RAW, TIFF or JPEG – which is best?

Search the web and you will find lots of discussion about which file type is the best to use when taking photographs. The choice you make depends on the intended use of the image. So let’s have a look at your options and see if I can help you make the right choice next time.

Most compact digital cameras these days only offer JPEG as the method of capturing your files. A few will offer the option of Tiff or Raw and it’s important to know what these do and why you should use them.

  • RAW – The word tells you exactly what happens to your file – all the data captured by your camera’s sensor is stored in it’s raw form, allowing you to manipulate it later in Photoshop or similar programs. The file that is saved is usually the largest file you can get from your camera. For example a 12megapixel camera will save a RAW file at around 34megabytes. To put this in perspective, if you had an 8gigabyte card in your cameras, you could take around 230 photos before your card was full. If you are serious about your photography and image quality is paramount, this is the only file type to use.
  • TIFF – Tiff files aren’t all that much different from RAW files except that the data has been ‘fixed’ in the file so you are not able to make the same range of adjustments that you could to a RAW file. The file size on the card is about the same, so again, you’d get about 230 photos on your card. If your camera gives you the choice of TIFF or JPEG only then choose TIFF for the highest quality.
  • JPEG – This file is called a ‘lossy file” in that it compresses the data and ‘throws’ some information away in the process. The compression factor can vary from camera to camera and often you will have several choices. What does compression mean? In simple terms it means that the data is compressed to save space on your card. Depending on the compression factor your camera offers, you could end up with anywhere from 3-10 times as many images saved on your card – possibly thousands! This is fine if you only want to post images to an online gallery, Facebook etc or only want to make small prints.

There are several reasons people choose JPEG over RAW or TIFF – the number of photos they can take on one card and the time it takes to deal with each type of file. RAW files in particular require special software to make the proper adjustments and along with that comes a skill requirement – you must understand what you are doing to the file. There are many times you are out taking photos when JPEG will be sufficient but for those times that you think you might want a higher quality, then change the settings on your camera and shoot RAW.

While most cameras come with some basic software to deal with RAW files, don’t worry if you don’t know to deal with it – when you are ready to have it printed, we can look after it for you.

For those of you that like to photograph your own artwork, please, please use RAW wherever possible. There are so many other factors that can affect the result – lighting, exposure, cropping, sharpness, lens used, distortion, to name a few – that at least if you send us a RAW file, we have the best chance to produce a print you will be happy with. I’ll qualify this by saying that there will be size limitations to your file also. A 12megapixel camera produces a print around 24 x 36cm at 300ppi. If your original is 60 x 90cm then your file will need to be enlarged substantially to make a print to original size. While this can certainly be done, you will definitely notice a severe loss of quality in sharpness and detail that you probably will not like.

So, if you want the best results shoot RAW (not ‘in the raw’) and if you are only shooting for fun, shoot JPEG. You can shoot ‘in the raw’ if that’s your thing but please, keep those photos to yourself!

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