RAW vs JPG vs Tiff: which one is best for me?

Most first time DSLR users find themselves overwhelmed by the many different options that one can shoot images with. There is the ubiquitous JPEG, the ever dependable RAW and also the third and often the less used Tiff. Many users prefer to use the RAW format without even knowing whether their shooting requirements would warrant that until they run out of memory cards or when they sit to review the images on their computers. So which one should you choose? Let’s take a quick look at what these images formats are and which one is suitable for specific shooting requirements.

RAW can be compared to a negative which has undergone exposure but not yet been developed. As such you cannot open the image in most image viewing software. However you can open the same on an image processing software such as Adobe Photoshop. It has the highest amount of details (12 to 14 bits) representing an amazing array of 16,384 different shades (for 14 bit images). They are ideal for post processing when the images can use the full scale computing power of a PC or Mac and that of a specialized image processing software. Post processing is necessary to ensure that your images render the perfect tonal representation which is impossible to do using the camera’s in built image processing system. Needless to say professional photographers especially those into fashion and product photography for commercial uses prefer shooting in RAW. There are many advantages to shooting RAW. For example the option to choose the right color temperature. White balancing (when shooting in RAW) has not been set by the camera. This allows the photographer to choose the correct temperature of the colors during post processing.

On the other hand JPEGs are 8 bit images which have only 256 shades. So to start off one has a lot less colors and brightness levels to play with. That is not bad if you only need photos for sharing with friends and occasional prints. Additionally if you are not into commercial shooting it makes sense to shoot using JPEGs. In fast action photography such as sports or even covering news events, JPEGs are preferred over RAW or Tiff because it is impossible to shoot large number of frames using RAW format. Continuous shooting in RAW will lead to buffer overrun and storage problems. Someone who shoots a lot of images will have a problem of needlessly increasing workload trying to process hundreds and thousands of images. The latest image processing engines from leading camera manufacturing companies such as EXPEED 2 from Nikon or DIGIC 5 from Canon are quite capable for shooting large fine JPEGs and retaining the true color tone to a large extent.

Tiff is another option that is available in some DSLRs. They are larger in size compared to JPEGs. They retain more information compared to a JPEG image and are also known as lossless because they retain the whole image information after compression. They are however less used in web and more used for printing purposes. If you have to choose between Tiff and JPEG, the later is more suitable for its smaller size.

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