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JPEG or RAW? A comparison

jpeg oder raw bilder titelbild jpg Dietmar Sebastian Fischer

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I've been taking photos with Fujifilm cameras for years and of course I've become more and more a fan of the built-in film simulations. 

Above all Acros, Velvia and Classic Chrome. What could be more obvious than to use them when taking pictures.
And because the pictures are really beautiful, you can save yourself the RAW files and development and save JPEGs straight away. 

Sounds kind of tempting, doesn't it?
This does not only apply to Fujifilm. Even if the cameras from other manufacturers don't have Fuji film simulations, the JPEGs can often be used "out-of-cam".


What are the pros and cons? I have compiled that in this article.

JPEG & RAW: The comparison

To spoil my conclusion right away: If you want to make adjustments to your pictures later, you will quickly reach the limits of what the picture has in terms of image information for post-processing with JPEGs that you will cry like. JPEGs have no reserves at all. Either you accept them as they are or you don't. Improving an image through post-processing is actually hopeless. If you intend to do this, save your image in RAW. I have compared two pictures in three versions for you here. It quickly becomes clear why I decided against just saving JPEGs.

picture quality

RAW files store the signals provided by the sensor's red, green, and blue pixels. 

Without RAW developers like Lightroom or Capture One, you can't view them at all and you can't use them properly without editing. They have to be processed, but have saved the maximum amount of image information. Depending on the camera type, this is 12, 14 or 16 bits per pixel.

For example, my Fuji X-T3 saves the raw data in RAF files with 14-bit color depth, i.e. 16384 possible color values per pixel. JPGs are saved with a color depth of 8 bits, that is 256 gradations per color value. 

A huge difference that you don't see because our eyes can't even see 256 gradations. But that will play a big role in editing.
Here are two histograms of a JPG image. On the left is the histogram of an image where I applied a tonal spread*.  

 

You can clearly see the spikes, which indicate that a number of brightness values are missing in the image and that the color transitions will have edges. 

On the right the processed RAW file. Here you can see a much softer curve that contains all brightness gradations.

 

*tone spread: Is a tonal value correction in which the darkest value of an image is set to 0 (black point), the lightest to 255 (white point) and all other tonal values of the image are spread out in this specified range. If the contrast is increased, this can happen, for example. If the image only has, say, 200 out of 255 brightness values and we want to distribute them over the entire spectrum from 0 to 255, the edges appear at the transitions. 

histogram jpg Dietmar Sebastian Fischer

JPEG and RAW in practice comparison

Mathematically, the quality differences between RAW and JEPG are enormous.

A JPG image of my X-T3 takes up around 7 MB of storage space, a compressed RAW file around 30MB. Four times as much information….
But how does that work in practice? I compared 2 pictures for you.

In the comparison you can see for both pictures

 – Left: The unedited JPEG,

 – Right: the processed RAW image

 – In the middle: Transfer the adjustments from the RAW image to a copy of the JPEG. (simply made a virtual copy of the JPEG in Lightroom and transferred the settings from the RAW to it)

 

The JPEG image in the middle is processed in the same way as the RAW image.

The upper picture shows a difficult light situation, the clouds look completely blown out on the JPEG, I then adjusted the sky in Lightroom using a gradient filter. It can be seen that in the RAW file the clouds still have a very large proportion of drawing. In the JPEG, all of this was calculated in the camera and just left a white spot. Even in the picture below, where the clouds weren't overexposed, I was only able to lighten the clouds in RAW and get more structure into the picture. In the JPEG, the clouds simply became whiter, but their structure was already compressed away when the JPEG image was created and can no longer be retrieved. Of course, the upper image in particular is not correctly exposed, but the lower image also shows: The dynamic range is significantly lower in the JPEG than in the RAW file. Here again the pictures individually and in large, if you click on them.
jpeg oder raw bilder titelbild jpg Dietmar Sebastian Fischer
Left: JPG straight from the camera, Middle: edited JPG, Right:_ edited RAW
Above: an overexposed image, Below: a "properly" exposed image with a high contrast range (very light clouds, very dark houses)
The adjustments from the right image were transferred 1:1 to the JPG image in the middle

Why I prefer to let my camera write RAW

My conclusion:

I've often had the thought of simply saving JPEGs and then making the few adjustments that a correctly exposed picture needs in them.

