A very common question that I’m asked by other photographers is if I shoot in RAW or JPEG. To be honest, I’m still not sure why people continue to compare the two, as they are apples and oranges serving two completely different purposes…
NOTE: For the purposes of this post, JPEG can be substituted with any other standard (non-RAW) format such as TIFF, GIF, etc.
The primary purpose of RAW is NOT for end use (prints, web, etc), but rather for preservation & storage. This is why RAW images themselves can not be edited. The original data remains in tact. All adjustments & edits are stored separately and then applied when a JPEG is created from the original RAW file. It is the digital counterpart to a negative. In relation, JPEGS are the digital counterparts to prints. They are created from RAW files with settings that you adjust.
Keeping that in mind, film photographers don’t throw away their negatives after prints are made. On the contrary, they protect their negatives at all costs as countless prints can be made from them. The same goes for RAW. Just as you can manipulate a negative to produce different effects without loosing image quality in a traditional darkroom, the same can be done with a RAW file in image editing software. While you can make most of those same adjustments to a JPEG, some can never truly be changed (white balance for example). None of the adjustments can be made to a JPEG without at least some image degredation (athough usually minimal). There is also the possibility of accidentaly saving your edits on top of your original file, forever loosing it.
JPEGS made in camera ultimately came from a RAW file. If you have your camera set to JPEG only, the camera creates a RAW file, converts it to a JPEG, and then deletes the original RAW file. Again, IMO it’s like having a roll of film developed and telling the lab to destroy the negatives after making a print. Can you make other prints from an original print? Yes. Will they be usable? Maybe. Will they be better quality (or even the same quality) as if you had made them from the negative…NEVER!!!
If the images aren’t of that much importance then by all means save the hard drive space and shoot JPEG. If you think there is the slightest chance that you’ll capture something worth showing off then RAW is the way to go. Otherwise, you’re throwing away the chance of producing the best possible END USE images each time you edit and/or convert.