My good friend Mat Robinson, a Visit Peak District Destination Photoprapher and genius in all things mathematical has agreed to pull together a short piece on the benefits of RAW over Jpegs for photographers just starting out. Over to you Mat...
It may be a subject that's been done to death in some areas of the internet, but I recently made a quick post on Facebook about why people should shoot in RAW rather than JPG and, to my surprise, people found it interesting! So Paul asked me if I'd do it as a blog post on it - and here it is. I certainly don't intend to cover everything there is to know about these two file types or do one of those advantages/disadvantages type posts - because, to my mind at least, that implies that there is an argument to be had in terms of which to use. Instead, here are a few important reasons why you should shoot RAW - if you can.
Primarily, as a landscape photographer, the dynamic range is a lifesaver. I'm one of these people who doesn't use graduated filters (for three reasons: more to carry, they're expensive, they slow you down when the light is changing the fastest) - instead I prefer to either merge two exposures (or more when needs be) or simply push my camera to its reasonable limits. I put great trust in my camera's ability to deal with a wide dynamic range without having to worry about too much noise in the shadows. So I usually expose as far to the right as possible and trust in the post processing to pull the shadows up to how I want them. The following image, from Stanage edge, demonstrates this well. When the data is captured on the sensor you get your RAW file... or the camera then does its 'magic' (I'll come to this later) and you're left with a JPG. You can see the original file on the left - which would just be turned into a JPG pretty much as is if left to the camera. The original image has a significantly blown out sky - but with 10 seconds of tweaking I've easily rescued the majority of it. In this case, you can still see the sliver of sunlight is overexposed even after this - which is exactly why I took a second exposure anyway - but you certainly get a passable image on its own. Quite an achievement when shooting into almost direct sunlight with a single image!
The images below show a good example of this again - in a more subtle form - taken at Aysgarth Falls. The falls themselves are an overexposed blob of white - shown by all those pixels bumping up against the right of the histogram whilst I've just managed to bring the shadows inside the black point at the left hand side. However, because I shot this in RAW I was then able to pull back those blown out highlights in the falls (notice how the histogram is now no longer up against the right...) and yet the shadows were exposed enough in the first place to brighten them (the bottom left corner especially) without too much noticeable noise creeping in. So the key here is to have a good feel for your camera and know precisely what you can get away with. I know I can blow out my highlights slightly and still retrieve them - but you wouldn't want to push it too far and end up with a wasted trip!
Secondly, I find it much easier to get the colour temperature right in RAW than JPG - simply by editing the colour temperature by number - how could you possibly want anything more precise than that?! With JPEG, on the other hand, you're usually just left with a series of sliders to add more red, take away some blue, add some green etc... and it's ends up being much more hit and miss (in my experience, at least!). Of course, if you spend long enough on it you can do it either way, but in the example below I've limited myself to just a minute on each... (oh, and ignore the other processing... I did the JPG version straight from the RAW after I'd already processed the RAW separately).
Thirdly, and most importantly, why would you want to let the folks who built your camera decide how your image is initially processed (this is the 'magic' I was on about earlier)? Yes, they may know quite a bit about cameras - but they'll usually have built in a batch of presets (sunset/tungsten/landscape/etc) or given you a choice on contrast/brightness ranges in the form of +/- values which they let you set - and then expect that to cover every situation you ever find yourself in. To my mind, I struggle to remember 2 days in the last year when the light has been similar enough to rely on those. Every day, and every time of day, is different and I love having the ability to take the bare data and make what I want of it, to recreate the scene how I remembered it, rather than how the folks over at Canon/Nikon/Fuji/Sony think it might have been... on average... ish.
So if you've gone to the effort of being in the place to take the picture, surely you owe it to yourself to make the most of the easy part... sat in front of your computer screen with a good brew.
Cheers for that Mat. I'm sure you'll all agree he has explained it much more articulately than I could. :-)
If you want to read more about Mat, you can check out the following websites and social media links.