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RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Jared Polin July 16, 2010 22


One of the most hotly contested debates in all of photography is “RAW vs JPEG”. Over the past week on FroKnowsPhoto.com I have taken all the JPEG shooters reasons for not shooting RAW and turned it around into reasons why you should be shooting RAW.
(There will be a full length article on RAW vs JPEG coming soon)

I have done a lot of talking on this matter but now its time to do more showing. What you will see in these two videos are actual samples of RAW + JPEG that were captured at the same time going head to head. There are overexposed and underexposed images as well as the “I got it right in the camera” JPEG vs RAW corrected comparisons.

I have uploaded the sample images to my flickr account. In the video I mentioned I would upload the jpeg files as they came out of the camera. For comparison sake the files that I made corrections to to compare against the RAW have been exported from lightroom in full-res.

Please enjoy both parts of this series Hit the break to see part 2 and sample images.

Sample JPEG vs RAW from the video with explanations. Click each image to see the FULL RES version on FLICRK.
All images shot with the NIKON D3s and Nikon 24-70 2.8. The RAW files were captured at 14 bit RAW uncompressed and the JPEG’s were captured with varying picture control settings to try and get them “right in the camera”. The camera was set to RAW+JPEG so each image is identical. The camera was set to M and I bracketed about 12 stops, from very underexposed to way overexposed and than selected the images to edit.

The first image you will see in the first 4 examples is the JPEG as it came out of the camera before corrections were made. The last 3 images are the JPEGs as they came out of the camera with only the corrections that were made in the camera.

Example #1 JPEG exactly out of the camera

4799036977 af46bc512f RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #1 JPEG version

This JPEG image was brought into LR3 and was extremely underexposed. The only correction that was made to this file and the next example of the RAW file is the exposure was put to +3 (all other corrections were done in the camera using picture control before the image was captured).

As you can see the cat is very flat and lacks life in way of color. Look how flat the blinds look on the left hand side and how the shadow area on the right hand side is just lacking anything.

4798687519 c284477e10 RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #1 RAW

This RAW image was brought into LR3 and was extremely underexposed. The only correction that was made to this file is the exposure was put to +3.

As you can see there is life in the cat, we only made one change to the raw file and that was the exposure. You can see how the cat comes alive and you can see color in his face and fur. Look on the left hand side at how the blinds now have some life in them and the shadow area on the right hand side now has life and more detail.

4798687689 66b1f3d643 RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #1 JPEG exactly out of the camera

4799037129 47213ce577 RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison
Example #2 JPEG

Sample number two is a very underexposed image that was fully corrected in lightroom to try and bring it back. In the camera the Picture Control settings were set to vibrant and the sharpening was set almost maced out.

You may think this was saved but when you compare it to the RAW example you will see the differences in detail.

4798687835 80e49fbf1d RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #2 RAW

Sample number two is a very underexposed image that was fully corrected in lightroom to try and bring it back. The RAW file was tweaked in LR3 make it a usable image

As you can see in the comparison to the JPEG there is a lot more detail in the background that is brought back as well as the cat looks more 3d and dynamic.

4798687981 454446534b RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #3 JPEG exactly out of the camera

4799670666 9ced922422 RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #3 JPEG

This image was extremely underexposed and the only correction made in LR3 was maxing out the exposure to +4.

As you can see all the dynamic range of the color is pretty much gone. The cat looks flat the table looks flat, all and all the image is flat.

4799461740 8b3f39418b RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #3 RAW

This image was extremely underexposed and the only correction made in LR3 was maxing out the exposure to +4.

In comparison to the jpeg this image has life, it has dynamic range of color. Keep in mind there was only one tweak made to the RAW file and if fully corrected this image would be fully usable.

4798688161 e2fc26dba7 RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #4 JEPG exactly out of the camera

4799037359 dd9b836937 RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #4 JPEG

This was a very overexposed image that i tried to fully correct in LR3 using the jpeg as captured in the camera. As you can see when I brought it back you start to get banding in the color on the wall. All of the extra data that is still in the RAW file is lost in the JPEG and your left with banding.

