When I go out on client shoots, I take images in the RAW format instead of just capturing to JPEG format. The RAW image format takes up a lot of disk space, but it’s worthwhile because you have a greater ability to edit images after the fact.
Images are Uncompressed
Many lower-end digital cameras only capture images directly to JPEG format. The problem with JPEG images is that they use “lossy” compression. In plain English, this means that the processor lowers image quality to make the file smaller. Each time you edit and save a JPEG image, the quality is further degraded (although only a tiny bit). By saving the RAW image, you preserve the highest level of image integrity throughout the editing process.
Ability to Correct Brightness and White Balance
One thing that you can’t do with a JPEG image after the fact is adjust exposure levels of images. Sure, you can use Photoshop filters, but RAW images allow you to make finer adjustments because of the information stored in the file. This gives you a wider margin of error when it comes to over- and under-exposed images.
Improved Color Quality
In addition to brightness and lighting, the RAW format records better color profile data than the JPEG format does. The technical details of how this works are a bit involved—but the bottom line is that shooting in the RAW format improves the quality of the end product by capturing more accurate and precise colors.
Because RAW files are unprocessed, you can’t post them to the web or print them directly from your camera like you can with a JPEG file. They also take up a lot more space. I buy huge memory cards and drives for the extra space because I know that I’ll need it. But I know that things happen fast at live events and I don’t always have a lot of time to maneuver. That’s why I consider it vital to capture lots of images and keep them in a format where I know I’ll be able to make the adjustments I need.
The bottom line is that while RAW format may not be vital for amateur or hobbyist photographers, I believe it is a must for anyone who shoots professionally. I also know that not all professionals will agree with that for logical reasons.
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