I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this conundrum for years. I have read so much information about it since I first went digital, and it just gets more and more confusing.
The information tends to fall into two camps.
1) Raw is best, you get wider dynamic range and get to process each photo for the best quality.
2) Jpeg is best, it is quick and easy and gets results straight from the camera.
While I really like high quality images and want the best my camera can produce, whenever I have used Raw in the past it has taken ages to process them, and I’ve never been overly impressed with the results. The photos come out either the same as the jpeg, or worse, looking flat and uninspiring.
So I have been using the Jpeg format for the past 15 years or so with the occasional attempt RAW to see if I can squeeze some extra quality out of my photos. Recently things changed.
You may have seen the album of my photoshoot with Ruth here: http://wp.me/P3XBcM-20
This photoshoot was done entirely in RAW as I have recently discovered a piece of software called Darktable. It is a free program that I have read is similar to Adobe’s Lightroom. Unfortunately for most, it is not available on Windows, but as I am using Linux, it was easy enough to download and get running. It is also available to Mac users I believe.
Now I am convinced.
This is the first time I have processed RAW files and been impressed by the results. The colours are perfect, the sharpening tool just works, and I was very impressed with the noise removal on some of the awkward photos where I got it wrong on the ISO.
However, not all situations are suitable for RAW files. Family snaps generally wouldn’t be as important as to require the extra time involved with processing. Also with high speed photography which would be common for sports subjects, the large RAW files take a good while to record, slowing down the camera. Jpeg’s will give a much higher burst rate or ‘frames per second’ and in some situations getting several shots off so that you can choose the best one, would be far more important that that little bit of extra saturation in the colours.
So my answer to the question “JPEG or RAW?” would be to use both.
Judge the situation and make your decision. For something a bit special, I would go with RAW. Weddings, Christenings, specific Photoshoots etc. For general, snaps, holiday photos, or sports photography, stick with JPEG. The Camera’s processing will be close anyway.