RAW vs JPEG? The Debate Needs To End

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Did I post-processed a RAW file or is this a camera-made JPEG? Does it matter?

There’s a debate in the photographic community that I get really tired of: RAW vs. JPEG. Most of the time, what I find is RAW shooters telling JPEG shooters that they shouldn’t shoot JPEGs for one reason or another. Usually there’s name-calling or a put-down thrown in or a condescending tone. Sometimes it’s the other way around, although I find that to be much more rare. Here’s my opinion: find what works best for you and your photography, and do that.

I wasn’t intending to write this post today, but over the last few days I’ve seen a number of articles and videos that tell me why RAW is really remarkable and JPEGs are just junk. Some make a reasonable argument, while others are absolutely ridiculous. Earlier today I watched a video that falls into the latter category, and that’s why I’m writing this.

Here’s the deal: it wasn’t very long ago that camera makers across all brands did a poor job at in-camera JPEGs. Some were better than others, but by-and-large none of them were great. RAW made sense, since you were going to be editing your pictures. But over the last decade every camera brand has improved their camera’s JPEGs, and some, like Fujifilm, have really made massive strides in this department. Today’s camera-made JPEGs are nothing like they were 10 years ago. Fujifilm’s JPEGs can look like post-processed RAW images, or even film-like. If you plan to edit your pictures, RAW is your best bet. If you don’t want to edit your pictures (or only lightly edit), you can achieve some great looks right out of camera. Neither option is the “right” or “wrong” way, just different means to an end, which is a finished photograph that you’re happy with.

Shoot RAW if that’s what you want to do. Shoot JPEG if that’s what you want to do. One method is not inherently better than the other. One way might be right for you, but wrong for another. You might find that you use both, just depending on the situation. While I almost always shoot JPEG, I do also still shoot RAW sometimes (it’s helpful for developing JPEG recipes). I used to shoot RAW exclusively once upon a time, but I don’t anymore.

RAW vs. JPEG is a tired debate. You don’t need to justify with strangers why you choose one over the other. I don’t want to hear why I’m “wrong” for shooting JPEGs. Don’t try to convince me that RAW is better. I won’t try to convince you to abandon RAW and shoot JPEG only. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and there is a time and place for both. I would encourage you, if you are unsure whether to shoot RAW or JPEG, to try both for a time, and see which you prefer. There isn’t one right path. The debate needs to end—find what works best for you and your photography, and do that!

28 comments

  1. Syan · July 26

    Funny. The topic keeps coming up for me today!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 26

      Well, I hope that I added something positive to the topic, and not negative.

      Like

  2. Francis.R. · July 26

    With the easiness of shooting hundreds or thousands of photographs having raw is just quite expensive in time. Less expensive is to choose a brand with colors one find nicer. In my case Fujifilm and Canon. But well, it is not a needed debate today but some people need to debate when there is spare time : )

    Liked by 1 person

  3. veijom · July 26

    Yes, the JPEGs are so standard that very few people need other formats. With Fujifilm cameras the JPEGs are of very high quality. It comes to the decision whether You like the look You can get straight out of Your camera or You want different look that RAW processing offers. In my case for some uses the SOOC image is the best option (people photograps taken with ProNeg High film simulation) but I mostly want to play with the photos later in Capture One (as that happens to be part of my hobby) so I almost always shoot RAW. I have also found that color photography with SOOC files work me better than B&W, I just prefer my own made B&W looks over the looks I can get SOOC.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 26

      Definitely, if you want a look you can’t get out of camera, RAW is likely the best option for you. Or if you simply enjoy RAW editing. There are a number of reasons why one might use RAW.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. OngTK · July 26

    I shoot in both RAW & JPEG and uses FUJIFILM XRaw for edit. I use Capture One for cropping, and keystone corrections if necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 26

      X RAW Studio is an interesting addition to this discussion because it’s kind of both worlds at once.

      Like

  5. Nicolas · July 26

    I just use both (jpg fine + RAW)

    Then I have all options. End of discussion. Period

    Both formats have advantages both disadvantages.

