As a photographer, you have most likely heard or read discussions about RAW vs JPEG file formats. It is said that a RAW file consists of a lot more data and details as compared to a JPEG file. How about we conduct a few experiments and talk about why one file format is better than the other?
If you are someone who mostly edits in Lightroom CC, get ready to know some shocking reasons why you must avoid using JPEG files. Going forward in this article I am sharing a few experiments that I conducted using the JPEG and RAW files of the same shot. I am sure that by the end you will be convinced to always edit using the RAW file format.
Adjusting Highlights and Whites
In this first experiment, I am going to import a JPEG file as well as a RAW version of the same frame in Lightroom. You can see these in the image above. You will notice that the sky in this frame is overexposed and the details are not visible because I exposed for the foreground. In this test, I am going to bring down the highlights as well as the whites all the way to -100 and see what happens with both JPEG and RAW files.
Surprising, isn’t it? If you look at the sky in both the JPEG and RAW files, you can see the difference quite clearly.
The details of the clouds in the JPEG (left) file become ruined when I reduced the highlights and whites to recover the details. Whereas, the RAW file (right) does an excellent job in recovering the details in the sky – even though it was completely overexposed.
This experiment concludes that if you wish to recover the highlights in a photo, RAW files achieve much better results. The JPEG file would fail at recovering details from highlights and whites.
Detail and Sharpness
In this experiment, for reference purposes, I again placed the JPEG file on the left and the RAW file on the right. In the image above, I have a 1:1 zoom in Lightroom CC to show you something very interesting. Look at the difference in the sharpness and details on the face of the person. The difference is quite shocking. One would conclude that these are two different shots, with the left one being softer. However, that is not the case here. This is the same shot but just in different file formats.
Next time if you are shooting portraits or events, you know that shooting in RAW can help you preserve far more details than the JPEG file. I usually shoot in RAW and JPEG. Then I use the RAW file to edit my photos while using the JPEG files for reference or shortlisting purposes only.
White Balance Adjustment
In this last experiment, I wanted to check if adjusting the white balance does make any difference. You may have heard that a RAW file allows you to later adjust the white balance as per your desire? But how different is it from JPEG? Let’s find out in this experiment.
Here I moved the temperature slider all the way to the warmer side in both the RAW and the JPEG files. Interestingly, the JPEG file (left in the image above) was almost unusable for me. At this stage, the sky was almost flat and lacked contrast. Whereas, the RAW file with the same exposure had so much information stored that at this stage the elements in the frame had details and contrast.
The above experiments demonstrated a few key reasons why I always prefer using a RAW file in Lightroom to ensure my final image has maximum details. My advice here would be to shoot in RAW and JPEG to be on the safe side. If you wish to make a quick edit or directly use the image for social media, go with JPEGs. If you wish to edit the same image seriously, use the RAW file.
I hope next time you import an image to Lightroom, these experiments will encourage you to shoot and edit in RAW format.
Feel free to share your views in the comment section.