Is RAW dead?

Mod­ern D-SLRs are able to take bet­ter, more ac­cu­rate JPEGs than ever – so do we still need to shoot in RAW?

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MFor years, the stan­dard ad­vice has al­ways been that you should shoot RAW files for qual­ity, but is this still the case? When we were shoot­ing on six-, 10- or even 12-megapixel D-SLRs equipped with rel­a­tively prim­i­tive pro­ces­sors, shoot­ing RAW seemed the ob­vi­ous choice for the best pos­si­ble pic­tures, but im­prove­ments in sen­sor design, res­o­lu­tion, dy­namic range and noise con­trol have raised im­age qual­ity to as­ton­ish­ing new lev­els. What if our Nikons’ JPEGs are now so good that we don’t need RAW any more?

This isn’t just a hy­po­thet­i­cal premise. Im­prove­ments to Nikon’s Ex­peed pro­ces­sors have brought JPEGs with bet­ter colour, tonal gra­da­tion and noise. They’ve also in­tro­duced fea­tures such as dis­tor­tion cor­rec­tion, Ac­tive D-Light­ing and other fea­tures that you don’t au­to­mat­i­cally get with RAW files.

So stay with us as we ex­plore the pros and cons of RAW ver­sus JPEG, be­cause we think that RAW has maybe had its own way for just a lit­tle too long. ost people call them RAW files; Nikon calls them NEFs. Ei­ther way, they are the equiv­a­lent of a ‘dig­i­tal neg­a­tive’, a half-way stage in the im­age-edit­ing process where you don’t yet have a fin­ished im­age, but you still have ac­cess to all the colours, tones and data cap­tured by the cam­era’s sen­sor.

All Nikon D-SLRs give you the choice of shoot­ing RAW files or JPEGs – or in­deed both at the same time. JPEG im­ages are ready to use straight away. You can print them, email them, and show them on your com­puter or tablet, but you have to leave it to your cam­era to process your im­ages us­ing the set­tings you chose when you took the picture. With RAW files, you get to do the pro­cess­ing, not your cam­era. This has ad­van­tages in terms of flex­i­bil­ity, im­age qual­ity and choice… but RAW files place ex­tra de­mands on your cam­era, on your com­puter and on your own time. So which do you go for, and in what cir­cum­stances?

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