    For professional printing matters JPGs are not acceptable (at least in my fields)
    On my D850 I shoot only raw and the grading happens in Capture One

    Like

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 26

      There are pros who shoot JPEG and pros who use RAW, kind of depends on the field and personal preferences. As you said, there are advantages and disadvantages to both, and shooting RAW+JPEG allows you to take advantage of each’s strengths. It’s a solid strategy.

      Like

    • Massimo · July 26

      Agree 100%. Just shoot RAW + JPEG. If the jpeg is good then job done, else fiddle with the raw.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. yuri rasin · July 26

    Totally agree with you Ritchie. This must end but i fear it never will haha
    When i am impressed by a beautiful image, i don’t go questioning if it’s a raw file or not… I’d say – you’ve captured an amazing moment or fantastic light. Because it’s a great picture and i wouldn’t change my mind if you tell ke that it’s actually a Jpeg…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 26

      Exactly! Nobody cares how an image was captured when viewing it, they only care what the picture speaks to them, how it moves them.

      Like

  7. Jimmy · July 26

    I think RAW is so favourably looked upon because it gives the feeling that you’re shooting “professionally”. A lot of photographers are proud of how much time they spend editing on raw files; common points of contention are over the flexibility of a sensor’s raws, whether lenses are sharp across the frame over every aperture etc. It strikes me that so many of these photographers and reviewers actually have lacklustre, uninspired images.
    I think photographers who don’t have a good understanding of the artistic aspects of photography will try to distinguish themselves with the technical aspects, which are unambiguous and easier to learn. Not to say that editing and gear are unimportant in an image, it’s just so much less interesting seeing the pedantic and needless debating over it on the internet.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 26

      I have noticed that, within the photographic community, those who speak the most and loudest about gear specs often capture rather mediocre pictures. I don’t really have much room here to judge, but it’s obvious to even casual observers.
      I definitely see people, and I have been guilty of this myself, speaking proudly of the hours spent editing (or, in the case of JPEG shooters, the hours not spent editing). Either way, that pride perpetuates this argument, at least a little. I think it’s better to be helpful than prideful, and these debates are more about pride than helpfulness.

      Like

  8. georgesimpsonart · July 26

    Time and quantity, and because I’m not professional.

    But many have reported that some of fuji’s in camera processing or simulations are preferred to a software version. Particularly film simulations.
    I’d have less control shooting film so I don’t mind, it’s like I’ve been given a film-like experience but shoot so much more and get a lot more usable images. I sometimes have Raw as hard drive filler, sometimes for a ‘project’ then find it frankly easier to start with jpeg.

    I can’t get my head around my x-e1 RAW converter though, as there is no preview, so adjustments are less controlled than setting it pre-jpeg, but that would be useful. Other than setting to a stock ‘recipe’, but doing shadow/highlight and colour correction.

    Like

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 26

      I also find that shooting JPEGs is a film-like experience. Not exactly, obviously. RAW can be a film-like experience, too, with the digital “darkroom”, but for me, the hours spent in a darkroom is not missed. The small of the chemicals, yes. The time, no.

      Like

  9. janez014 · July 26

    Ritchie, my opinion is that shooting in JPG can be compared with shooting film. You do not have so much chances for post-processing. JPG shooting requires more preparation and detailed knowledge of camera settings for getting result to your taste. I think, that you with your Recipes are of big help to the community following you. The problem I have now is that I like more Recipes and do not know which one to use in what situation or condition:-))) In this case I am still shooting RAW +JPG, to have possibility to jump between them in Fuji X-RAW studio. For now, we will see later.

    Like

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 26

      I agree that shooting JPEG recipes can be a film-like experience. I hope to create more articles to help people understand when might be a good situation to choose one recipe over the others.

