By Gary Fong
Is shooting RAW camera files better than JPEG files?
Most digital camera shoot RAW camera files and/or JPEG files. But what’s the difference. They both look good on screen.
For 95% of most needs, JPEG is great. But RAW camera files have advantages and disadvantages that photographers should be aware of when shooting.
RAW files are great for difficult light, when exposure is critical or the ambient changes so much, that it's hard to pinpoint the exposure. RAW files allow for "post processing" color correction, exposure adjustment, and format changes. But most professionals know how to nail the exposure within a 1/4 stop latitude…therefore JPEG files are more than adequate for most publishing needs.
I find the easiest software for processing RAW files is Adobe Lightroom. But Photoshop (current version), Apple Preview, or whatever will open the file for processing in the next 25 years is also good to use. Processing RAW files provides a lot of tools to make corrections. But if you shot it right in the first place, one doesn't have to make the corrections.
Over time, as one accumulates RAW vs. JPEG, one will notice the RAW files taking up huge amounts of space. If HD disk space is not a problem, go for it. But, the bigger question is file format viability - a growing question whether it's specific RAW versions can be opened up as time passes.
Will it be possible to open up specific RAW format in 25 years? As the versions of RAW formats seem to change with each introduction of new cameras, is Adobe going to be able to keep up with software tools decode the image? Which software group is going to support the camera any photographer is using? These are longevity questions that will have to be answered "if" one wishes the RAW archive to be valid in 25 to 100 years. Otherwise, most of the images in the archive may not be able to open in the distant future. That's bad for history and bad for the family tree.
On the other hand, JPEG will probably be valid in 25 to 100 years…cause the format is pervasive in every other operating system in the world today. It's been around for 50 years…it will be probably be around opening up JPEG photos for another 50 years. That goes for TIFF photos too.
I would recommend shooting more on JPEG files, rather than RAW files for longevity reasons. I would also lean on RAW format for technical corrections, if needed. But you’re a professional…and who needs technical correction???