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by Bart Arondson

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What would you choose, if you were to, between shooting in sRAW (hence, sacrificing MP but retaining a lot more color and detail) and shooting in JPG, doing justice to the Megapixel count while giving away the true color and details?

I'm into wedding photography and lately having a hard time balancing the sRAW and jpg format. I use a 5D Mark III and though I know camera systems have advanced a lot lately and I can rely on the in camera processing, I find a lot of difference between the color and detail rendering of sRAW and JPG format. I shoot in sRAW because the full sized RAWs are just too large to handle.

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I'm curious what you are having trouble managing? Do you not have the hard drive space (cheap fix) to store the images, the memory (also a cheap fix) to process the images, or is it something else? –  tenmiles Dec 28 '12 at 23:17
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that's like asking whether I'd rather cut off my left foot or my right hand. The answer is of course that I'd rather cut off my left foot, but it seems rather unnecessary in the first place! –  Matt Grum Dec 29 '12 at 0:47
    
@tenmiles It's more about the time consumed per project with the RAW treatment and processing. –  Rish Dec 30 '12 at 4:53
    
@MattGrum LOL :-) –  Rish Dec 30 '12 at 4:56
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@Rish If you shoot in RAW only to find yourself processing to get what you would have had in JPEG anyway then there's no need for the RAW files. However, if you find you need RAW files to get the look you're going for because JPEG can't get you there, then you need RAW files. –  tenmiles Dec 30 '12 at 5:44

7 Answers 7

up vote 9 down vote accepted

[Disclaimer: It has been one heck of a long time since I last did a pro wedding gig, long enough ago, in fact, that taking 240 pictures in total, or 10 24-exposure rolls of 220 Kodak VPS, was "going above and beyond". Things have changed just a bit since then, but though I'd never voluntarily shoot a wedding again—I'm not temperamentally suited to the environment—I think I understand this brave new world.]

Both formats have their problems, as others have been quick to point out. A JPEG is a digital slide, in that what you record to the card has little room for correction later. When you commit to JPEG, you are saying "there will be no exposure or white balance problems with my images." And that's fine if you are working in an environment where you can be more-or-less certain of the lighting, etc., (or white balance or pleasing tonality don't particularly matter) and speed is your primary concern.

Shooting S-RAW is severely limiting your size. (Yes, there is also the fact that you're permanently committed to the de-mosaicking and resampling that the camera does. That's not only a red herring, but a pickled one as well.) In choosing S-RAW, you are effectively saying "this image will never, ever, have to be larger than 8-by (8x10 or 8x12 inches, essentially A4 with a border), and there will never be a reason to crop." You're creating a beautiful image, but at 5MP, it will start to fall apart at relatively small display print sizes, sizes that would have been considered huge in my day, but which are very much run-of-the-mill in the digital world. And you have no way to predict the importance of a picture at the moment you take it—you may be taking the very last "nice" picture ever taken of somebody at any given time. You just don't know.

Now, there are people who have the time and storage space to deal with thousands of full-sized RAW images. (And in the Nikon world, there really isn't a choice. If you've committed to the D800, you've committed to 36MP if you don't want to shoot JPEG or crop to a smaller format in camera. The D700/D3 crowd only have 12MP to begin with, so annoying extra pixels and the gigabytes they bring aren't an issue for them.) There are very good reasons for wanting to decrease the file size when you can, including the time it takes to download and back up your images (even if you have unlimited storage space available). At the same time, there are some very good reasons for maintaining larger images, including the ability to create large (a usually profitable) prints.

