Do you eat your digital pics RAW…

…or do you cook them until they’re JPEG?


I had a great time talking to Matt and James at Interwoven today about RAW image formats.  (Sorry if I went overboard guys!)  You see, we all have digital SLRs and were pondering the usefulness of RAW images.


My jury is still out there debating.  Do I keep them or do I trash them?  I’ve been shooting JPEG+RAW which amounts to about ~14 MB per shot and as of right now I’m running low on hard drive space since I’ve been keeping the RAW files (actually .CR2 files since I’ve got a Canon 20D).  What I’d like to find out is if the general majority of folks keep these files, don’t get them to begin with, or do their post processing and then get rid of them?


Part of my problem in wondering what to do with these files is that there’s a tremendous effort involved in looking at each one of these files and exporting them to JPEG/TIFF/PSD, etc.  I really hope Adobe’s RAW format proposal gets accepted because then there might be a better software solution for dealing with all of these files (I could just keep the RAWs and only get JPEGs when I need to create a web gallery).  You see, most of the photo album software I’ve seen doesn’t read RAW files so I’m definitely in a bind. 


I found a good article that talks about the trade offs:   Here's another article that refers back to a Microsoft site that talks about managing your RAW files....looks like I'll have to try this one: 


I think for the interim my solution is going to buy a bigger hard drive so I can continue to store both.  J

Comments (12)

  1. I use JPEG. I have yet to see a situation where RAW would make a noticeable difference.

    Sure, if you load a 8 bit and a 12 bit image in Photoshop and do some extreme transformation on them (like Curves with a very steep function) you might see a difference. But in real life the extra bits don’t really help all that much.

    Same with compression artifacts – with 300% zoom I can barely see a difference between "fine" JPEG setting on my camera and RAW.

    The ability to change white balance etc. seems nice but again in most cases you can fix that in Photoshop and the results look just as good.

    I might be totally wrong about this of course. If somebody has a real life example where starting from a RAW image as opposed to JPEG made a big difference I’d like to see it.

  2. I shoot and store family pictures in JPEG large (high quality) and only shoot art (i.e. something to print 13"x19" or possibly sell) in RAW.

    RAW is not just about compression. It useful when you need more that 8 bpp color or need extensive image correction. Correction in 16 bit space produces better final 8bit images than correction in 8 bit space. I store final images in TIFF.

  3. Robert Gruen says:

    Do you keep the RAW images once you are done processing the art images or do you hold onto the RAW files?

    I guess that once an image is "final" you really don’t need the RAW image any more. I agree that you probably don’t need raw images for family pictures but I’m always concerned that some family picture may become art. At that point I second guess why I wasn’t shooting raw+jpeg. I can tell you that it certainly makes more work! 🙂

  4. Jesse says:

    RAW = Digital Negative. I wouldn’t use anything other than it. Unless of course I don’t care about the image being captured. Ever try adjusting White Balance and exposure in Photoshop with JPG? Takes me about 2 seconds with a raw image. RAW images are typically compressed (lossless. hence their larger size.) and take little more processing overhead. check out these helpful tools for managing the RAW workflow:


    Breeze Browser/Downloader Pro

    Jotto Pixort

    Processing/Developing, either Photoshop Camera Raw, Phase One Capture One, Bibble, or even Canon’s own Digital Photo Pro.

    Using raw you have so much more creative control over the images you capture. it also gives you the ability to ‘save’ would-be damaged (over/under-exposed) images. You can also do cool tricks to increase dynamic range of the images by doing multiple ‘exposures’ of the same image.

    I only hold on to the RAW images after processing. You can save the ‘formula’ for your developing of the image. Unless I do heavy photoshopping, then I save a 16bit TIFF. Otherwise I find that I develop each image over time differently (better monitor calibration, or just preferring a ‘warmer’ image).

    Do you save your film? yes, I do. RAW is the equivalent of film. YOU are acting as the photo lab technician. If you bring your film negative to wal-mart, ritz, procolor, walgreens, etc.. you will have that many different variations of the image. each lab is calibrated differently, as is each person. If you only have jpg/tiff, you cannot go back to the ‘source’.

    Also over time, RAW processing gets better. For instance, if you have a Hot/dead pixel Photoshop ACR will remove that ONE pixel. whereas if you have that in JPEG, you will have an Anti-Aliased pixel, which is harder to remove.

  5. One of the things to keep in mind in converting RAW files to jpg or tiff also changes the image form linear gamma to a non-linear gamma – which can involve discarding some real highlight detail. (There is a good write-up on this at if you are curious)

    That fact alone was enough to talk me into shooting raw. Whether to keep/archive the raw file, or just the processed jpg or tiff really comes down to a question of how likely are you to re-process the photo in the future. If you are just keeping the image around to show folks and to be able to make prints, and you are happy with the way it looks post-processing, you may not need the raw file long term. The analogy with the photo lab is useful, but if you get to a “print” that you are really happy with, it’s not clear that you would realistically go re-process it again at a later date.

    tiff and jpg probably have a longer shelf life than the various proprietary RAW formats in terms of being able to use them with future software tools. Having said all that, I archive the raw files for everything, and the resulting 16bit tiffs for anything I do any manual edits or corrections on (which is usually the stuff that I hang on the wall).

  6. Dave Quick says:

    Primary digital camera: Nikon D70

    I shoot RAW at all times. I shoot a grey card in each location/lighting consition as my first image, then I correct white balance on that in photoshop and then apply that white balance to the rest of the shots in a sequence in batch.

    Then I convert to JPEG as I feel as necessary to share with others. I use thumbsplus ( for indexing and have 2.2TB of RAID5 backed storage that gets incrementally backed to DVD weekly and full backuped every six months.

    I’ll never get rid of the RAW – it has the ability to color correct and more information (because it is RAW) to allow for better correction and tweaking of image later if I want to.

    I scan old school negative and slide film in at max res on a nikon coolscan V ED and archive off the 100MB+ per image TIFF files onto duplicate DVDs and keep around a 16bpp PNG of each at less than 1/4 of the resolution as well for any memorable film shots.


  7. JaSoN says:

    I suggest ONLY keeping the raw. It will get easier to convert to JPEG with time. Storage will be better too, you can now get 300gb hard drives in the 150 range. Get 8 of these, raid them together, and voila, you’ll have enough storage space for at least a week’s worth of the Rob Gruen shooting… ; )


    I recommend AGAINST the western digital drive that you have hot linked. I have had very bad luck with WD. I have had a few friends have similar experiences as me with WD. You might want to go seagate or maxtor. Definately have more than one for backup storage with whatever brand you chose. There’s nothign worse than losing a lot of images… as I am sure you know.


  8. Nigel Pond says:

    A little late to the party on this issue. I am a Canon 10D user. I shoot exclusively in RAW and process using PS CS RAW converter. I keep both the RAW file, the TIFF and the JPEG. If I had to discard one of them for space reasons it would be the TIFF, as I can always recreate it from the (smaller) RAW file. If you delet the RAW your digital negative is lost.

    BTW if you want a great book on using the PS CS RAW converter, take a look at:

  9. Nigel Pond says:

    One other thing, any changes you make to an image, particularly a JPEG within Photoshop or most other imaging apps, are <b>lossy</b? — you are always throwing away data. Making those same changes (eg exposure) in a RAW converter is <b>lossless</b>.

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