Stephen Shankland on shooting raw

In a recent article, Cnet’s Stephen Shankland makes some interesting points about raw files vs JPEGs in your photographic workflow. Here’s one that everyone should consider and which we continually emphasise to photographers:

If you’re converting a raw image with software, you not only get more computing horsepower than a camera offers, you get algorithms that are updated.

He’s absolutely right. Put differently: raw files from several years back can look incredibly good when processed using the best of today’s raw converters—much better than they ever did when they were first taken.

JPEGs produced by expensive professional cameras, even recent ones, shot in difficult conditions (low light, mixed lighting, high contrast) are completely outclassed by raw files from the same camera, taken at the same time, processed in today’s best raw converters. When you tell the camera that all you want is a JPEG  file, you have to make decisions that are often better left till later (things like sharpening, contrast, colour space, white balance, noise reduction—none of these settings affect the raw file in any way) or ask the camera to make them for you. In many cases, the decisions you make are difficult or time-consuming to reverse later and have a permanent effect on the quality of your photographs.

Today’s raw converters deal with colour fringing, overexposure, underexposure, sharpness, noise, detail and resolution much better than most cameras’ JPEG engines. Whether you shoot professionally or for pleasure, if you’re serious about image quality, choosing to shoot raw makes sense and costs just a tiny amount of disk space.

Yesterday’s gone but you’ll have gathered the point of this post: the raw images you shoot today are likely to look even better in tomorrow’s raw converters. To start with, all you need to do is tell your camera to shoot raw—and if you don’t know what to do with a raw file yet then set your camera to shoot raw plus JPEG and store the raw files safely away somewhere. They’re your digital equivalent of film negatives and there’ll come a time when you’ll be very pleased that you still have them.