It’s a tough call making the leap from recording .jpg images only to recording .raw files as well. Jpg files are much smaller and they are “done” – there’s no extra steps needed to share or print the files (unless you want to make the edits.
However, .raw files do give you a major advantage when it comes to editing as they store all the “raw” information from the image, so you can make a lot of changes in post-processing, which means you can end up with better images and even save some images that would be unsalvageable in .jpg format.
Here are a few questions to consider before going .raw:
Can your memory card handle it?
Your memory card can only handle a certain amount of information at a time (hint: the “class” of your memory card indicates how fast it can process, for example a class 10 can process 10 MB of data per second), so you may need to upgrade before shooting .raw; particularly if you like to shoot in burst or continuous mode.
Do you have the storage space?
Shooting .raw means larger files (an average of 3.5 times larger) – so for one you may need larger memory cards (that’s right, you should have more than one!), but you’ll also need more permanent storage space. It’s also going to take more time to download photos of your camera. Also keep in mind that older computers may not be able to keep up.
Do you have the time?
All .raw files have to be converted from their raw state to their final image format, which takes time. However, you can save time when shooting as you no longer have to worry about white balance and you’ll have a lot more leeway when it comes to getting the perfect exposure.
Can you learn how?
It’s not extremely hard to learn how to shoot raw and convert the images, but it does take a bit of time and effort. Your camera likely comes with free conversion software, or you can look into more robust software like Adobe Photoshop Elements which will give you more flexibility with editing your images for things like white balance, highlights, shadows, and sharpness.
If you’re looking to get more serious about photography, are frustrated with the limitations of .jpgs when editing, and are ready to take the time to learn, then it’s time to go raw!