What’s Cooking in the JPEG Kitchen? Cookies!

Today’s Post by Joe Farace with Barry Staver

When it comes to the ability to choose a white balance, select an ISO speed and view images on the fly, digital imaging is, in most ways, more convenient than film photography.. What’s left is the inevitable question: JPEG or RAW?

The JPEG standard (Joint Photographic Experts Group) was created in 1986 and defines how an image is compressed and decompressed. To save an image in JPEG format, your camera eliminates colors the eye can’t typically see and then compresses the image. JPEG is referred to as a lossy (not lousy) format because this process discards what it decides is redundant but when the file is opened lost data is, for the most part, rebuilt.

The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico is the second oldest cathedral in the Americas having started construction in 1521. JPEG exposure was 1/13 sec at f/2.8 and ISO 1600

Unlike JPEG, RAW requires little or no internal processing by the camera. These files contain more color information, more data but that all that data now requires external processing. Perhaps these food analogies from master photographer Barry Staver will help explain the difference between a RAW and compressed (JPEG) capture:

  • Cakes. You can purchase a ready-to-eat cake in a bakery or make one at home from scratch. A store bought cake is like a JPEG, since most of the choices were already made for you. The bakery decide what ingredients to use and in what quantity. JPEG photographs are processed and compressed in-camera and you take it “as is.” On the other hand a scratch-made cake allows you to choose the ingredients, altering them to suit your personal taste. The same thing goes for RAW images. You decide how to process them in post-production.
  • Chocolate chip cookies. Off-the-shelf brands have chips that are already baked into each one, the softness of the cookie is predetermined and all the cookies are uniform in size. This is the JPEG version. Cookies baked at home offers more choices: Kind of milk, dark, or white chocolate chips, the number of chips to fold into the batter and the size of the cookies baked. That’s the RAW version.

When should you use RAW and when should you use JPEG? For another take on this subject rake a look at my post, ‘Why I (Mostly) Shoot Using JPEG.’

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Barry Staver along with myself are co-authors of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print with new copies available from Amazon for $17.38 or used copies for giveaway prices, only $5.87 as I write this.