      Like

  10. Mark C · July 26

    Hi Ritchie, I agree with you 100%. I believe there are advantages to shooting RAW files at times. I was a Nikon shooter since 1982 and was familiar with how my cameras rendered colors, highlights and shadows and I could most always get the picture I wanted shooting JPEGs, but on occasion I would shoot JPEG+RAW. The last Nikon I owned, a D7200 I always shot JPEGS and could do some light edits to get the outcome I was looking for.
    Having said all that, now that I switched to Fuji, I do shoot RAW+JPEG, just because I am not as familiar with the camera because it is new to me. One of the reasons I switched to Fuji, are the SOOC JPEG’s it produces. As of today, I have not used any of the RAW files because the JPEG’s have been so good. In the end we shoot RAW to get the final result the Fuji JPEG’s already give us.
    In all honesty at this point in my life, I don’t want to spend too much time editing, I got my fill in the darkroom and in the early days of digital and Photoshop. There is just something to be said with shooting and getting the results you want right out of the camera. It is a silly debate, and I think as you said, it is really becoming a moot point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 27

      Thank you for the input! I appreciate your perspective. I think Fujifilm JPEGs are great, and that’s my preference, but I certainly understand when it’s not someone else’s. Even in my process, there’s a time and place for RAW. Just do what works for you, and the rest is, as you said, a moot point.

      Like

  11. Christopher Taylor · July 27

    I completely agree with this article, and up until relatively recently I was one of those RAW crusaders. My first real digital photography masterclass was 12 years ago. I remember how the jpg’s looked like total junk, the settings would have to be changed for just about every picture if you wanted good results… So I totally dismissed in camera conversion until it could convince me otherwise. Fast forward to about 2 years ago and I was giving my own masterclass and a guy had an xt2 with him. The SOOC results were much more convincing and interesting than they were all those years ago!

    I’ve recently pulled the trigger on my own xt4 and while I’m still trying to nail my settings for most situations, I shoot both. Half the time I’m happy with the SOOC, the other half I have to mess with the raw. I’m finding myself rethinking my style since I got the XT4 to avoid raw processing as much as I can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 27

      Thank you! I appreciate this comment! I’ve done so much RAW editing over the years. When I discovered, oh, about three and a half years ago, that Fujifilm’s JPEGs were actually really good, it changed my approach. Not editing has saved me so much time while simultaneously making me more productive, it’s been truly amazing. A game-changer for me, for sure.

      Like

  12. Politically Incorrect Puppy · July 27

    I have Fujifilm’s X-Raw software and Capture One 20 for RAW files. Got Capture One 20 when it was on sale for a fantastic price with a $25 gift card too.

    I just bought my Fujifilm X-T4 a couple of weeks ago, so I’m learning how to use the camera right now. I’m shooting RAW + Fine JPG. I want to shoot with both just in case I ever want to change something with the RAW file and output a new JPG file.

    As for me, I don’t get the RAW vs. JPG hate. :-/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 27

      Using both is a very sensible approach. You can use whichever one makes the most sense at that moment. X RAW Studio is kind of in-between shooting RAW and JPEG, which is interesting. Whatever works for you, that’s what you should do. I appreciate the input!

      Like

  13. Alonso Henríquez · August 17

    Hello Ritchie, it is always enriching and tremendously inspiring to read your posts (so much so that I am a brand new owner of an X100V!). Regarding this issue, I would like to know in what image size you capture your jpeg, I was thinking of going down from 26 to 13mp but I do not know to what extent this will affect the image quality. Having owned the original X100, its venerable 12mp was never a problem for me. Always attentive to your advice. Big hug!

    Like

    • Ritchie Roesch · August 17

      I always shoot Large, but if you aren’t going to make a big print, it’s really overkill. Medium or even Small will be sufficient for most pictures. Large only matters if you plan on printing larger than 16” x 24”. I think Medium would be fine for 16” x 24” but that’s probably pushing it for Small. I hope this helps !

      Like

  14. Alonso Henríquez · August 18

    Thank you very much for your prompt reply. I think I’ll keep shooting in L considering future prints and because with the 128gb card that I bought for the camera I don’t think I’m going to have any storage problems 🙂

    Best regards!

    Liked by 1 person

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