP. I tell her use the JPEGs, but if there is an image that you cannot get to your liking I will see what can be done with the RAW image. Totally agree that people can shoot either JPEG or RAW for whatever reason, but do not force it on others.

Gavin Duffy (Gaduf) on July 20, 2018

Hi Connie, An excellent article .I too have been trying to persuade some of my friends to shoot in raw. When I started with digital I also used jpeg and looking back at some of those pics now I regret not changing to raw from the start. Apologies for the one star rating the system uploaded that before I could lnput 5stars. Gavin