When you take a digital picture, data comes off your DSLR’s sensor in a string of binary ones and zeros. The camera’s processor then bundles the information and saves the image as a file format. DSLRs typically use two file formats – JPEG and Raw – although some top end models also offer TIFFs. So which should you use?
JPEGs File Format
A JPEG is way of compressing information, which means certain data from the image is regarded by the camera’s processor as redundant and ignored. This is why the JPEG format is sometimes called a ‘lossy’ format.
The advantage of JPEGs is that the more compression takes place, the smaller the resulting file. You can store many more JPEGs on your DSLR’s memory card than Raw files. The catch is that as data is discarded, so image quality becomes compromised.
You’ll find settings to change the quality of JPEGs in your camera’s menu. Stick with the highest quality JPEG setting. Depending on your camera’s megapixel count, this will enable you to get a high quality print at least to A4.
JPEGs are readable by most software programs and at the highest quality settings, you can achieve excellent results. If you’re just finding your feet with DSLR photography, shoot JPEGs. DSLR purists will tell you to shoot Raw but the fact is, JPEGs are easier to use. They can be emailed and uploaded to websites and occupy much less space on your computer
RAW File Format
If you don’t want to lose data from your images, shoot Raw. In Raw files, data remains ‘untouched’ by the camera’s processor and comes straight from the sensor, leaving you in total control over the final image. The disadvantage with Raw is that files occupy more space on your memory cards.
Each manufacturer has its own Raw format and provides Raw converter software free with your DSLR. To make a Raw file accessible to all, you’ll have to convert it into a TIFF or JPEG first. Programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Aperture are designed to handle and process large quantities of Raw files
There’s a lot of fuss about Raw files, but here’s some common-sense advice. Shoot the format you feel most comfortable using. Some DSLRs will enable you to simultaneously capture both Raw and JPEG files.
TiFFs File Format
Although very few cameras shoot this file format in-camera, TIFF is a popular format for saving a Raw file after adjustment in an image-editing program such as Photoshop. This is because it stores information without discarding image data. It’s sometimes called a ‘lossless’ file format for this reason. This means a TIFF may be edited and resaved many times without losing image quality. Most image-editing programs can read TIFFs – but the file sizes are considerably larger than JPEGs.
RAW + JPEGs
Many DSLRs offer the facility to shoot Raw and JPEG files at the same time – check in your camera’s instruction manual to see if yours does.
The huge benefit of this is that after downloading all the shots to your computer, you can quickly scroll through the JPEGs to see if any may be worth working on.
The bad news? Shooting in both file formats reduces memory card capacity even more, especially if you’re capturing Raw files and large JPEGs.