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Friday, 09 March 2012


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A very timely article because I just bought a Canon G1X and, since its RAW (sorry but I prefer all caps!) files cannot be processed in Photoshop for a while, I decided to take on the challenge of shooting in JPEG only. To my surprise, I had to use much more care in exposure and, in most cases, avoid ETTR -- not to mention white balance!

I've seen you and others mentioning this, and I remember Ctein saying things about the quality of some of the Olympus jpeg processing being impressive a few years back. So I've been experimenting with it a bit, on my EPL-2.

Unfortunately, what I've found so far is that I don't like that automatic color balance I get shooting around home or hotel rooms with mixed tungsten, halogen, and CFL lights (with the occasional LED). And I don't find correcting this easy in JPEG, whereas it's quite easy in Raw.

Oh well. Not sure I'm done with the experiment yet, but I'm feeling it's not going well right now.

Thank you Ken for providing me with insight to why Leica M9 owners keep telling me (a NEX 5N user) that one has to shoot Raw

As you say, it is the integrated system, and how well the components work together, that makes the difference.

Many photographers use cameras like the NEX 5N mainly for black and white and I think you did not deal sufficiently with this fact when discussing Raw vs JPEG. I have done Raw vs JPEG comparisons for B&W using my NEX 5N and I have now stopped using Raw altogether.

Here is a link to a German site with comments on the 50mm 1.8 Sony Lens. You will note that most of the pictures are B&W. (Mine is the one at the bottom of the page I have linked to.)


When shooting personal work with the intention of B&W processing, I'll shoot Raw+JPEG and set in-camera processing to B&W. That gives me the best of both worlds--immediate view of the B&W image on the LCD, and RAW later if the JPEG didn't come out acceptably. The final step in my work flow for these images is to discard the un-used Raw files. I'm sure some consider that heresy.

For non-personal work, I'll keep the RAW files just in case.

I got a Fuji x10 a month ago and started shooting JPGs. I do that from time to time with my SLR.
The X10 is a nice camera, setting aside the "white orb" issue, which I was confronted with almost instantly because my apartment has a nice city skyline view and I almost always get some night shots the first day ai buy a camera. After that, the problem didn't appear as often in regular shooting so I'm getting back to really liking the camera (although it's there for thsoe specific situations).
I heard it was a good idea to let the camera do its EXR tricks and shoot JPGs. But in my experience at least the JPGs from the x10 fall appart too quick when you try any adjustments.
I ended shooting RAW ISO 100, and the overall rendering is very pleasing, and the lens is excelent. But the in-camera magic does not work for me. I'll admit I almost always do some levels and such to an image, so I might not be a good example. But for me the x10 JPGs are way too overcooked.

While I do agree that jpeg quality has become very good, and most of us would be perfectly fine with jpegs for our usual print size, I have my main raw converter preset that I use for my "film look," and I like that I can use different cameras and achieve a similar look.

When shooting jpeg, it's as if you're changing film types every time that you change cameras. With shooting raw, it's as if you get to keep the same film type no matter which camera body that you use (more or less.) Plus, using a program like LR is so easy and good for photo management that I don't really save much time shooting jpegs and then organizing them on my own.

It's nice to see a well known photographer sticking his head over the parapet and saying that shooting in JPEG can be a good thing.

To rephrase what is said in the article, shooting JPEGs is to me like shooting slides, because you have to get all the parameters right (or very close to right) at the time of shooting. That's a good discipline.

Buying a camera with the intention of shooting JPEGs is like buying a roll of film because it's important to know that it will deliver a look that you like. It's interesting that the cameras makers with the least photographic experience, i.e. Panasonic and Samsung, deliver some of the worst JPEGs. Mind you, they're probably better than Leica's, which is deeply ironic.

I like Canon's JPEGs because, if taken off the default settings, they give a result which is very close to my memory of the situation. In an earlier article Ken mentioned using JPEGs from his S90 and I'd be interested to know if he also finds them to be realistic (Ken, do you use CHDK in your S90? It gives goodies such as 96% JPEGs and a live combined RGB histogram with overexposure flag).

great article Ken! I was shooting jpegs back in 2004 with my Fuji S2 Pro, saving as tiffs, and printing 2ft x 3ft. People coming to my Art shows asked if I was shooting medium format. When I said I was not shooting RAW, there were angry looks...and some tried to argue about 'quality'. I shoot RAW when I feel the picture will need further work. Otherwise, I shoot jpegs and the pictures are perfectly acceptable in colour or black-and-white. Some people, in fact, come to my shows and tell me I must be still shooting in film.....at the end of the day, it is the composition that matters, nothing else.
(I use Photoshop Elements 9 and have never used layers...ha, ha)

There is another consideration though--
one does not always know, at the time of image capture, how the image might eventually be used.

It is no stretch to imagine that a photographer might take a photo, "sleep on it", and retrospectively decide that it looks better in black and white. If the original picture was in color JPEG, he or she would be out of luck.

Case in point: Mike's "Color Picture", the apple in the grass, was originally... well... a color picture, taken in the course of a lens review. If he had captured the image in JPEG, would we have had the wonderful print sale of the black and white version years later?

