By this point, the advantages of shooting in a RAW format should be abundantly clear. The simple conclusion is that “it’s just better.”
But is it?
This final installment goes over some of the considerations when deciding to shoot in either RAW or a more compressed format. We know the drawbacks of shooting in JPEG, but what about the drawbacks of shooting in RAW?
To start, the file sizes associated with RAW images are huge in comparison to their compressed counterparts. With my go to stills camera – the 5D Mark II – RAW files are a full 5 times larger on average. At roughly 25 MB each, that means I can record about 40 RAW images per gigabyte. By contrast, I could store 200 JPEGs in the same amount of space. Luckily, digital storage options are generally very affordable and I don’t think twice about whether or not I’ll have enough space to warrant shooting in RAW. But that’s just for photography. High-resolution RAW-capable video cameras (like the Black Magic Cinema Camera) require up to 7 gigabytes of space for a single minute of RAW video. That means an average day-long shoot could easily generate several terabytes of data – a truly scary proposition for the under-equipped.
It shouldn’t be surprising that RAW files are so large – it is the abundance of information that makes the image so malleable and degradation-resistant. And remember that RAW-capable programs – like Adobe‘s Camera RAW software – are extremely powerful, non-destructive editors that make use of all of that information. Of course, the RAW workflow adds a new step in the post-production chain. Managing the beauty of RAW requires a fee from the post-production timeline; files take longer to save and backup and new programs have to be added to the mix. If the project does not have the budget for this – either in terms of time or money – it can create a small nightmare.
My testing demonstrated that in most instances, JPEG actually holds up quite well. Astute shooters can usually mitigate the limitations of the compression, but it’s not always easy or even feasible. Recall Matt’s concern from the first post that “people might wonder, why don’t you just shoot it right in the first place?”
Yesterday I ran outside just before sunset and took a picture of Canal Studios – the building just across the street from our office. The face of the building was in the shade, but the sky was still very bright with lots of color. How is one to shoot this “right in the first place?” Sure, we have things like graduated ND filters but those are blunt tools for specific problems. And it would be theoretically possible to set up massive production lights to light the building and shaded street, but that kind of remedy is usually only available to the big guns in Hollywood. In reality, the answer to this problem lies in the ability of the recording format to save as much of the available information as it can. RAW excels at this.
A quick detour through ACR allows us to bring up the shadows and tone down the highlights, all while preserving fine detail and minimizing noise. And we know further that if we would like to color the image (apply a special “look” or “mood”) we can do it without any real worry over the image falling apart.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short series. Let us know in the comments below if you have anything you’d like to see us cover in future posts.
Be sure to check out the other blog posts in our RAW vs. JPEG series: