It can be hard to choose which type of picture to take on your camera. Most people are used to and comfortable with JPEG, they’re small and already processed, just upload them to the net and you’re good to go. However many people are delving more into RAW because there is so much more power when you do post-processing work yourself. Lastly is RAW+JPEG for those who want to cover all bases.
Why stay with JPEG?
JPEG is easy. If you’re a casual photographer it’s the way to go. If most of your pictures end up on Facebook you may be good with JPEG.
JPEG out of the camera is edited with the camera’s processing engine. This is where those camera menu settings come in. First you have the JPEG size (i.e. how much you want it compressed). Second you have the color profile (adobeRGB or sRGB, sRGB is better for computer monitors but adobeRGB has more color depth). Last you have a color processing setting (normal, vivid, natural, B&W, Sepia, etc.). These profiles apply saturation and contrast changes to the JPEG images, and what is rendered on the preview screen on the camera.
Why shoot RAW?
At first glance RAW images are bland and flat compared to JPEG but that’s because they’re un-edited compared to the camera edited JPEGs that have contrast, saturation, and sharpening adjustments. If you do ANY editing it should be on the RAW file because editing an already compressed JPEG can compound artifacts in the image. Plus once you learn to edit images yourself you can do a better job than the camera. The camera applies base settings in any lighting situation but you can customize the edit for each unique lighting circumstance in your image.
50% of the process of making a picture is post-production. As Ansel Adams said, “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.” With some simple practice you can do a better job with your performance than the camera’s simple correction algorithm. Think of the RAW file as the negative and the JPEG as the print, letting a camera make the print is like using a Polaroid camera. If you make the print yourself you can make it into a much more accurate rendition of the scene as you photographed it.
Why do RAW and JPEG?
For a long time storing both RAW+JPEG was usually for people who weren’t confident they could edit RAW files as well as the camera did to make its JPEGs; they wanted to cover all bases. Today there are other reasons to shoot both.
First, storage is cheap. Buy more hard drives if the concerns over storage is constraining your photography. Don’t let technicalities hold you back from taking pictures.
Second, instant gratification of social media is common and good for advertising your work. I like to be able to throw a JPEG of a shot while I’m still onsite taking pics; it’s not as good as my final edit but it give people an idea of what you’re doing as you’re doing it. The current camera trend is WiFi being added to cameras to instantly transfer images to smartphones to be uploaded from there (trying to compete with cameraphone convenience). But since RAW files are so unique few apps will support them, let alone edit them. But if you have a JPEG as well you can do some minor edits and put it online before taking the RAWs home for more complete work.
Third, being able to see the JPEG as you shoot can help visualize an image through the camera preview screen. Seeing in Black and White is difficult for me so I have a custom setting on my camera that is optimized for B&W that I can switch to (often in low light). My preview on screen is the B&W shot I want but I still have the full RAW image to edit at home. The camera settings for JPEG compression, color space, and color settings only apply to the JPEG captured and the preview monitor. Your RAW image will still be the RAW data as captured by the camera sensor (color space doesn’t apply, RAW doesn’t have sRGB, or adobeRGB applied yet).
Technically you don’t need to have the JPEG saved to the card for this but by having the stylized JPEG to upload I don’t have to do much changes on my phone before upload.
So personally I have all my cameras shooting RAW+JPEG, lowest JPEG size (high compression), sRGB, and normal color settings because the only time the JPEG will be seen is on my camera as a preview, or if I upload directly to a website through the WiFi transfer to my smartphone. I don’t have high quality JPEGs because that’s what the RAW file is for.
If the cameras didn’t have the option to transfer to the phone they would be set to RAW only.
Lightroom can be setup to treat the RAW+JPEG separately or attach the JPEG as a sidecar to the RAW file. Personally I attach it, even though they currently have no easy way of viewing the JPEG they’re so small the added size is easily ignored (they’re roughly 1/100th the size or smaller than the RAW file itself).
Think carefully about what kind of file you want to save. You can’t upgrade a JPEG back to a RAW file later because the data lost in compression, so always try to have the highest quality data saved and back up on your computer if you ever decide to revisit some older pictures.