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June 11th, 2013 - 08:01 AM
This is a question that isn’t as silly as it sounds at first glance. Many people particularly new photographers or new photographers to the digital age do not quite understand the different file formats and their uses. Their camera came set up from the store in some format called “JPG” and that is what they need to post images on the web, so that is what they’re going to use. Well there are a few things they should know about the various files formats before they decide which format to set in their camera, JPG, TIFF, PSD or their camera manufacturer’s RAW file format. There are other file formats which can be used, but these are the most popular and I will discuss these four formats.
Having come from the olden days of film; let me explain to the youngsters in the group how it was before the turn of the century. I can’t believe I actually said that…
In the film days you put a roll of film in your camera for whatever type of session you anticipated shooting that day. After you finished with that roll you either took it home to your dark room to develop the film or you took it to the nearest camera shop or drug store and had them send the film out to get developed. Once the film was developed one could either print all the snap shots or just “the good ones”. Or if one had a dark room one could manipulate the development process to achieve a particular effect or look for the final print. This is the equivalent of post capture processing in Photoshop or Lightroom or whatever program you currently use. The difference is that in the film days it may have taken a few hours to a few days to achieve the same results we now achieve in a few minutes in front of the computer.
Once the film was developed, prints were made and the images were admired; the negatives were saved in case duplicates needed to be sent to Grandma or Uncle Joe or your best friend in California. Or in case you want to work on it some more and change it from color to black and white, or sepia or to make ART by blurring, over exposing or under exposing, sorry can’t help myself. But the point is that you always had your negative to start a fresh project or adventure in creation from that negative.
Now heat up the flux capacitor, hit that 88mph and enter the digital age of photography. We no longer us film. Film has been replaced with digital media cards CF or SD or whatever. This saves us a bunch of money because they can be reused and here is the how the digital age mimicked the film age in the creation of RAW file formats.
Each camera manufacturer has placed a computer in their digital camera which does all kinds of good stuff from automatically focusing, to metering, to figuring out everything except when to push the shutter release button and what is in front of the camera when you push it (automatic mode). This computer is capable of doing one more extremely important thing and that is creating a digital negative of each image captured, providing you have your camera set to capture raw images.
So what is a RAW image? When the camera is set to take raw files images the computer in the camera accepts all the details and tonalities of light, within specified ranges, which entered through the lens, was captured by the sensor and was placed in an untouched, unmodified pristine file called a raw file. This is the equivalent of the developed film before it was manipulated to create works of ART in the dark room. Because they are untouched by the camera’s computer, raw files are large files which take up a great deal of computer space and digital media card space as well. So instead of taking 500 images on a card, if you shoot in JPG mode, you may only be able to take say 100 images on the same media card when you capture in RAW mode.
And that Frank is why I use JPG in the camera so I can get more images on the same card and the pictures look just as good!
Wrong answer think about it, you purchased a 24 million mega pixel camera (that is another blog article about what the heck is a pixel and a mega pixel) so why are you limiting yourself to a less than optimal image that has been processed by the camera’s computer and many of nuances of tonality have been discarded before you have even had a chance to see the richness of your digital negative!
What are you talking about Frank?
When the camera is set to take JPG images, the camera’s computer is given permission based on how big a file you have chosen; fine, large, medium or small files sizes, to modify your captured image. What you have told the camera to do is to look at the image compress it down from the original to fit one of these sizes. So the computer goes in and looks at the pixels and decides which pixels to throw out and which pixels to keep. For example, the computer will look at a dark gray pixel next to a medium gray pixel next to a light gray pixel and it will say okay get rid of the dark and light pixels and keep the medium gray and so on until your image meets the file size you specified. The more compression, the smaller the file size, the more detail is being tossed from your original image. Once those pixels are tossed you can’t recover them. Still like getting more images on your card?
If you want more images on your cards, buy a larger capacity card and shoot raw. A pixel is a terrible thing to waste.
The raw file is the best format to use particularly if you intend to sell your images on FAA. Yes you will have to save them to JPG, TIFF, or PSD, but you will be making the decision on how the images are manipulated. Once you open a RAW file and do any work to it on the computer, you must save it in one of the other file formats other than your camera’s RAW file format extension.
Being a Nikon user, the RAW file extension is NEF. So I load all my RAW files in a folder which will only contain those RAW files. When I work on the ones I want to post, I save them as PSD files in a PSD folder and then I save the final product in a folder for only high resolution JPG images. This way I always have the original digital negative to work from in the future in case I want to manipulate it differently.
I know I went on a rant, but it was an important topic particularly for those of us wanting to sell images. I will talk about the other file formats in the next blog post.