This concern, of course, will not be faced by all photographers. For instance, it might be less of a problem for commercial photographers on tight project deadlines and a clear idea of how their pictures will be used.

For some of us, though, (and here I think of part-time amateurs like myself, and also fine art photographers like Mike and Ctein,) maximizing the options for image re-interpretation is important.

Ken, I like it. Not everything has to be post processed. We should be able to figure out things like color balance and exposure, especially when so much of what we shoot is under the controlled lighting of the studio.

Thanks for giving me more to think about. I used to shoot JPEGS I only stopped because the LCD review on my Nikon D700 was so bad.

Given that most don't bother to profile their cameras (with something simple like a ColorChecker Passport) and instead rely on Adobe Standard for their rendering from RAW it could weigh the balance towards JPEG's canned/tweaked output.

Even though I always shoot RAW I don't think the distinction is that important. If you're not going to learn how to get the best from RAW, you're likely better off with JPEG. There's nothing magical in RAW of itself.

I was always under the impression that using a manufacturer's proprietary software to process Raw files would create an essentially identical JPEG image to one processed in-camera. I've used that logic in my process: "I'll shoot Raw (nearly) all the time, processing in Adobe software. If there's an image for which I prefer the manufacturer's rendition of things, I simply put it through the proprietary software, and create either a JPEG or TIFF file from there."

Am I on the wrong track? Has my logic led me astray? Is in-camera processing different (superior even) to software processing, even when the two have been programmed by (I assume) the same team of engineers/technicians?

Let the pros have jpeg, as an amatuer whose taste have change considerable the last 5 years. I find it comforting, that I can better change the pictures afterwards if I shoot in RAW.

With 2TB external drives running all of about $100 nowadays, I think most shooters can disregard the file size factor when considering whether RAW vs .jpg makes sense for them.

Back in the early days of pro-sumer digital, even the Olympus C2500L was shooting .tiff! When I decided to buy into digital, I preferred Canon to a lot of the Nikon stuff, but invested in Nikon because a lot of their various cameras still offered .tiff. If you can, meter, light, and nail a transparency, you can nail a jpeg or tiff. That's the best of it all. Who cares about file size in the current climate of cheap memory? The less dickin' around with the file I have to do in post, the better. Tiff is the king of shooting and delivering the images right to the client with as little muss and fuss as possible...

BTW, you'd be surprised how many e-commerce studios for catalogs shoot jpeg only, and even do retouching on the file, pretty common.

Mr. Tanaka, as always your commentary is cogent and enlightening. I look forward to your postings all the time. Thank you.

Until RAW processing software caught up with the files from my new S90 I shot RAW + JPEG. When I went back and processed the RAW files I discovered that I was almost completely unable to do as good a job as Canon's in camera processor...providing I got the WB correct while I was shooting.

Thinking about that I came to the conclusion that although 3rd party RAW processors do an excellent job, the camera manufacturers will still have some propriety information that is available only to them. Further over the last several years camera processing engines have continued to evolve and are really quite sophisticated. Asa a result I am quite comfortable shooting JPEG.

Thanks Ken, nice article, being an M9 owner my habit is to shoot Raw and JPEG fine in black and white as I do like to see that option and it gives a quick image to share but strangely enough I have my X100 set to JPEG fine only and am very happy with the results and have no guilt about that. But I also know that my M9 raw files do not need very much at all in adjustments to print. Thanks again for the encouraging article

I alway shoot Raw+JPEG; takes up a bit more card space, but then I have the Raw if I want it or the JPEG if I don't.

What a timely article, what with the announcement of the D800 and NEX7, but my head is struggling with the same conflicts you so cogently describe, namely that sometimes I want to push for artistic reasons and 8 bit files just wont handle it.

Whereas with some cameras seem to offer a pretty nice default choice, I would tend to shoot both RAW and JPEG just in case. For some cameras, the default JPEG is simply too compromised compared to the RAW potential.

16 bit JPEG would help. However I think the only solution to the terabyte onslaught is to be more brutal with one's initial cull, which means a good DAM tool is essential.

But I completely concur that perhaps 80% of the time, some cameras do a pretty fine job without any more intervention on the photographer's part than making sure they nail the exposure and WB first time around.

Sorry, why throw away information? But I confess to being a color negative shooter (still) and what you describe is why I never was willing to shoot slides.

Another fine article, Ken (and Mike, for publishing). Thank you.

At the risk of being taken hopelessly out of context, I wonder if JPEG v. Raw is the digital equivalent of the 'chrome v. negative (with deepest apologies and acknowledgement to Ctein) wars in the film domain.

A further advantage of shooting JPEG: the photographer has a permanent incentive to acquire the most recent camera in order to keep abreast of in-camera JPEG processing advances. Why rely on easy-to-update software when you can do it all in hardware? And when the hardware is superseded, change the hardware. It’s the least we can do to sustain the camera industry after Fukushima.

Imagine where Kodak would be if they had taken the Polaroid paradigm to heart!
Eliminate the negative (after all, how often do you really re-enlarge your old negatives), have one print positive fixed forever in tonal range and definition, and re-scan it if you want to tweak it. But wait, Kodak did it, which is why we all dropped the negatives and took to slides.

