The Advantages Of Photographing In Raw

I’ve already written an article on the benefits of shooting jpeg, but of course, many photographers like to photograph in raw. Of course, all you need to do is take photographs in which ever mode suits you, so as a companion piece we’ll look at what benefits you have taking photographs in raw format.

What Is Raw?

Think of a raw file as a digital negative from your cameras sensor. It can capture information it sees in 14-bit uncompressed digital format, saving much more information than a processed 8-bit raw file (jpeg images throw away data that it does not need, so as an example, recovering shadows of highlights can be very tricky)

In Fujifilm cameras, your raw file will be recorded with a .RAF extension (as opposed to .JPG got jpeg images). Raw files are pure, untouched data, so unlike jpeg files which can be viewed on every device, you need to use dedicated software to open raw files. They are also unedited, and the image you initially see if just a basic representation of that data in image (although some editing software will apply tone curves or other small fixes to give you a better starting point).

Left is the raw file in Darktable as loaded, 3 stops under exposed while the right is the corrected image, retaining detail.

Benefits Of Photographing In Raw

There are many advantages in taking photographs in the raw format, which far outweigh the disadvantages.

Firstly, you get an image with much more dynamic range to play with. This means you can recover shadows and highlights much easier as you have an the data you need to play with.

Because you have all the data, it means you can also adjust your white balance much more accurately in a raw file than you can in a jpeg. This is essential if you’re taking images under different light sources, or if your camera calculates the white balance wrong for any reason.

Raw files are non destructive, so as long as you don’t ever delete your file, you can edit it as much as you like and you’ll always have the original file to go back to.

Whereas a jpeg only has 256 levels of brightness, raw files record between 4,096 to 16,384 levels depending on which bit-depth format you use. This means you can avoid that unsightly banding that you get when editing jpeg images.

You will get better sharpening of your images in software, as your camera has not already sharpened or changed your image in any way.

Overall, and to sum it up, shooting in raw will benefit your editing much more than you will ever realise when just taking photographs in jpeg. Of course, if you are happy with the output of your camera’s  jpeg images, you could always shoot both raw and jpeg to ensure you have the very best of both worlds.

Advantages For Fuji Users

Fujifilm camera users in particular have a couple of extra added advantages to taking photographs in the raw format, and advantages that are sometimes overlooked.

As we know, there is a large and vocal community of Fujifilm photographers who take photographs using the cameras abilities to produce stunning film simulations. Having your image straight out of camera look stunning and like a classic film stock is an amazing feeling, however many don’t realise that with the raw file, you can use Fujifilm’s X Raw Studio and apply endless different film simulation recipes to that raw file. Think of it as the bracketed simulation mode on your Fujifilm camera, but instead of only being able to shoot three images at one time, you can convert your image into as many recipes as you want!

Another benefit for Fuji users is that in camera you can convert an image that used a dynamic range setting of 100, to a dynamic range setting of 200 or 400. This uses your camera’s ability to increase it’s dynamic range and can be an invaluable tool should you ever need to get the best quality out of an under-exposed image.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it is of course up to you if you photograph in jpeg or raw. Both have their advantages, and both have their disadvantages, although with modern technology, these disadvantages are getting less and less. Photographing in both raw and jpeg gives you the best of both worlds, and you then can decide to choose which you prefer to keep.

There’s no doubt about it though, if you want to gain the most from an image, raw is possibly the way to go, especially in situations where you know a jpeg image could let you down such as poor lighting, artificial lighting or in photography that requires a lot of detail to be kept.

Published by mgadams1970

Fuji X Documentary Photographer & Blogger.

5 thoughts on “The Advantages Of Photographing In Raw

  1. A very difficult topic for many, but you have delivered it honestly and without prejudice, very good article Mark!
    You usually see photographers going one way or the other.
    And as you write, both have advantages and disadvantages.
    I myself shoot Raw and Jpeg, although I use barely 25% of my Jpegs.
    But sometimes those Jpegs are good enough, and that saves editing time, especially if you photograph a wedding or another event where you shoot a few hundred pictures. All you have this way is extra storage,
    but I don’t think that’s a disadvantage anymore, certainly not because we now have terrabyte disks available.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand that different people have different needs. I shoot jpeg and raw also, and use the jpegs for the internet etc, but I do like to play with the raw files for other things, especially in difficult lighting situations. So many people try to make out that you must shoot raw or you just do this or that, but I think there’s plenty of room and options for everyone to do as they need or want to do.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You can only post jpeg images anyway on any plan (I’m on a paid plan). All my images are sized 1200×800 maximum to save space, I’ve found this the best way, and websites load quicker.

      Liked by 1 person

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