One of the goals here is to de-emphasize the technical and concentrate on the storytelling capabilities of photography. But sometimes tech issues have to be addressed so here goes-

And before getting into this, it really does not matter which format you use* as the important thing is the final photograph and how it fits in the storytelling. But...

It seems that we are getting into an era of ‘format-shaming’. “You aren’t a real photographer if you’re not using camera raw...” OK, we have heard this “you’re not a real photographer...” before. It was used against 35mm film, auto exposure, auto focus, poly contrast paper, ttl flash, etc., etc. It may have originated when the mechanical shutter was developed.

The target this time is the JPEG format. The camera raw crowd will loudly claim every problem they can think of with the format. Some have even referred to it as an “inferior format” which is a bit of a stretch as JPEG is the only universally accepted and used photographic format.

It would seem that a big part of the problem is that JPEG is a “lossy” format and when folks hear that- well it’s just a turn-off. Often they don’t understand what the “loss” is or how it’s determined, they just object to the “loss”. While JPEG is “lossy” when looking at the data that makes up the photograph, it is visually lossless when the photograph is viewed – provided the variables in the format are applied appropriately.

There are some issues with JPEG – mostly complaints about artifact creation. And this is generally argued when a JPEG file is zoomed 300 or 400 percent. JPEG compression can be highly user controlled although a number of manufacturers allow setting the compression or quality level only. If that quality component is kept consistently high (at 85 or above**) and you limit the number of editing sessions for the same photograph to two or three, there is no problem visually. And remember that any editing session for a camera raw file is, by definition, limited to one session and one session only as the edited image can't be saved into the original format.

To be fair, both camera raw and JPEG formats have their advantages and disadvantages and neither is superior to the other. They are different and have different uses.

Again, there is no right or wrong here. It is whatever fits your style and your ‘workflow’.

But if we must...

You use JPEG if...

  • your photography is pretty clean, that is you subscribe to the notion of “get it right in the camera” and don’t do a lot of cropping.

  • you generally don’t do a lot of post processing – that is you don’t subscribe to the motto “fix it in the post”.

  • you generally get the lighting in the photograph right and don’ play with ‘re-exposing’ it in your imaging software.

  • you post photographs to any of the online photo sites (Instagram, etc.) from your phone or a WiFi equipped camera.

  • You make smaller prints. These are generally considered to be 14”x11” or smaller.

You use camera raw if...

  • your approach to photography is that the photograph captured in the camera is simply the basis for creating a final image in the software.

  • you tend to use a lot of cropping and/or resizing the image larger.

  • you do a lot of post processing and/or ‘re-exposing’ in your processing software.

  • You make huge (read: poster size) prints.

Again, there is no right or wrong here, it is simply choice made based on your approach to the medium.

*Please see the piece on archiving photographs as the file format used is very important there.

** Some Adobe products us a 1 – 12 scale for the JPEG quality setting so you should keep the quality at 10 or above.