4798688283 cf63ef5828 RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #4 RAW

This was a very overexposed image that i tried to fully correct in LR3 using the RAW file that was captured in camera. As you can see there is no banding in the wall as compared to the jpeg file. This image was fully brought back into a usable image.

4799321602 a70ee58e3a RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #5 JPEG “I get it right in the camera”

I wanted to show you an image that I would say was exposed properly in the camera. This is a big thing for jpeg shooters to tell you “I get it right in the camera” which means they do no other post processing of their files.

This looks pretty good until you look at the corrected RAW file in the next example.

4799321824 97e9c1010f RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #5 RAW

This image was captured properly in the camera and tweaked in LR3 using the RAW file. In comparison to the JPEG in the previous image you can see the difference in the color and the way the image pops. The RAW image takes on more dimension in way of color and shadow detail.

4799322266 5121c7bf31 RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #6 JPEG “I get it right in the camera”

This is a sample of the jpeg right out of the camera with no tweaks other than the normal picture control settings. It looks pretty good until you see the raw file in the next image.

4799322596 ce317a251d RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #6 RAW

This RAW file pops, the color of LIL is less flat and more dynamic. The color of the walls and carpet are more realistic to the way they actually are.

4798689747 a908b1c5ae RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #7 JPEG “I get it right in the camera”

This is a jpeg out of the camera that is very very good. The colors are great and were pretty hard for me to replicate at first in the RAW file. I was able to bring the image to where I thought it met and beat the jpeg.

The question I get a lot is why would I shoot RAW + JPEG. One reason is if you are new to photo editing it is nice to have a reference to try and match and than make better. If this is you than i would shoot RAW and JPEG basic and just use the basic files for comparison.

4798690009 b3df72e221 RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

Example #7 RAW

This is the RAW file tweaked after using the jpeg as a comparison file. I like the range of color in the greens in the shadow are light areas. I feel this is a warmer image that is more representative of the actual real life environment.

The question I get a lot is why would I shoot RAW + JPEG. One reason is if you are new to photo editing it is nice to have a reference to try and match and than make better. If this is you than i would shoot RAW and JPEG basic and just use the basic files for comparison.

4799323366 123f23681d RAW vs JPEG Side by Side Comparison

22 Comments »

  1. Anthony July 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm -

    Excellent examples and demonstrations. A fantastic wrap-up to RAW vs JPEG week. :D

    • Jared Polin July 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm -

      thanks for checking them out.

  2. Marioski July 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm -

    Thanks for these videos, now i need to put in practice what i learned from you :)

  3. Bertrand July 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm -

    Excellent job!

    Question : Is that the new RAW hairstyle? :-)

    • Jared Polin July 17, 2010 at 2:35 pm -

      nope lol just have to give the hair some down time.

  4. Kyle July 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm -

    Awesome job as usual!

  5. Timo July 16, 2010 at 3:02 pm -

    the kenrockwell hip-bag is so funny :D saw it on his site too.
    well again: really good job. and so “in time” during the last month, i was asking myself, what major differences there might be between raw&jpeg.
    really solid work here.

  6. Jay July 16, 2010 at 4:28 pm -

    I hate plugging my own stuff in comments, so please forgive me, but if anyone is interested I have some side by side comparisons I did in my own RAW vs. Jpeg blog post.

    http://jaygunn.com/blog/2010/03/28/raw-vs-jpeg/

    I gotta make a couple corrections to the post. Mostly minor grammatical and spelling errors, but I also forgot about Lightroom’s dual license, and mistakenly suggested you had to buy two licenses if you use both Mac and Windows.

  7. guunther1 July 16, 2010 at 5:10 pm -

    RAW is KING

  8. guunther1 July 16, 2010 at 5:11 pm -

    Ooh uuh and btw… i dont think RAW will ever be replaced, just cause the name RAW says it all.

  9. chris aka mr wiggly July 17, 2010 at 5:58 am -

    NUF SAID!!!!the pictures says it all!!!!!
    JARED POLIN-6….KEN ROCKWELL-0
    THE CROWD GOES WILD!!!!!!!!!!
    This has been one of the best weeks of videos you have done!!
    Great job!!!!!

