See what I did there? The question isn’t ‘why you shouldn’t’ but why shouldn’t you?’
For many the answer will be obvious. A JPEG is an 8-bit image file with its dynamic range already clipped by the camera and with any ‘spare’ color information discarded. Compared to a raw file, there’s very little processing headroom and images can very often start to break up under heavy manipulation.
So if you want to do any serious editing later, then shooting RAW is a must, right?
Normally I’d say yes, but here’s an instance where I decided to work from the JPEG rather than a RAW file, and I’ll explain why.
I was out shooting with my Olympus E-P7 and 17mm f/1.8 lens. It’s a great little walkaround setup that doesn’t attract much attention and it’s quick to use. It also has a wide range of in-camera color and black and white looks, with a choice of black and white filter effects, contrast, grain and more. Very often this camera can get close to the look I want without any further processing.
The other advantage is that if you shoot using your chosen look ‘live’ on the camera, it’s much easier to see how to compose the scene, what exposure adjustments you need and whether the image just ‘works’.
I thought this one did. Exposure and composition are very dependent on the image’s tonality and the look you are trying to achieve. I love the symmetry of the two vans framing a third in the distance, the empty expanse of the beach, the light – everything, really. It also needs that particular camera rendering to get that particularl tonality and grain.
But because I’m a bit of an image quality nerd and a hoarder, I shot this in JPEG+RAW so that I could go back and edit it ‘properly’ later if I needed to.
So why didn’t I edit the RAW version?
- First, I decided I would have to spend several minutes working up the RAW file to match the camera JPEG I like so much.
- Second, there was nothing wrong with the JPEG that it needed RAW data to fix.
All this shot needed was a little straightening, which doesn’t do a JPEG any more harm than it does a RAW file, and I just felt the shadows needed a little deepening, which didn’t need any extra dynamic range, just a little adjustment to the tonal range I had already.
I did this in Capture One, but really Lightroom or any other image editor would have done just as well. It’s only with RAW files that you need to worry about different software renderings, profiles, noise reduction and the rest.
The top left corner of the sky is blown in the JPEG, but a little clipping often doesn’t matter in black and white and, indeed, can add a little ‘sparkle’. The JPEG has a nice, soft ‘roll-off’ in the highlights, too. When you work. to recover every scrap of highlight detail in a sky, it’s very easy to make them look muddy.
I’m very happy with my edited image. I could have spent ten times longer on the RAW file to get to the same state and been no better off at the end of it.
I’ll keep the RAW file for insurance, but the JPEG was absolutely fine.
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