RAW vs JPEG seeing the differences

The debate goes on about whether to shoot in JPEG or RAW. A number of people are still intimidated with the thought of processing a RAW file. I won't go into a lot of detail about the advantages and disadvantages of each, but I did a little experiment to try to show some of the differences. Awhile back, I took a photo that was overexposed by more than 2 stops. I thought it might be fun to process the RAW image as well as a JPEG version to see the differences. This is the original photo:

Unedited RAW file

Above is the unedited RAW file. I created a full size JPEG out of this file. Using Lightroom, I processed the RAW file to bring back as much detail as possible. After I got it the way I wanted, I applied the exact same adjustments to the JPEG file. This is the result:

RAW on left, JPEG on right

As you can see, the JPEG version (the image on the right) is muddy and lacking a lot of detail. Let's zoom in on a few areas and see what they look like. The zoom ratio is 3:1 so there will not be a lot of sharpness, but it best demonstrates the differences.

Notice the pixelization of the JPEG images and the loss of detail in the grass. Clearly, you will better recover from your mistakes if you shoot RAW.

Now you say that you always strive to get it right in camera. That is a worthy goal and one we should all strive for, but the fact is, you CAN'T always get it right in camera. The camera does not have the dynamic range of the human eye. It is often impossible to get an image that accurately reflects what you see without some post processing.

Look at the following image and think about how you would get it right in camera:

When I took this shot, my eye could clearly see detail on the cave floor and parts of the ceiling. If I had exposed for the inside of the cave, the outside area would have been totally blown out. As in the previous example, I processed the RAW file in Lightroom, included some white balance adjustments, and then applied the same adjustments to a full size JPEG. The resulting images are below. Again, the JPEG is on the right.

Now let's zoom in at a 3:1 ratio:

You can see the recovery of the shadow area introduced noise in the RAW file, but that is much more acceptable than the pixelization in the JPEG.

These examples are extreme, but they demonstrate the power of recovery in a RAW file vs JPEG file.

Created By
David Piet
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