The RAW vs JPEG debate … and should I use DNG? [Updated]


I feel like I’m about to enter the lion’s den. A much debated topic, or should I say a much argued topic which creates as much heat as any political or religious issue – it’s thought to be that important by some … but it’s NOT!

I’m just going to post a few links and then comment on what I think the most salient and important issues are. I shoot using RAW, I don’t use the option of RAW+JPEG that’s offered in the camera as it just takes more space up on my memory card, and as I don’t post to social media from my camera, I don’t require the separate file – I can, and do, create JPEGs from the RAW for publishing and sharing. That’s what JPEGs are good for. They are a good format to use at the end of the post-processing workflow – not the beginning, and for why?

Read this article or this one, and perhaps you’ll understand why? It comes down to this really …

If you’re shooting a family function or an event where you know the photographs will never be used other than online, or for a print that will not be enlarged; you can safely shoot JPEG.

If you’re shooting for an assignment, or for artwork – eg portrait photography, or ANYTHING that you think has the possibility of needing the highest possible quality for post-processing and afterwards for printing; you should seriously consider shooting in RAW as this format allows you to extract the most detail from your image (from the highlights in particular) – it’s the equivalent of the negative in “film-days-gone-by”.

If you’re on vacation, or some similar activity, where you are in “snap” mode and may want to post some photos on Facebook at the end of the day, yet you may want to do some post-processing later and produce a large print later; you could consider setting the camera to shoot both.

Remember also the time and space issues, and by this I don’t mean General Relativity. I mean if you want to enjoy your time taking photographs and not doing much post-processing; you should concentrate on getting as much right in the camera in the camera and get the trade-off of not using up as much space on your memory card(s) and hard disks. If that describes you; then JPEG is your go to format.

So … if you do not intend doing any post-processing with software, and/or you intend to put all your efforts into getting the shot right in camera [good on you, by the way] then of course shooting with JPEG is your best option, and I’m not criticising you in any way for using it.

Having said all that I’ll stick to my RAW workflow for the moment because I enjoy the greater flexibility RAW gives me in post-processing, but I may be tempted to use RAW+JPEG in the future.


Less argument about this one, but still plenty of disagreement amongst photographers. Adobe introduced DNG as a portable format that allowed you to process your images independently from the RAW format your camera used. A good idea that would seem. After all your camera manufacturer might go out of business, leaving you stranded with loads of RAW files you couldn’t process – but in practice this has never happened, and is unlikely to be a problem in the future.

So here are a couple of articles that you should read. This one and then this article. So where does this leave us …

DNG is a solution to a problem that just doesn’t exist. The supposed advantage of being a non-proprietary raw format doesn’t give much advantage today and it probably won’t in 30 years either. If every camera and software company adopted it, it would be a sensible strategy to adopt. But they haven’t. When my camera shoots in DNG, then I’ll probably use it.

I’m now used to the RAW files from my camera – they are my ‘film’, but I don’t understand what DNG actually is. It’s supposed to produce a file that’s 20% smaller and the same quality as my RAW file – but what am I losing? And with storage getting evermore cheaper that’s not an advantage anymore.

However, here’s a reason that is important. Many photographers use software that doesn’t support DNG, and moreover if you try and transfer a DNG file to another software package that does support DNG, you will not get the same result as you would if you’d transferred a RAW file – see this article for evidence of that!

Finally, having all the edits, metadata and keywords embedded in one DNG file rather than having a ‘sidecar’ XMP file to store this information alongside the RAW file is not really that great an advantage given the extra flexibility you have if you want to use External Editors in your Lightroom workflow, or if you want to go back to an earlier version of Lightroom which will force you to generate XMP files to accompany your RAW files to import the more recent images.

So it’s RAW for me! Start-up Lightroom and have a cup of coffee.




What do you do with video clips?

A sequence of anxious emails from my daughter following her discovery that many video clips appeared to be missing following a migration from a PC to a Mac platform caused me to investigate what had gone wrong, and whether there really was a problem … or not? This is what appears to have happened.

All the video clips HAD been copied over, but only the ones whose format was acceptable to iPhoto were viewable in that library. This only came to light when she noticed they were missing from Lightroom after an import from iPhoto – a process described here. Of course iMovie can only read MPEG-4 (MOV) files so they didn’t appear there either!

This raised the issue in my mind of what should you do with video clips to preserve them. An easy solution would be to post them all to YouTube or Vimeo, I suppose – but that seems to be a bit OTT for a clip 15secs, or so, long, and yet that 15secs might represent a really valuable memory that you wouldn’t want to lose. So … what workflow should you adopt for video clips? What practices should you adopt to ensure your snatched clips are retained for posterity?

The first thing that occurred to me, was that it’s very important to distinguish between cataloguing and editing your video clips. Yes … I know that’s obvious but it needs to be re-stated as the workflow that you adopt depends upon the decisions you make on storage and cataloguing. I love Lightroom because (like Picasa) it catalogues your media wherever it’s located in your file system. It doesn’t need to bring all the media together into a single place as iPhoto, Photoshop and others do, and which then lose the individual files inside a catalogue (or database). This approach enables you in Lightroom to have different catalogues looking at different slices of your media collection without creating copies (and taking up disk space). However, if you don’t use Lightroom … I would recommend following the following three golden rules:

1) Keep your video clips in a different folder on your hard disk from your photographs, or images;
2) Convert the clips to MPEG-4 as soon as you’ve imported them, if they aren’t already in that format;
3) After editing (in Movie Maker, or iMovie) always ensure you save, or export the finished movie as MPEG-4.

These three simple rules should ensure that you won’t be left with clips that you can’t read, view or edit as technology moves on.

So if you’re a Lightroom user the import into the Lightroom catalogue is a good decision, especially since it supports a wide range of video formats. [NB It doesn’t support WMV files however, so you’ll need to do a conversion of files if you’re moving from Windows to Mac and want to import files from that format, and its worthwhile doing the conversion for all other formats at the same time into MPEG-4. For this, I recommend Handbrake – but more about that later.]

However, you what you can edit in Lightroom is limited, therefore you need some way of accessing these clips so that you can edit them in, for instance, iMovie, or Windows Movie Maker. I would suggest that means you need a well-organised file-store and also a way of clearly identifying video clips inside your Lightroom catalogue. Luckily, you can do this very easily by creating a Smart Collection in Lightroom which identifies files with given suffixes. You should then export these to a temporary folder to allow format conversion (eg AVI to MPEG-4), and then import into an editing programme. [NB You can only rely on iMovie supporting Apple’s flavour of the MOV format, eg from the iPhone/iPad, so conversion of anything else to MPEG-4 first is a sensible precursor to the import.]

So how do you do a conversion to MPEG-4 or MP4? I use, and recommend using Handbrake – as mentioned above. Although the dashboard you’re presented with looks a bit daunting, the defaults are designed to produced high-quality MP4 formatted files. It appears at first that you can only select one file at a time to convert, but that is not the case since if you navigate using the Source button to the folder where your video clips are (that’s why I mentioned exporting the files to a temporary folder above if the files werre already in Lightroom), you can then select “Add All Titles to to Queue …” from the File tab. The re-formatted files can then be imported back into Lightroom and the originals deleted – again using Smart Collections.

This post has focussed on the Mac and using iMovie, but if you’re a PC user I would recommend using Windows Movie Maker which is a very effective and easy to learn package and which you can use alongside Lightroom as I’ve described above. If you aren’t a Lightroom user then follow the golden rules above. Above all … don’t leave any video clips in any format other than MPEG-4 if you want to be sure of retaining compatibility for the future.