I’m sure the computer industry will wake up to this. Why have infinitely tweakable operating systems and apps when the customer requires merely out-of-the-box functionality? Why touchscreens, when buttons simplify choices, 80% of the time?
The iPhone is doomed, the Blueberry is the way to go.

Why HD downloads, when iTunes provides 128 kbps AAC? What? They upgraded to 256 kbps? Then let’s download again. What? iTunes is preparing adaptive streaming and acknowledging that there is an auditive benefit in 24 bit, 96kHz mastering? We shouldn’t have thrown away our master files? Wait, wasn’t there something equivalent to master files in our photographic past?
Something called RAW?

Seriously, I see Mr. Tanaka’s point in exploring the camera’s JPEG capabilities. As long as one takes care to save the RAW files along with the JPEG. But keeping in mind that current digital cameras are essentially non-upgradeable single-purpose computers, I think the idea of congealing output at the camera’s then-current level of processing power is unconscionable. Thirty years of computing have taught me to treat original input data as invaluable, because they are the only irreplaceable element in the chain of processing. Everything else is ever improving (save our finances).

"... the fact is that the majority of my own images remain rather close to their original capture state. I'll bet yours do, too."

Not really. I prefer to start with Raw ingredients and cook up my own version. I quite often shoot knowing full well that the result out of camera in either form will nowhere near what I envision as the final image. I'll bet millions of potentially good images are tossed every day by photographers who believe what shows up on the LCD is all there is.

I had just finished another experiment in my continuing effort to broaden my image making efforts, shake up my vision, when I flipped over to TOP and this thread. I've played with one simple, peaceful image.

Although I seldom try this many versions, I find very few images that I don't believe may be improved by post processing. Yes, I do shoot Raw + mid size JPEG, so I know what they look like. If I had a camera that would do what I want in hardware, that would be a different kettle of pixels.

That said, Ken is right about at least some JPEG engines. The Samsung WB650 does an amazing job of avoiding clipping top or bottom of even quite wide DR subjects. This image is, as a result, exceptionally flat looking from the camera.

Open it in ACR via Bridge, adjust overall exposure, highlight recovery, etc., pass to PS as a 16 bit, aRGB image, futz around a bit and voila! OK, I may have overdone the herbs and spices for some tastes, but I hope it proves the point. I could undoubtedly have done a better job from Raw, but the battery in the S100 died. "The best camera is the one that's working."

So my motto is "Use the camera at hand, but shoot Raw if it will." \;~0>

Raw Moose

1. Storage is cheap. 2. Few images are worthy to be processed, but those that are, might as well have some fun with them. 3. Working with raw conversion is definitely more fun. (Speaking strictly as a hobby photographer).

I am a darkroom junkie. Pre-visualizing and exposing for the perfect negative is an honorable quest, but I am not ashamed to err on the side of caution.

Digitally? ...well -- there's always JPEG+RAW =)

The rationales do not make sense. The camera CPU also processes Raw images. Raw isn't exactly just raw data from the sensor. The CPU is responsible for getting the best out of the sensor. The JPG conversion is only a part of what it does.

And it does not matter how great and fast that CPU JPG engine is, it's going to be slower than the latest and greatest Intel CPU on your desktop or laptop, and companies like Adobe makes Raw conversion their business. You can even apply lens profile and correction post.

Now perhaps you like how Olympus tweaks their Art filters, or the particular way the skin colors are rendered etc., but otherwise, there is still no reasons to use JPG per se if you want the "mostest" image quality. The in-camera JPG may be more than good enough for most people, but for people who want to squeeze the best images out of their cameras, Raw is still the way to go. It's more work, but it can be worth it.

Ok, Ken, Good article :p

I mostly shoot jpg because my aged and infirm computer can't handle 22megapixel raw :p

but the important question I must ask is: "how can I get a print of that on my wall?"

Personally, I have two problems with the suggestion. Not related to image quality. As already pointed out, one is the necessity to make exposure time decisions about what format to use. I'd rather stick with Raw and then PP workflow is all standardised. No switching back and forward, no white balance worries either. Secondly, I like the idea of the DNG "standard" for archival purposes, even if this maybe hasn't all been worked out yet and I'm backing the wrong horse. This is not available with JPG

I got a Fuji X10 when it was released and fought it for six weeks over its superb ability with JPEG's against the appalling RAW output with either Silkypix or ACR.

It is the first camera I have owned where I couldn't make the RAW file render better than the JPEG. So you may say why not just use JPEG. Well yes, a lot of the time I guess you could, but it all falls apart as soon as you want to adjust the JPEG if god forbid you don't agree with Fuji about what the image should look like. There is so little headroom in the JPEG file a little fine tuning is all that is possible. B&W conversion soon turns into a disaster.

If this is the future I may soon start to sound like an old codger by going back to film and saying things like 'there is no soul in digital imagery'. And it would be true, because the X10 didn't allow me to put any of 'me' into the image in post processing. After six weeks I sold it, and good riddance.


