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Why I don't shoot in JPEG anymore – not even for sports

Prompted by yet another JPEG versus RAW post, this time by Scott Kelby giving 3 reasons why he shoots in JPEG for sports, here’s why even for sports I don’t shoot in JPEG anymore.

Despite what the brochures say, JPEG doesn’t do more continuous shots per burst in the real world.

Three years ago, I wrote this in the Canon 1D Mk III forum on Flickr when comparing it with the Nikon D3:

… I put an Extreme IV card in both a 1D and a D3 and did some tests at maximum 10fps and 9fps on the cameras… If High ISO noise reduction and D-Ligthing is also set to on the buffer drops to about 10 images. With similar settings on the 1D the buffer drops to about 20 images.

and more recently this in the Nikon D3 forum:

I get about 20-30 as well but I can’t get to the 52. I can get 17-18 RAW but not the quoted number of large fine jpegs

I can get almost as many 14-bit NEF images when using a D3 as Large JPEGs before the camera slows down from 9 fps. Try it yourself. The JPEG buffer size shown in the brochures is not what you get in real world shooting with the in-camera image enhancement features turned on.

JPEGs do not take less time to process.

While some images are great out of the camera, I’d say that in most of my sports shooting situations all my images need to be adjusted:

– white balance: An afternoon soccer match that starts at 3pm and finishes under lights at 5pm will have vastly different color temperature

– a soccer match under lights will need all images normalized for color temperature in post. Auto White Balance just doesn’t work well enough

– Action sports under lights will be shot between 1600 and 2500 ISO so some form of noise reduction will be required on some shots

– High contrast bright sun images will need Recovery and Fill light to bring out the shadow tones

There are other examples, but these three alone means that all images need to be fixed. They need to be inspected at 1:1 ratio, groups of files need to have color temp settings synced and often noise reduction is applied to groups of files at a time. There is NO time save to shoot in JPEG and post adjustments to the RAW file gives better results than a JPEG.

This image for example is one that was not usable out of the camera:

Cycling 2010 - September 26 - Herald Sun World Cycling Classic - Ballarat - Australia

The only possible time saving is the time needed to ingest the files and generate the 1:1 previews. But that would save about 5-10 minutes. About the time needed to get a cup of coffee or checking my email.

JPEGs don’t need as much disk storage. Do you really care?

I can’t argue that RAW files are bigger than JPEGs but is this reason alone enough to shoot in JPEG? I use a Nikon D3, why would I want an inferior original master file to save a few megabytes? If you buy a camera with a 12MP sensor or maybe a 24MP sensor, just buy a bigger disk!

There’s no reason to shoot in JPEG anymore if you want the best image quality

The trade off is If I shoot in JPEG, I want, and need, the camera to do in-camera processing to get good quality images out of the camera. If I turn Optimal compression, D-Lighting and noise reduction on to do these things my D3 is no more responsive than if I shoot in RAW and I’ve given control over to a software engineer’s view of what makes a good image. Even with the in-camera processing I will still need to tweak the images in post processing, so I haven’t saved any time and I’ve got the original sensor file if I shoot in RAW to apply the adjustments myself.

I’m a sports shooter and I shoot in RAW.

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