And he sounds charming too. It makes sense to compose as much as possible of the image before recording.

But even minor adjustments in the actually correctly exposed second image were no longer possible in the JPEG file.

You can use the JPEGs if you secure are that you the pictures afterwards Not want to edit more, otherwise write RAWs!

RAW files are like the film negatives from the analog era, they contain the DNA of the captured image. In the JPEG and in the analog photo print from the negative, you only see a small section of it.

The negative strips and the RAWs, both should be kept!

When can you be sure? I took a really beautiful picture on a trip around New Zealand about 10 years ago but only saved it in JPEG.

Today, as always, I would like to add a few accents in post-processing, but the picture doesn't allow for that.

As much as I like Velvia and Classic Chrome, I don't know if I'll still like them in 10 years, the same goes for black and white images with crisp contrasts (and therefore little definition in the middle).

 

Sometimes JPEGs make sense after all

Yes, there are actually moments when my camera only writes JPEGs.

If I'm sure the pictures won't get old.

Pictures for an Instagram story that I'll post soon.

I take pictures that have to get to the customer so quickly that there is no time for post-processing as JPEGs. If they still have value later, then also as RAW on one side of the card.

 

Instant cameras also do not write RAW files.

And I was only able to influence the look of my analogue color images by choosing the film, because a laboratory did the rest.

Yes, it can definitely be a stylistic device to see your pictures as finished works with a film look, not to edit them, but to use them as they are.

Okay, so how do I get the great film looks in my RAW image?

It's very simple, in my example I also edited the RAW file with the Velvia Look in order to stay as close to the JPEG as possible.
lr profile jpg Dietmar Sebastian Fischer
In Adobe Lightroom (LrC) there is a "Profile" option under Basic Settings. There you go to "Browse" and then you will find all Fuji Film looks"
c1 profile jpg Dietmar Sebastian Fischer
Capture One calls the Film Looks Curves, which you can find under "Basic Features", by default the curve is set to Auto.

The film looks from Fujifilm can even be applied to images from other manufacturers in Lightroom. How to do it shows Jan Lorenz.

My JPEG & RAW workflows

My cameras almost always only save RAW, sometimes RAW+JPG and sometimes only JPG.

 

I only write RAW when...

 

… actually almost always!

 

With RAW images, you are forced to post-process each image by hand. White balance, contrast, sharpness and colors are set to “neutral” values by default when imported into your RAW converter. The picture looks boring, flat and has too little contrast and sharpness. But you have all the creative freedom to let your final image look the way you like and don't have to limit yourself to the film looks or creative filters, as they are called by other camera brands.

My goal is to show what I felt when I took the picture, not what I saw. This is usually not possible with film looks and filters alone.

This is actually the main reason why I use RAW files. I need RAW files, but I can also edit them and create the image I had in mind when I shot it.

I write RAW+JPG when…

… I need pictures that I want to transfer to my iPhone before I transfer my data to my Mac back home. Most iOS apps (including those from Fujifilm) cannot do anything with the Fuji RAF files. So if something needs to be uploaded quickly to Instagram & Co. or I want to share the pictures with someone, I also save the pictures in JPG

I only write JEPG when...

... I take a lot of pictures. No, not at weddings. But with timer-controlled recordings for timelapse videos. Otherwise only by mistake.

 

Two more pro tips

Image composition works better in b/w

If you only save RAW files anyway, you can also set the film look to b/w. This way you only see the picture in b/w before the picture is taken and you can concentrate completely on the picture composition and exposure and you won't be distracted by the colors in the picture.

Don't underestimate the DR (Dynamic Range) setting

With the base ISO of my X-T3 of ISO 160, I only have DR100 available, from ISO320 then DR200 and from ISO 800 then DR400. (To be set in the IQ area of the menu)

Canon, Nikon, Sony also have it, they call it DRO, ALO “Active D-Lighting”

So if you really only write JPEGs, it might make sense to work with DR200 or DR400 of a higher ISO instead of ISO 160 and DR100. This means that the images are first underexposed by 1 or 2 levels before they are saved and then the darker areas are brightened again. As a result (hopefully) there are less often completely white clouds like mine in the first picture.

If you want to know more about this topic, I recommend Rico Pfirstinger's website fuji-x-secrets.de

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