  10. Earl July 17, 2010 at 6:26 am -

    I absolutely loved this week…Jared, you’re evidence was solid and it just made perfect sense. I’ve learned SO MUCH already just by listening to you, reading your e-books, and applying what I’ve learned in the field. Great job bro!

    My name’s Earl and I SHOOT RAW! (Shooting RAW since May 2010)

  11. Scott Davis July 17, 2010 at 7:14 am -

    Nice work Fro ,
    Can i ask a silly question please, it’s related to lightroom , raw files and lenses.
    If your broke as i am , and can’t afford new fast lenses (yet). Is it possible to take pictures knowing they’re going to be slighty under exposed (with faster shutter speed) and bring them back , i know it’s a bodge job , but i want to try and take some motorsport pics , and i’ve only got the kit lense that came with the camera !

    • Jared Polin July 17, 2010 at 2:37 pm -

      I talk about that in my e book how to cheat the system but it becomes tougher and tougher with the lower end glass. Remember the nikon 35 1.8 is only 200 bucks and if your on the canon end you have the 50 1.8 which is under 200!!!

  12. LukaM July 17, 2010 at 7:36 am -

    You’ve opened my eyes. I’ve been shooting raw almost from the start. And I had no idea that a lot of pros still shoot jpeg. O.o I didn’t even think it was in question. A pro that shoots jpeg. Lol.

  13. gregDT July 17, 2010 at 8:51 am -

    Outstanding piece of work Sir. I believe it’s now time for the fat lady to sing.

  14. Kris T July 19, 2010 at 12:20 pm -

    I am a beginner with digital photography and found your videos very useful, thank you! I changed my setting to RAW and took some pictures of my 3 year old and they turned out awesome! I don’t think I have ever taken pictures that have turned out so good. We wanted to check them out on the laptop, I couldn’t open them and on my desktop I have Paint Shop Pro,they were so small and when I zoomed in on them, you could see all of the pixels. What do I need to do to be able to look at them and edit them? Did I do something wrong?
    Thank you for all of your great tips and videos, I didn’t even know that I should change the ISO. Like I said beginner!!
    Please help!

  15. Jay July 21, 2010 at 5:12 am -

    @Kris T: Initial thought would be perhaps Pain Shop Pro doesn’t support the RAW file, and is only loading the Jpeg preview/thumbnail embedded in it.

    If you don’t want to spend a little bit of money, I would suggest getting Picasa for viewing and light editing (as in not heavy). It’s free, and unless you have something crazy exotic, it should handle your RAW files. In case you do have something it can’t handle, you can grab the free Adobe DNG Converter, and use it to convert your RAWs to DNG which Picasa will definitely handle (but keep those manufacturer RAWs backed up, don’t just convert ‘em and toss ‘em).

    But really I would recommend getting Lightroom (I’m assuming you’re not on a Mac since you mentioned Paint Shop Pro, which I believe is Windows only). It’s pricey at first, but upgrades are pretty cheap and so far have been 18 months to 2 years apart before you have to pay for the new version.

  16. NikonCoupleSoFlo October 7, 2010 at 7:33 am -

    Well you convinced me the only problem now is the Lightroom 3 (which I just purchased – AWESOME) is not currently able to open my RAW D3100 pictures :( – Anxiously awaiting for Adobe to get the info it needs and do an update!

  17. Don November 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm -

    Your argument comes close to breaking down when you get to properly exposed Jpegs. Is that RAW pic of Lil unprocessed by you? Just the RAW file converted to Jpeg for posting? If it’s not then it’s not a fair comparison. I bet you could tweak that Jpeg just a little and make them match.

  18. Serge December 30, 2010 at 3:09 am -

    Hi,

    Great videos Fro!

    I keep learning about everything!

    I just noticed that you are a Nikon User, what do you think about Canon? Do you have a comparison video about Pros and Cons about choosing between a Canon and a Nikon?

    What do you think about Sony Alpha?

    I just suscribe for the newsletter too, where’s my ebook?

    Greetings from Mexico City!

    Sorry to post this here. I think that RAW vs. JPEG is a clear thing or must be an understood subject to all.

    Great pics to fully understand this.