I think a better analogy is much closer. Shooting jpeg is just like shooting film and taking it to the drug store for processing. In film days, s serious photographer would have taken the shot knowing how he/she intended doing the processing.Photography is a two part process, the taking of the shot and the processing of the image. I don't want to hand over the processing to the "drug store".

Hmm. Shooting JPEG only is effectively to intentionally restrict your options. Given that shooting RAW and JPEG simultaneously is a cost free option - card space excepted - the argument is no argument at all.
I shoot Nikon RAW and process in Capture NX2 so the "secret sauce" consideration is largely irrelevant, for me, too.
As for the "paying more attention to exposure values" argument, that assumes that this is always possible. It isn't invariably so unless you're shooting under controlled, repeatable, conditions.
RAWs take up a lot of space. So delete the junk (note: must remember to do this more often...)

Eh, yes, if you do not use difficult lighting, do not need 16 bit editing capacity (since .jpg is limited to 8 bit) etc. etc. I compare .jpeg to .mp3 files. They are great for listening to music in a bus, but not perfect for use on a 40.000 dollar sound system. Not perfect for editing either.

But having said that, if you are happy with the endresult there is no need to go elsewhere and indeed new in camera engines are improving. And if in the end you use P-shop Elements or GIMP as your editing tool, no need at all. And in the end things do not matter, since no printer is 16 bit either (as is no monitor as well).

In the end I can agree with Ken partially, but for real editing I still do prefer to shoot less and shoot RAW/JPEG....and start the editing proces from RAW. And diskspace is no problem these days with 2 Terabite disks under 100 dollars. Ah, use a desktop to edit of course :-) else use a storage router and 4 USB disks attached to it, for long time storage and an array of disks for fast short time storage.

Greetings, Ed

The new Lightoom has a lossy DNG option which uses JPG compression while retaining some of the benefits of RAW. You can read more about online.


My wife and I tried a Gordon Ramsey ready made meal once as we can't afford the real. I looked in to her dough eyes as she asked excitingly if I thought he made them I thought about telling her that he personally made every single one.

But then I thought. What would Gordon say?


I'm reading a lot of analogies on here comparing RAW, JPEG, etc. to different films. For the record, professionals in the past shot transparency film for reproduction because it was the absolute sharpest color vehicle one could use, and after testing and filtering it, you produced a color palette that was easily understood by all the people in the process of reproduction by viewing the finished transparency on a standardized light box that not only had an agreed upon color, but light level as well.

The photographer delivered a piece of film that was the correct exposure, the correct color, etc., and the art director viewed it on their matching light box, and then sent it on to the pre-press house, who viewed it on their matching light-box, and made color separations and judged them against the 'set' transparency.

Color negative, actually until maybe the late 80's, was 'soft' (too many color layers and too thick), didn't reproduce colors as well as transparency (and actually many times was 'gamed' for flesh tones), and open to color interpetation every time someone touched it. Those who remember the C-22 process, will remember some pretty awful looking prints over 11X14, even from 120 film!

Shooting TIFF is like shooting transparencies in the old days, it is the sharpest, non compressed reproduction, and can be opened and retouched and altered to some extent, and resaved as a TIFF with little, if any reduction of quality. I only shoot RAW for one reason, to convert to TIFF and deliver the highest quality photograph to the client. As a guy who is usually lighting, or in some other way controlling the way I shoot, I would have little reason to work in a RAW file other than to apply the same color/contrast/density information the camera would be doing, and converting it to a TIFF.

If my sole reason for shooting is actually to end up with a JPEG, then shooting RAW for me is ridiculous. I believe DP Review actually said my camera shows no difference in JPEG quality whether it's done in the camera, or shot in RAW, with the same settings applied afterwards, and then stored as a JPEG, so what's the difference? I'd rather select my settings for the scene up front, and bracket my exposures, and pick the best to deliver.

BTW, commercial photographers for years were asking for black & white transparency that was E-6 processable, so they could shoot and deliver that. No one ever made a decent and E-6 repeatable process. Agfa Scala in the 90's was beautiful, but too little, too late, and not processable in your neighborhood E-6 lab.

At some point, it's the "use cameras that look like pro equipment" all over again.

"Jpgs are for soccer moms; I shoot Raw, I'm a pro".

The other day, commenting an article on a photography photowebsite, I stated that there are many professional photographers who don't shoot raw. Although I did my best to justify my assertion with the examples of photojournalists and wedding photographers, claiming they have no time to wait for the data to write down to the memory card and to process the image in post-production, protesting to know some pros who think the same way(and on whose opinion I founded my statement), I was crucified. Really. I still wear the wounds on the palms of my hands. Yet I stubbornly clung to my opinion. Looks like I was right after all.
I have an Olympus camera. Out-of-camera JPEGs are so good I don't feel any need for raw. I tried it, and the results were good, but not exceptional. It's not really worth the trouble.


No, not Ken. Me.

I occasionally shoot both Raw and JPEG if I think I am going to be shooting something I don't plan to work on, or that I know is going to be one that will work with no more than JPEG processing. Something that ain't gonna be a great masterpiece even with the MFA candidate filter. I do delete the Raws afterward if the JPEGS suffice---and they most often do for casual shooting.

