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Raw+JPEG: The Best of Both Worlds?

Deciding whether you should be shooting Raw or JPEG? Judging from the number of times I've been asked to write about the subject, this continues to be a controversial subject. But we have some good news for you. If you have enough storage space you can have your cake and eat it too--by implementing a Raw+JPEG workflow.

What's Raw+JPEG?

We all know that Raw files represent the closest image format to the original sensor data, and therefore the most "pure" way to retain your image data. But they are proprietary to the camera vendor, making them hard to exchange and require additional processing before you can view or print them. This extra processing also makes them slower to work with, particularly as camera resolutions increase. At the opposite extreme, JPEGs are relatively small, fast and nearly universal. But they achieve those benefits by giving up some image information, introducing some--albeit tiny--artifacts, and forcing your development choices such as white balance and exposure to be made when you capture the image.

In an ideal world we could have the benefits of both file formats in one new format. But until that happens we need to decide how best to use Raw and JPEG. With the advent of cameras which can now capture a Raw image and a JPEG image at once--known as Raw+JPEG--we can make the most of our options. Even if your camera doesn't capture both image types we'll show you how you can adopt a Raw+JPEG workflow by creating your own JPEGs.

Cameras which shoot Raw+JPEG typically place two image files on your digital film. One is a Raw file and one is a JPEG. They both have the same prefix, but of course different file extensions (.NEF, .CRW, .CR2 or .TIF for Nikon or Canon Raw files, for example, and .JPG for JPEG). Here too there is room for camera vendors to agree on a single file format which would seamlessly incorporate both images into a single file, but for now two separate files is the norm.

Assuming you set your camera options (Tone, Sharpening, White Balance, etc) accurately before you capture the image you can then use the JPEG image as an excellent and fast way to review your images, email them, or post them to the web Depending on the quality setting you use it may also be adequate for editorial submissions and small prints. But if you need to correct a setting--perhaps to compensate for a tricky white balance under difficult lighting--or make a jumbo sized print you can dig out the Raw image and process it. And if you want to get creative in Photoshop you're certainly best off starting with the Raw image, as the more you massage the pixels the more obvious any JPEG artifacts will become.

The problem has always been that you had to choose one image format or the other. If you needed the flexibility and enlargeability of Raw for your poster-sized prints then you needed to suffer through a conversion workflow for all of your images just to get something useable even if it was just for posting to the web or sending to a friend.

If instead you chose to shoot JPEGs, you'd lose much of the flexibility of Raw and would have a harder time changing the image white balance or exposure after the fact. You'd also have less ability to create artifact-free enlargements. One solution is to have both a Raw and a JPEG for each image, or Raw+JPEG.

Many photographers started doing a "homebrew" version of Raw+JPEG by batch processing all their Raw files into JPEGs and then viewing the JPEGs for a quick edit or submission and keeping the Raw files as "digital negatives" for processing in Photoshop. This approach has two disadvantages: first, it takes work and processing time to create the JPEGs, and second they have two of every image to manage.  To help with these tasks, DigitalPro3 has integrated both batch Raw processing using PS CS and Raw+JPEG handling which helps address these issues for Windows users (see article below), whether you produce both images in camera or on your computer.

With many newer model cameras the camera itself can capture a Raw image and a JPEG image instantly and write both to your digital film. This is a big step forward in workflow for those who need the advantages of both formats. You'll still want software such as DigitalPro3 that can easily handle the two images as one, but at least you won't have to spend the time to create the JPEG manually.

Which JPEG?

Some cameras, such as the Nikon D2H and Canon 1Ds, give you a choice of JPEG quality. If you only want the JPEG for a quick preview or perhaps web posting, Basic may be good enough. Otherwise you'll want the maximum quality JPEG (Fine) so that it is useable for editorial submissions. Other cameras, like the Nikon D70, only offer Raw+Basic JPEG. In that case, you get the workflow benefits of having both formats, but if you really need a top quality JPEG you may find yourself needing to reprocess the Raw file anyway. Raw+JPEG options can be found on many current D-SLRs, including the Canon 1Ds, Canon 1D and Canon 1D Mark II, the Canon Digital Rebel (EOS 300D), the Nikon D2H and Nikon D70. The Canon D60 and 10D have "raw+jpeg" modes, but require an additional processing step to create the JPEG image files, so it isn't quite as useful. The same is true for using Nikon's software to create JPEGs during transfer.

Is it Right for you?

If you love the convenience of JPEG images but are worried that you're losing out on the flexibility of Raw, then Raw+JPEG may be your ideal workflow. Or if you can often use JPEGs but sometimes need to drag out the Raw image for post-processing, then Raw+JPEG will work for you. Or frankly if you just find yourself forgetting to switch from Raw to JPEG and back on the camera, Raw+JPEG may simplify your shooting day and reduce your mistakes.

But, if you hand tweak every image then the automatically generated JPEG won't do you much good so you may be just as well off only shooting Raw. Or if you are incredibly limited in card space then Raw is more effecient. Of course you can always generate the JPEGs later.

Whatever you decide it is becoming increasingly clear that hybrid workflows involving the power of Raw and the ease of use of JPEG images are here to stay.

DigitalPro and Raw+JPEG

DigitalPro offers a special mode allowing photographers to easily manage their Raw+JPEG workflow. For Nikon & Canon D-SLRs, DigitalPro3 can group the original Raw image together with either a camera generated JPEG or one that you generate yourself, and allow you to caption, file, tag or delete both images together. You can edit either the Raw or JPEG version by using one of two edit commands.

TIP: If your camera doesn't have a Raw+JPEG function built-in you can use the DigitalPro3 Photoshop scripting capability to have your copy of PS CS batch process your Raw images and create JPEGs for you. Then you can use the pairs of images just as easily as if you had Raw+JPEG in the first place.

See why American Photo named DigitalPro their Editor's choice for image management. Try out our free 30-day evaluation version today.













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