After a conversation on the track and on Twitter about photographic journalism “ethics,” I decided to go do a practice inside a practice. I messaged Jalonick “Lonnie” Davis, Head Coach at Golden Valley High School, and asked if I could come to shoot some images at his CIF-SS Finals practice. Since I never shoot JPEG, I felt I had to at least give it a shot. So I shot a few hundred images in RAW +JPEG mode and saved each image in both file formats.
The image above was saved in RAW. The image below was saved in JPEG. Scroll up and down the page to compare the two and you’ll likely see only slight differences. But the process of editing the JPEG images felt “off” for me. I’m used to being able to take full advantage of the 14 stops of dynamic range in the Sony A1 RAW files. The absence of that range in the JPEG files was evident, most importantly in highlights and shadows. Additionally, the JPEG saving process, even set to Extra Fine, introduces artifacts that, frankly, I don’t like.
You may not be able to see these artifacts on the screen without zooming in. And I’m betting some people will like the photo below better than the photo above, though I do not. So if my only goal was screen display, I might have a different opinion. But these artifacts would show up if you ever decided to print the photos. Keep scrolling to see what I’m talking about.
Below you can see both images zoomed in to show the pixels a bit better. On the left is the image saved in JPEG. On the right is the image saved in RAW. Now, before I dissect, it’s probably good to note that I shoot at -1EV most of the time. Again, since there is ample dynamic range available in these RAW files, I find -1EV allows more flexibility when working with highlights.
However, this may have an adverse effect on the JPEG file and is a likely cause of some of the artifacts you see above. Working to pull details from highlights and shadows in the JPEG, I had to stop short of where I normally do. So, I’m perfectly willing to accept that I would need to change my camera settings if I were shooting exclusively in JPEG.
That said, one of the reasons I wanted to try shooting in JPEG was the possibility of improved speed while both capturing and editing images. On the capture side, I can hit 20 FPS (frames per second) shooting RAW files at 50M, but I could hit 30 FPS if I were shooting JPEG. Since I was shooting both at the same time, I didn’t get to test that yesterday.
However, I was able to judge edit speed. I was surprised to find that importing in Lightroom and creating the standard previews took 77.72 seconds for the selected JPEG files, but only took 33.23 seconds for the RAW files. And there was no difference in time in applying my base edits. The only meaningful time savings might be pulling the images off the memory cards since the JPEG files are roughly 25 MB and the RAW files run between 54-60 MB. But there’s the rub. Those smaller files mean there is a lot of useful image data missing. That’s why I started shooting in RAW in the first place.
Personally, I think Reuters has it wrong. You can be even more true to content and context if your ethics are in the right place. So I’m going to continue shooting in RAW for the flexibility it provides to get to what I think is, to my eye, a better quality final image. Of course, you may disagree and others may certainly have a JPEG-based shooting and editing process that gets stellar results.
I suppose I’m OK knowing my images won’t be accepted by Reuters. Oh well. I’m not shooting for them anyway. I’m shooting to provide the best photos I can for the athletes and their families.
The photos below were all saved originally as RAW files. 🙂
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fascinating work….which shows your passion for excellence. TIME is always an issue for me, and I shoot in both Jpeg and Raw but really do not have a lot of time for extensive Post Production. However, I enjoy your perspectives and insights. Thank you.
Larry, I think time is an issue for everyone and I’m in the same boat. Thanks for your comment. The trap I didn’t want to fall into was the “dreadful efficiency” trap of sacrificing quality for time. In this case, the potential time win was not enough for me to change strategies. I may do a more extensive test at a meet in the future, but for now… I’m sticking to RAW only. 🙂