|Figure 1: Original Images|
Now there is no real comparing a 14-16 bit RAW file to an 8 bit JPG file in terms of information. There is no question that the gamut of colour between those two file types will always be quite different. But much of that is academic to the untrained eye, which begs the question of whether or not the two files warrant much debate.
Digital files have certainly come a long way in the past 6 or 7 years. The shadow noise performance of modern digital cameras pretty much now yield near smooth and noiseless images. The Sony A7 series of cameras have been the talk of the photographic community for the past year and it produces some amazing images from compressing the shadow and highlight information. I'll say after performing this test, I am very amazed by what the camera puts out, but also what it does for JPG images. The need for HDR software is certainly put into question, when it appears that the tonal range from 100% black to 100% white produces such favourable results from this camera.
|Figure 2: Highlight Compression|
|Figure 3a: Shadow Compression|
|Figure 3b: Shadow Compression Detailed View|
|Figure 4: Tone Mapped (Note the slight colour shift that has to be corrected afterwards)|
So upon revisiting this popular question about RAW vs JPG, what conclusions should I make? One could argue that with media being as cheap as it is, you should always shoot the highest quality setting and convert or downsample later. On the other hand, why put yourself through unnecessary processing if you're confident in your shooting, and your images are always properly exposed? Let the camera do the processing, and just enjoy a beautifully processed JPG image (and thousands compared to hundreds on a media card)
Even with the 8 bit JPG files, I was able to push it at least 4 stops, which in the past was lucky to get 1.5 stops. I also did some more tests where I pushed it 6 additional stops overall, giving a very healthy margin of 12-14 stops as reported by other sites.
Although the low overall gamut of the JPG image may present some banding issues with certain images and certain colours, it doesn't mean that it should be totally disregarded as the ugly step child in your camera. Based on this simple test, it isn't as clear as it was 6-7 years ago about the differences between the two formats. I might have to change my analogy to something a little better suited to today's generation and a little more accurate. RAW is like the graphics of the Sony Playstation 3 compared to JPG images as if it were on the Sony Playstation 2.
The real question for many is should they shoot in RAW or should they shoot in JPG. My answer to that is yes!
For the most part it is pretty inconsequential. I use both when the occasion calls for it, and when I do need to shoot thousands of images (most of the running events I shoot are all in JPG and usually I shoot 4000-5000 images per event). I find that if the situations is controlled and I have time to set things ahead of time, I shoot JPG. But if I'm uncertain of changing light or going to be changing settings a lot, I still trust in RAW files. This test proves to me that I can trust in both formats regardless of my personal preference, and probably should be less about RAW vs JPG in the future, and more about how to shoot both to maximize the most potential from it.
Post Script: One comment I received are other important factors of why to shoot raw which in terms of problematic files that are harder to correct in JPG images are colour balance, post sharpening, and noise control (especially in higher ISO images). RAW files offer much more flexibility in terms of this. But this article isn't to suggest that RAW is a crutch, but there is no doubt more information is always better. I would never do shadow and highlight recovery to a JPG image like I have done here, but this article merely demonstrates what flexibility is still within the JPG file without resorting to a RAW file. JPG does require accurate and proper settings to maximize the file, which means that if something does go wrong, you can always rely on RAW files. Like many other cameras, having the ability to shoot both RAW+JPG is actually a good compromise to the question. If you choose to save yourself a bunch of work, you can just use the JPG files.
|RAW or JPG? It doesn't really matter because they both look the same.|