A good compromise is to shoot your "shot list" (the more formal portraits and groupings, the ceremony proper, and whatever detail shots are expected in the cultural context) as full-sized RAW images. There won't be a great many of these (comparatively speaking), so the extra megabytes spent here won't significantly impact the total, and you have a lot of room for large prints, album spreads/covers and so forth. The rest you can shoot as M-RAW. You don't get quite the file size savings that you do with S-RAW, but M-RAW is 10MP or so and will print acceptably at A3+ on smooth papers for relatively close viewing, and can go much larger, especially when printed on a more textured surface (like canvas). If you need a full album page or a spread, you've got it. If the picture turns out to be more important than it seemed at the time, you haven't sacrificed too much, but you've gotten a two-fer on the file size, and that's not bad (especially for online/cloud backup).

But what about the workflow? The files are going to be larger than S-RAW or JPEG, no question. Start with the fastest cards and card reader you can reasonably manage. The card reader will be cheap enough, but yes, the 800x and 1000x cards are a little more expensive than the 400x and slower ones will be. But they'll save you time every time you download images, and your time is valuable too. Managing the images once they're downloaded can be done a lot more quickly as well, at least as far as the initial cull is concerned. Lightroom is great for a lot of things, but the initial import and first-pass are not its strong suits. Take a look at Photo Mechanic. There is a free trial available, so you can make up your own mind on real-world image sets, but it is stupid fast at rendering RAW (and M-RAW and S-RAW) images and letting you apply ratings and so forth. It's probably not what you want to use to develop the images, but it's a very quick way to cut the images down to a reasonable number, something Lightroom or Aperture can more easily digest, and move them into a watched folder for import. Again, you're buying time with money, but it can be a lot of time you're buying for a relatively small amount of money (especially when you compare it against the price of most of what we photographers buy).

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+1 - As a D800 shooter, I recommend lots, and lots, of disk... It's so worth it though. At any rate, I wouldn't shoot a wedding with anything other than the true raw format, any other options is effectively crippling the outcome. –  John Cavan Dec 30 '12 at 5:08

The important thing to remember about raw is that it is unfinished, like a raw wood vs a finished desk. It will never look like a JPG from a camera until you start processing it. Now, if you do your own processing I would say use the raw format, but if you find the in camera processing to be adequate then JPG is fine.

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the other important thing to remember is that sRaw isn't raw at all, it has had debayering and resampling operations applied in a totally irreversible way. –  Matt Grum Dec 29 '12 at 0:49

Neither solution is acceptable in my opinion, especially for something as important as a wedding.

Large hard drives are cheap and spare compact flash cards are not terribly expensive, so I would just get more storage and shoot raw.

If computer processing power is your limiting factor - that can be a little more expensive. Even so, a decent PC workstation capable of handling raw files isn't going to totally break the bank.

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Editing a 1,200 image wedding with 75MB RAW files is not as simple as cheap hardware and a bit more RAM. Not to mention if you do a few weddings per month and add in portrait sessions. –  dpollitt Dec 29 '12 at 23:09
    
The main factor here is time. Taking up about 3 weddings a month on an average, the size compilation of files is huge. And it accumulates over time. –  Rish Dec 30 '12 at 4:52
    
@Rish How about shooting in RAW and using JPG as the archival format, after the bride and groom have made their pick? –  j-g-faustus Dec 30 '12 at 7:37
    
@Rish, what do you mean that the factor is time? If you're culling appropriately, any moderately capable modern computer should be adequate for the RAW processing itself. If you're doing intensive processing, make sure you know your software, that you have adequately large and fast disks, etc. I'm not seeing a time problem. As for storage, it gets cheaper all the time. Put together an archival strategy, use adequate hardware, charge enough for your weddings, and you should be fine. People pay for professionals partly for the eye, and partly for the results, which depend on gear. –  Iucounu Jan 2 '13 at 16:28

You did not state why the RAW files were too large to handle. If you are concerned about disk space and use Lightroom, you could consider shooting full-sized RAW files, and importing them as DNGs with lossy compression.

This will give you much more editing latitude than normal JPEG files, and still save space.

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Shooting a wedding (or any once-in-a-lifetime paid job) in jpeg or sraw is totally unprofessional, it's like getting to a wedding with just the cheapest rebel and the kit lens.

