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What are the pros and cons when shooting in raw vs JPEG?

For typical family photos, with a Nikon D5100 DSLR, is there any reason to shoot RAW images rather than the highest quality JPG images?

  • In the future, consider looking at the results produced by the automatic search (under Questions that may already have your answer) as you enter the question title, so that you don't end up posting a duplicate question. – bwDraco Jul 5 '12 at 2:40
  • Thanks -- this is an awesome answer as well: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2627/… – justingordon Jul 5 '12 at 7:28
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    While this question does contain the words JPG and RAW in the title, I disagree it is a duplicate. The other legitimate question is about the comparison between formats while this one is about the value of those in the context of family photography. – Itai Jul 5 '12 at 12:41
  • I'd agree with the last comment. If one can afford the disk space (which is very cheap now), being able to recover (improve) precious family photos is worth the cost of a bit more time to process and disk space. The Nikon D5100 gives the option to get both the JPG and RAW. – justingordon Jul 5 '12 at 22:35

Yes there are reasons to shoot RAW, just like there are reasons to not shoot RAW.

It comes down to personal preference. What @Steve said is correct, JPEG are images which have been produced in the camera. Development, to use a term from the film days, has already happened. A RAW file needs to be developed by computer or using in-camera conversion (on some models).

The first point of decision is whether you are willing to do the development yourself. JPEG images produced in-camera are actually very good if you select parameters to your liking. Most novices complain their RAW files look awful. For the most part they are right because you have to work at making a better image out of a RAW file. An easy way to void the advantage of RAW is to shoot thousands of images and then batch-convert them to the default of the converter which camera with your camera. You will waste space, time and get pretty much the same JPEG images as the camera would.

The second point of decision is the type of manipulation you expect to do. RAW files have more bit-depth and dynamic-range than JPEG images, this makes them more resilient to heavy manipulation such as large changes in exposure and color-balance. JPEG images will handle changes too but not with so much latitude. If by typical family photos you means every movement your kids make is recorded without much thought on what makes a photo great (composition, exposure, point-of-interest, leading lines, etc) then your images have bigger problems than the kinds which can be corrected by manipulation.

If you shoot and forget then RAW is mostly a waste of your time and resources. If you work really hard to getting superb images in-camera, you won't see much benefit either. However, if you think about processing images and making them look dramatically different than what your camera produces, do consider RAW as a tool.

The final option which some people take is to shoot RAW+JPEG. This is best approached by trying to produce well-taken JPEG images and then use the accompanying RAW file as the safety net. If a JPEG didn't turn out has well because of exposure (within RAW limits) or completely wrong WB, then you have something better to work from.


I shoot RAW all the time. When you use JPEG, the camera's processor applies some settings to the image and that's that. No going back. So what might be great for a landscape might be a bit unflattering for a family photo, and vice versa. I have to transfer the image to my computer anyhow, so what am I really saving by shooting in JPEG?

In the context of family photos, I find they are often shot in circumstances where the flexibility of RAW comes in handy. For example, color balance isn't always easy for the camera to get right indoors because of the mix of incandescent and daylight sources. By shooting in RAW, I have options after the fact. And... of course, there are the lighting situations that flat-out confuse the camera leading to horribly underexposed images. Again, RAW gives you a bit more latitude for rescuing the images.

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