Haven't the gonads to shoot all JPEG, even at those times.

I quite liked the 'restaurant' metaphor but in this case JPEG is more like having the waiter doing the cooking for you instead of the chef..

I still see very little disadvantage to shooting Raw+JPEG. I have a 16gb SD card, which allows me to take about 3000 Raw+JPEG images before I run out of room. Hard drives are also fairly cheap.

IMO having the Raw there just-in-case is definitely worth it those couple of times you need it.

Thanks Ken, interesting article. It reminded me of my Oly C-8080 from long ago. The Oly would shoot RAW and TIFF but took a week to write those formats to the card. The JPEG's looked great and the tilting LCD and real time histogram let me nail the exposure. I mainly shot landscapes and macro at ISO 50 and was always happy with the JPEG's. The overall performance of the camera eventually drove me mad though.

A couple years ago I would have agreed with Ken. I don't anymore and the reason is Lightroom.

My JPEG's and RAW's all get pulled into LR and whatever processing happens gets applied there. I tend to make fairly heavy use of presets (either native LR ones or Silver Efex Pro recipes for B&W) so processing most RAW's is simply a matter of applying the appropriate presets most of the time. So my RAW processing is generally 3-4 clicks to apply the desired presets and then the file goes in the output queue. So when I shoot JPEG that drops to 1-2 clicks (in-camera sharpening still sucks), but that's no real gain in time. Given the low cost of drives, the size advantage of JPEG's only exists in how far it extends the buffer of the camera.

These days the only time I shoot JPEG's is when I need to take advantage of the fact my A700 has an essentially unlimited buffer when shooting JPEG. The only other potential advantage I can see is taking advantage of processing capabilities like DRO and in-camera HDR, both of which I've found inferior to what you can do in post (but which could be useful to some).

In my experience, 5D2 JPEGs are much less detailed than RAW form the same. I shoot with the camera set to record both, but the one time i browsed JPEGs by accident I thought the camera was broken! Fine detail goes away visibly even at the best quality setting...at least to my mind. Local tonal adjustments also work better in 16-bit mode than in 8...so I would argue very much against shooting anything but RAW.

Both have their strengths and weaknesses. I like the flexibility raw gives me. I hate the processing time that is involved. I like the fact that shooting in jpg forces you to think better at what you're shooting and how you're shooting it; I hate the fact that I cannot recover my mistakes.

Naturally, I shoot raw+jpeg; my D7000 allows me to store them on different memory cards. Usually I will take the raw files, but there are als many cases where I'm more than happy with the jpeg's.

If anything I can hand out the jpeg files if a quick result is needed and go back to the raw files later on; or not if I'm happy with the jpeg files.

From What I see, the companies are starting to rely heavily, for not-too-expensive cameras, on software to produce results that would be only possible with more expensive sensors. My problem is it all sounds great, IF you get exactly what you wanted out of in-camera processing. But when you try the actual sensor output, the RAW file, you start noticing the sensor itself is nothing special. At least that's what I think of the X10, which does show a lot more noise above ISO 100 than you'de be led to expect reading about all the in-camera processing results. No chroma noise till around 800, that's a great thing, but still the marketing hype doesn't come true in RAW. A double edged instrument, I guess.
Since the rest of the hardware is very neatly designed, it still works for me, but I think the camera wasn't exactly planned for RAW shooting. There's even this quirk about RAW settings being completely different if you shoot RAW or RAW+JPEG.

On noise, I feel it's especially hard to resample and then apply any sharpening or other effect to get what I consider an appealing texture on an image that has already been processed prior to that.

I currently shoot with an Olympus E500 (only 8Mgps!)but using the Jpeg+Raw setting I'm covered for any subsequent use. No problems to date.

Just because camera vendors have invested millions of dollars to squeeze every drop of performance of their sensors is no reason not to intentionally and heedlessly destroy much of the data the sensor records for the sake of convenience.

After all the software engineers that developed the JPEG compression algorithms know better than you do about what information is valuable... and they never ever saw your image. I trust their blind guess over my judgement.

I can't find the MFA Candidate preset in my Rebel. Can someone link me to the Lightroom or Aperture preset?


But how does one know at the time of capture which images will require extensive editing and, thus, benefit from all of the image data that is discarded by the JPEG compression? I know from personal experience that I am often surprised by which pics turn out to be my favorites and upon which I lavish the most attention at the computer. Besides which, most raw convertors have an "Auto" button that, with a single click, will produce perfectly acceptable images most of the time. This requires only slightly more work than JPEG capture, yet it preserves all of the raw data. Besides which, again, storage is so inexpensive these days (Malaysian floods aside) that it makes little sense to even worry about it.

I shoot raw + jpeg with the jpeg set to the highest possible contrast and saturation so that it is more obvious when the highlights blow out or I'm clipping one of the channels.
Sometimes I keep the jpegs around if they look interesting as a reference but usually I delete them.

My 8 year old raw files look better and better every time a new version of lightroom comes out, but sadly the jpegs never improve at all.