When someone pay you to shoot a wedding that someone trust you have the necessary equipment and skill to do the job - so get the necessary equipment.

Especially when hard drives, CF cards or/and a fast card reader are all extremely cheap compared to your 5Dmk3.

(and just be thankful you have a 5Dmk3 and not a D800)

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agreed - but I use a D800... and 4GB CF cards. (and a permanent 4GB SD as an overflow) Personally I like being limited to say 50 shots per card, it makes you think more about each shot. –  Darkcat Studios Dec 29 '12 at 21:55

Lots of other good opinions and answers have been provided here already. I am going to offer a bit of a different flavor then some of the others though.

I have heard from many other professional wedding photographers that the image size of the current best of generation DSLR's is simply too large to handle. Many of the opinions here may be of people who simply can't understand the workflow requirements of a large studio that shoots 20-30+ weddings per year, plus standard portrait sessions. Sure, storage is cheap, but take for example the Nikon D800. RAW file sizes can clock in around 75MB and even JPEG can be 20MB. Shooting 30 weddings a year with 75MB file sizes, backed up 3+ places can become a headache for storage and processing of even a finely tuned workflow.

I would never consider shooting sRAW or even mRAW for a wedding event. Resolution is important, especially considering how popular large canvas prints and very high quality wedding albums are. Shooting sRAW of about 5MP is not a good idea. You won't be able to print very large at all. mRAW isn't as bad, but I still would caution against it.

What I do think is a viable option is shooting JPEG. Can you master white balance in camera and ensure that you always are adjusting your settings as you move around a venue? If you can do this, I think you will be just fine with JPEG. Of course nailing your exposure is key as well, but if you are shooting weddings professionally I would hope that this isn't often an issue for you(but even pros goof up!).

Keep in mind that shooting in JPEG you do lose some additional latitude in recovery options that can be very nice to have. But it is up to you if as a business the trade-offs are worth it to you. I know many professional wedding photographers that do shoot in JPEG for exactly similar reasons as you are considering. I do not see any reason that a professional studio cannot switch to JPEG and still produce excellent work.

Back to your original question

Which is more efficient when shooting weddings

The most efficient is not always the best for your clients or your business. I would answer the question of "Which tradeoff is necessary for me to make, to produce what my clients desire?" Only you will know that, and I've provided information above to help you determine the answer.

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sRAW should not be used to shoot weddings professionally. There's no point in spending money on high-end gear, only to hobble the output so severely. Nor is it a good idea to shoot weddings, which commonly feature so many whites and blacks (and sometimes in strong lighting), as JPEGs. JPEGs are severely limited in dynamic range due to the fact that it is an 8-bit format, thus unnecessarily risking blown highlights and blocked-up shadows, which alone makes it unsuitable for weddings. Clients deserve better for their money.

What you should do is factor in the cost of shooting weddings properly into the prices you provide your customers. Get more cards and bigger hard drives; they're cheap today. Every so often, move images from your main hard-drives to lower-cost archival storage.

You should also consider more aggressively culling your images as an early step in your workflow. This will free up space early on in the process, and keep your RAW processing time to a minimum. Also make sure that your computer hardware is well-matched to your camera hardware in terms of processing speed. With this approach, RAW processing time will be negligible-- you're not a sports shooter, after all, so you shouldn't be machine-gunning the camera except for a select few events (e.g. principally the bouquet toss).

Eventually, when you're sure that you won't need RAW flexibility any longer, keeping the finished JPEGS and discarding the RAWs for archival purposes should be fine.

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+1, a good way to put it. Storage and computing power enough to deal with RAW is simply the cost of doing business - why would you invest in a high-end camera just to throw away 50-75% of the sensor data even before you reach a monitor large enough to tell the good shots from the bad ones? Aggressive culling is a better approach, I think. –  j-g-faustus Dec 31 '12 at 2:26

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