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!