I don't get the point at all. Storage has become so cheap that I'm surprised it is considered an important factor by anybody these days. RAW processing has become so seamless that I honestly see no difference in convenience. The jpegs from my camera phone are shown (and processed) as smoothly as the RAW pix from my GF1 in Aperture, so - do I miss something that this is such an important issue to fret about? Is there any advantage in using jpegs that I am unaware of?

What I certainly can say is that I dislike the jpegs, I disagree with the collective wisdom of Panasonic's chef cooks. The data I care for the most in an image seem to be discarded by default by the software engineers.

Once by accident I imported the jpegs, just browsing through the images made my jaw drop - "go my god, what went wrong, this looks horrible!" I didn't even know the camera wrote jogs along with raw. I disabled this function then. Not to save storage, I just don't have any need for them at all.

There is a motor sport photographer who occasionally sets up a stall in my local market-place. His A4 and A3 images are possibly a little over-saturated and contrasty but he sells plenty of prints. I asked him if he shot Raw but he retorted "I haven't time for all that. JPEGs and printed at Boots the Chemist!" and he pulled out a packet of newly printed photos in a Boots labelled package. Oh,the hours I spend on my own car shots as I follow the "Reichman Road". Good job I don't have to make a living from them.

Good intelligent debate on this topic (as usual for TOP). Some follow-up comments.

@ Peter Silvia: Thank you for the link to the VII interviews by Canon! I’d not seen them.

@ Mike Fewstert: ”Shooting jpeg is just like shooting film and taking it to the drug store for processing.” The film-processing analogy is a popular red-herring. Every camera I’ve seen recently offers infinitely greater in-camera processing latitude than any roll of film ever could. Some even offer multiple processing variants of in-camera Raw files.

@ Mandeno Moments: ”Buying a camera with the intention of shooting JPEGs is like buying a roll of film because it's important to know that it will deliver a look that you like.”
It is true that Canon, Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, Fujifilm, and Ricoh (the brands I know best) do each have their particular signature biases. Canon leans warm, Oly leans magenta-heavy, Fuji leans Astia, etc.

@ Chris Lucianu: ”A further advantage of shooting JPEG: the photographer has a permanent incentive to acquire the most recent camera in order to keep abreast of in-camera JPEG processing advances.” Not necessarily. We’ve now reached a point where there’s little incentive to buy a new camera for either resolution or in-camera processing features. Today’s cameras have an abundance of both. Experimenting with and deeply learning your camera’s processor is more likely to actually dissuade you from replacing that camera prematurely.

@ Richard Man: Actually, today’s state-of-the-art in-camera processors beat the pants off of our keyboard computers when it comes to image processing. These are now very powerful, very fast multi-CPU systems devoted to processing images and running the camera.

Small-sensor cameras: I find in-camera processing to be especially useful for small-sensor cameras like the Canon S95 and Panasonic LX5. These cameras know where their designers have buried the compromises and, if given the chance, can often fix them before the image hits the card. I rarely shoot Raw with small-sensor cameras any more; it’s too often a disadvantage.

Speaking of the Sony NEX, take a look at this 6-frame series I built this morning using the NEX-7’s 6-level HDR (i.e. contrast ratio) processing control. Each frame, top to bottom, represents a higher level of HDR processing than the previous frame.

Sony NEX-7 6-Level HDR Series

I leave this subject with the following thought as previously noted by Ben Ng when he remarked: ”...at the end of the day, it is the composition that matters, nothing else.” The basic design of an image -- its timing, its constitution, the gestural nuances of its constituents, its point of view -- represents the core value of any photograph. The strength of a picture is fundamentally created when the shutter opens. (I’ll be exploring this notion in my next article.) Yes, skillful post-processing can accentuate assets and diminish liabilities. But a sow's ear is a sow's ear.

I understand the Raw-only mindset; I shared it until a year or so ago. The concept of the “digital negative” is powerful and life is too short for me to energetically debate with those deeply devoted to its promise. Personally, I've found it more creatively productive to shift the balance of my energies far more towards the image rather than the processing. But my goal with this piece was not to change minds but rather to simply call attention to possibilities that may have developed since your last visit.

Enjoy your photography however you choose to pursue it!

"I shoot raw + jpeg with the jpeg set to the highest possible contrast and saturation so that it is more obvious when the highlights blow out or I'm clipping one of the channels."

Hey, I like that idea. I always shoot Raw + JPEG too--maybe I'll try that trick. My main bugaboo with digital is slightly blown highlights and micro-highlights (as detailed here) so that might help me ferret that problem out.


Good point - we've long underrated JPEGs and we should give them another shot (for those of us in the Raw-only religion). But:

1. Careful exposure is hard when shooting fast and counting on burned highlights (or shadow information) being recovered later on.

2. My Lumix G3 which makes otherwise useable JPEGs produces some mushy texture instead of grain-looking noise at ISOs above 800 or so.

I haven't played with menu options, but converted Raw looks far better and variable noise reduction is then crucial.
I know: none of this matters on a web-size file, but prints are another story. And real photographs only exist when they are displayed as prints, right?...

