JPEG Instead of RAW? – The Digital Photography Workflow Handbook

JPEG Instead of RAW?

There are still situations in which JPEG is a useful format, in spite of all the advantages that RAW offers. For example:

  • Your camera offers limited or no RAW support

  • You need ready-processed images direct from the camera

  • RAW processing is too complex and time-consuming for you

  • RAW files use too much camera and computer memory capacity

Although we generally advocate the use of RAW, you can still produce great images using JPEG. You can simply use the automatic RAW conversion software built into the camera rather than performing the processing yourself. Apart from the actual RAW conversion stage, all of the other steps in our workflow are just as applicable to JPEG or TIFF images. Because adjusting white balance and exposure later cause appreciable image quality loss, you will need to watch out for the following points while shooting JPEG or TIFF images:

  • Try to use the most appropriate white balance setting while shooting. Many cameras produce more than adequate results if white balance is set to Auto (at least when shooting in natural light).

    Many cameras allow you to use a custom white balance setting based on a photo of a white or neutrally colored object in your image. This photo is than used for the white balance of the photos that follow.

  • Avoid overexposing your image with the help of the camera’s histogram display. Some cameras even have a live histogram display that shows the distribution of tonal values within the frame before you press the shutter release.

Some camera settings have a greater effect on JPEG images than they do on RAW images, so you should, if possible:

  • Deactivate automatic sharpening or select a low sharpening value

  • Set contrast correction to low or normal

  • Set color to neutral and saturation to low. Saturation can be corrected later anyway.

  • Use the Adobe RGB (1998) rather than the sRGB color space

  • Use the highest possible resolution and lowest possible compression settings

Your first step in processing a JPEG image should be to convert it to TIFF so that the following steps don’t cause exponential image quality loss due to the additive JPEG quantization process[11].

Our tip: Use RAW once you are familiar with it and whenever you want to squeeze the last drop of image quality from your camera. You can, however, still produce great JPEG and TIFF images if you concentrate on your exposure while shooting and follow the rest of the workflow diligently.

Most cameras produced since 2007 support simultaneous saving of JPEG and RAW files for each image. This gives you the freedom to choose between “ready-made” JPEG images and RAW images for later processing.

[11] Quantization is part of the JPEG compression process.