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Does shooting RAW vs JPEG have a significant effect on battery life (i.e. > 10% in the number of shots that can be taken)? Has anyone done controlled tests on this?

JPEG means more processing, RAW means much more data written to the card. Both consume energy, so the answer is not clear.

I am interested in maximizing battery life while shooting timelapses, so let's assume a scenario where other factors affecting battery life are fixed (AF and VR turned off, back LCD not used) and JPEG size is set to small (thus the files sizes are significantly smaller than RAW).

Google turns up quite a few discussions on the topic, but all of the answers I've seen are either pure guesses (even the very confident sounding ones) or based on vague impressions from regular shooting, not timelapses or a controlled experiment. Some suggest (1, 2, 3) that based on their experience shooting RAW might consume more power.

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It could very well be close enough to vary one way or the other from one camera model to the next, or even depend on exactly which CF/SD card is being used. Even when shooting JPEG, for example, it would vary depending on whether things like High ISO NR, Peripheral Illumination Correction, LENR, etc. are enabled or disabled. –  Michael Clark Sep 4 '13 at 14:01
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4 Answers

There are so many variables regarding power consumption per shot that it is probably a little hard to precisely nail down. In general, shooting RAW is understood to require more power than shooting JPEG assuming all other variables are equal. Even when saving image files in RAW format, a thumbnail JPEG is generated by most cameras.

A good rule of thumb to use is this: any option that slows down the maximum burst rate of the camera will most likely also require more power consumption per shot. Things like:

  • The level of in-camera Noise Reduction selected, especially when shooting at higher ISO
  • Dark Frame Noise Reduction, which essentially requires two long exposures for a single file (both JPEG or RAW)
  • The length of exposure. The longer the sensor must be energized, the more power is consumed
  • Peripheral Illumination Correction, Lens Distortion Correction, etc.
  • Using Auto Focus (AF) between each exposure vs. setting focus once for the entire series.
  • Saving RAW files, which take much longer to write to the memory card than JPEGs.

By far, though, the most influential factor on battery life will have nothing to do with any of these: Ambient Temperature. How often and for how long the rear LCD screen is turned on will also likely have far more effect on battery life than the difference between shooting RAW or JPEG.

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Whilst an edge case, it's worth remembering that shooting in RAW does have some advantages that can translate to improved battery life. Shooting in RAW means you don't have to worry so much about white balance and exposure, which in my experience means less re-taking of a shot and less checking images on the screen of the camera. –  ChrisFletcher Sep 4 '13 at 15:37
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@ChrisFletcher Probably not much of an issue when shooting timelapses as the question references. Usually the settings are made and then the camera is automated to take an exposure at specific intervals, either internally or via an intervalometer. –  Michael Clark Sep 4 '13 at 16:57
    
I usually shoot RAW files, but not in RAW. I prefer clothing. ;-) –  Michael Clark Sep 4 '13 at 16:58
    
I doubt the point about lower res jpeg thumbnail. canon does use half resolution but nikon uses full res. Regardless of end result resolution the raw development is done on the raw before halfing the resolution and compressing. –  Michael Nielsen Sep 4 '13 at 21:27
    
@MichealClark Yes you're right Micheal, not particularly apt for this question. Just thought if anyone see's the title might be worth noting! –  ChrisFletcher Sep 4 '13 at 22:04
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It seems my question was premature. This post points out that some Nikon manuals discuss this.

I was unable to find this in the D60 manual, but the D7100 manual has the following:

The following can reduce battery life:

  • Using the monitor
  • Keeping the shutter-release button pressed halfway
  • Repeated autofocus operations
  • Taking NEF (RAW ) photographs
  • Slow shutter speeds
  • Using a GPS unit
  • Using an Eye-Fi card
  • Using a wireless remote controller, WU-1a wireless mobile adapter, or UT-1 communication unit
  • Using VR (vibration reduction) mode with VR lenses

Since the manual explicitly mentions this, I assume the effect must be significant enough to make a difference.

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you still dont know if it is more than a 10% reduction. You have to test it. –  Michael Nielsen Sep 4 '13 at 21:31
    
Looks like Nikon eats more energy in file transfer from camera to memory card, than what is consumed while the image is first processed in-camera. I find it not difficult to believe this. –  Esa Paulasto Sep 5 '13 at 10:25
    
Nikon (and others) have a habit of covering their backsides and are more likely to warn of something that might happen (even if it's so low as to not be measurable or is a complete load of hogwash) just to cover themselves from potential litigation. –  James Snell Sep 6 '13 at 9:52
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The thing with RAW is that the preview still has to be generated. Most of the JPEG processing still occurs, just additional data has to be written to the card and has to be organized in to the file format.

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It seems you are interested in an experiment. That seems like a good idea to definitely tell, especially whether the difference is higher than 10% in number of shots taken.

However, because there are so many variables involved, the result would only be valid for a single camera. (Or do many tests across different cameras...)


If you are shooting timelapses for artistic purposes, it would be foolish not to shoot them in raw. You will need post-processing so you loose quality and options shooting in JPEG. Post-processing is going to be standard processing (white-balance, exposure, black/white-points, shadows, highlights) but also resizing to fit 1080p (if that is your format) and flicker-reduction.

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You don't lose quality by shooting JPEG. You only lose some flexibility of adjustment. Since the result is downscaled anyway, even a small size JPEG is good enough. –  Szabolcs Sep 5 '13 at 20:19
    
Small JPEG doesn't mean it has a low resolution but on most cameras it also means that JPEG quality is lower. Re-compressing, cropping and generating a new quantisation matrix (among other things) when converting from JPEGs to compressed video will loose quality. –  Unapiedra Sep 6 '13 at 8:09
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