For those brave souls who go JPEG-only, please remember that if you have to do major Photoshop surgery you can at least crank up the bits (up from 8 per channel) before you dive in. At least... save the histo! : )

With weddings I shoot RAW to one card and Jpeg to the second, dare I say it, on a D7k!!!
As pleasing as the in camera Jpegs are (In fact they are d@mn good and perfectly saleable)when it comes to the final prints, post processing the RAW files just make them sing.

To me shooting JPEGs on cameras where the designers spent some time on their JPEG engines, like Olympus and Fuji, is just like shooting slide film. I don't know if anyone ever suggested that generations of National Geographic photographers were "throwing away" information or "restricting their options" by shooting Kodachrome. Limitations can force us to make better art, and too many options can be a limitation itself...we may not have the know how, time or desire to explore all of them.

The funny thing is that all those years I was shooting slide film, I never heard anything about limited exposure range. I was untrained, and not reading any photo forums. I just shot, had it developed, and learn to judge exposure. To me the adjustments I can make with JPEGS in Lightroom is just amazing.

It's my understanding that while pixel binning sometimes refers to software/firmware-level processes, it can also refer to (and perhaps should be restricted to referring to) a more low-level design where the pixel values are combined at the sensor-read level, reducing read noise in an absolute sense, not just by averaging.

Great thread! I have cameras in all brands except Sony and Leica Digital (have Leica film). So, ACR (in Photoshop and Lightroom) is my raw processor of choice because I don’t want to fire up different programs from each manufacturer. I find Ken’s observation that JPEG’s have been the focus of each company’s expertise to be illuminating. I always shoot RAW + JPEG unless I’m shooting sports where the write times are too long. Then, JPEG is needed to clear the buffer. Micro 4/3 is where this issue became especially relevant to me. I have both Panasonic and Olympus bodies and a host of lenses. The simple truth is that Olympus JPEG files look great, Panasonic JPEG files look horrible. I’m sure that somebody will take me to task with that statement, but file after file …that is my assessment. RAW is the solution with Panasonic cameras …looks great and Olympus RAW files (using ACR) are fine, but the JPEG is usually better (my experience).

I became aware of these differences when I owned a Nikon D-200. The JPEG files always looked better than anything I could do in RAW using Adobe ACR regarding color range and tonality. My files looked “plastic” using ACR at any and all settings. The JPEG files from the D-200 had depth and a range of color information that ACR could not find. I’m sure that there are photographers out there that are better at running ACR than me …still, I believe that Adobe didn’t have the correct profiles for that camera (and still don’t) based on other reports of similar issues. I don’t have all the info needed to speculate, but I think that some manufacturers do a better job of supplying Adobe with the correct camera specific info than others. In my experience (important qualifier), Canon (since 40D …20D not as good) and Pentax RAW files often look similar to the “out of camera JPEG’s” that they produce. Nikon has been much better with the D-700 and D-3s than the D-200 (worst mis-match ever …again, in my experience). Panasonic cameras MUST be shot in RAW …Olympus cameras MUST be shot in JPEG …in order to get the best possible color from each. Of course, this is just one photographer’s experience. Your mileage may vary is the common term. Bottom line, I have to shoot both RAW + JPEG whenever possible to give me as many options as possible. And, I always shoot the highest quality JPEG available. I feel “blessed” when I don’t have to go through the processing of ACR to get a great photo. Your advice around exposure, etc. is profound …I grew up with film, so I’m not a stranger to those issues.

Ken, I really enjoyed your post. JPEG is often better than RAW (with come cameras) and sometimes not (with other cameras). If I only shot one brand of camera …not sure that I would’ve stumbled on to this important realization. Interesting note, the best JPEG camera I own is also the least expensive …my Olympus E-PL1. Nothing else I own (including my D-3s) is as good (color wise) as those amazing JPEG’s from the super cheap Olympus. However, my RAW files from the D-3s are killer!

@Rob: "But how does one know at the time of capture which images will require extensive editing and, thus, benefit from all of the image data that is discarded by the JPEG compression?"

For me, it isn't really that hard. Anything I plan on being black and white is likely to be processed Raw (unless I am playing around with one of the Olympus "art" filters.) Also anything that I know I will play around with contrast or for something I want high key. I generally know. Then again, I still have the Raw file, just in case....

I think I'll stick with RAW for many of the reasons always stated, but I'll add one more - its easier.

At the point of making an image I want to focus on the image, not the processing. By shooting RAW I can put off thinking about the correct colour balance, sharpening and contrast settings until later.

Simply put, for me shooting jpeg just introduces a whole range of settings I can mis-set. I delight in the fact that by shooting raw there are whole screens of menu options I can happily ignore!


Mike , don't you shoot with a sony?
The Auto DNR ( doctor friends get a kick out of that ) feature does wonders in avoiding blown highlights by exposing for the highlights after which you (or the camera) of course develop for the shadows.

Crank the DNR all the way up, set the exposure maybe a half stop over, and the raw files will be just right. Skip the half stop over if you are shooting jpegs unless you want a half stop over in the final image of course.

Why I shoot RAW--in 2007 we travelled to the Inca ruins in Peru. Borrowed my brother's then new D200, and never having used a DSLR before (I had taken a 10 year break from photography) he suggested using Jpegs only.

Fast forward 3 years, I needed the photos for 13x19 prints. Unfortunately, some of the camera jpegs were way off and needed substantial post-processing. By this time I've learned to use LR and am trying to do my darnest to pull workable images from jpegs. There was just little or no latitude for post, with color shifts, solarization, etc. with any significant change to the jpeg. What I would give to have the RAW's of those pictures.

To me, espousing "jpegs only" is foolhardy and pennywise strategy. To claim to save on storage space, which is incredibly cheap, and yet spend gobs of money on high tech, (usually) ultra-high resolution equipment, makes no sense.

To follow analogies, shooting jpegs only is like shooting a roll of film, keeping the machine prints and throwing away the negatives. Hope you like what the machine gives you, because that's all you're getting. Imagine what Ansel Adams would say!

Ken, I write embedded compilers and optimizing compilers for over 20 years. Although I have not looked at the in camera CPU in THAT much details, there is no way, absolutely no way, a camera CPU can compare with an Intel Sandy Bridge i7 CPU combined with a good video card.

The Intel CPU runs up to 3 GHz and more with multi-megabytes of SRAM CACHE. You do not power those with lithium batteries.

I use an M6 with film for B&W, and my Fuji X10 is firmly set on EXR. The case rests!

Using Canon as an example, is it true that shooting raw and loading it into DPP (the Canon software), DPP will read the camera settings embedded into the image file (such as Landscape Picture Style, Daylight WB, Auto Lighting Optimiser on Low) and create a screen view (& JPEG if commanded) that is effectively like the best JPEG engine Canon has at the moment? That's what it looks like to me. Am I completely mistaken?

"Using only Raw files from your camera is analogous to buying an uncooked meal from a fine restaurant, preferring to season and cook it at home."

Raw food and raw files have one thing in common. They both have a higher nutritional value

Shoot JPEG if you want. You don't have to "justify" the decision to me or anyone else. I'm also not entirely happy with the food analogy.

In-camera JPEG engines are not human chefs. They are robots that do not know what you are taking a picture of and that they should be using the tungsten white balance and not daylight because the subject you are actually interested in is under a light bulb. Or that they should pull up the shadows just a bit more because the detail got clipped. Or on and on.

Chefs *are* actually humans that know more about how to combine foods together in aesthetically pleasing ways than you do.

This is why you pay for cooked food at a restaurant, but you shoot RAW so you have some room to fix what the robot did to you.

Yes, you can use in-camera settings to adjust what the JPEGs looks like, but I'd rather do that in Lightroom where the user interface isn't awful, than on my Nikon D700 where it is awful.

That said, not every picture is worth this much worry and angst. So what I do is: if I bothered to bring the big camera (i.e. not my phone) anyway, I'll shoot RAW because it's not that much extra overhead. Otherwise, I don't really care.

Final note: RAW+JPEG, at least on Nikon bodies, is sort of pointless. Here is why. Every Nikon NEF file has a full sized JPEG already in it. So just shoot that and use a utility that pulls the JPEG out if you want it. If you shoot RAW+JPEG you are just writing the JPEG twice.

A nicely put together argument on the subject. I shoot raw+JPEG with my Olympus equipment but more often than not end up using the JPEG these days. Occasionally, I'll even go a bit mad and use the "my mode" of the camera (vivid + lots of everything - blows highlights like they're going out of fashion in all but the most perfect of light) and just use that as the final output.

"The major camera manufacturers invest substantial sums toward refining their image processing technologies."

And yet none of them seem to be able to get auto white balance anywhere near neutral under artificial lighting. For me, it's worth shooting raw just to avoid menu diving every time the color temperature of the light changes. I've been bit by forgetting my white balance preset one too many times.

Dear Andre,

That's not universally true. Of the four digital cameras I've worked with, three of them consistently produced very good auto-white balance under just about any lighting condition. May not be true of your camera, but as Ken wrote, all of this is camera-specific.

Interestingly, the one camera that did a truly awful job of white balancing (incandescent light got overcorrected to 40-50 CC cyan, for example) was a Phase One P30+ medium format back. Apparently price is no guarantee of good white balance [wry smile].

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Thanks so much for the very insightful article, Ken! You changed the way I photograph!!!

My first digital camera was the awesome 3MP Canon G1 in 2000. At the time I did a careful RAW vs JPEG evaluation. RAW was clearly better. I never reevaluated that... until I read your article.

I redid my own test with my favorite camera of today: Olympus E-P1. The JPEGs are just nicer than my Lightroom-processed RAWs, specially with the lovely Olympus 45mm. I don't doubt that, given enough time, I could make the RAWs look as good as the JPEG. But, I can use my time for other things... :-)

So, expect for special conditions (which you described well), JPEG it it!!

Thanks a bunch!!


With the work that we do, I just cannot justify shooting jpg at all. Even if I want to use easy in-camera-like default adjustments, I can do that to all of the images with a single click. In jpg you loose highlight and shadow detail. I do not want to do that.

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