Why Choose Raw (NEF) over JPEG on Your Nikon D5200? - dummies

Why Choose Raw (NEF) over JPEG on Your Nikon D5200?

By Julie Adair King

Your D5200 offers the two file types common on most of today’s digital cameras: JPEG and Camera Raw, or just Raw for short, which goes by the specific moniker NEF (Nikon Electronic Format) on Nikon cameras.

Each manufacturer has its own flavor of Raw. Nikon’s is NEF, for Nikon Electronic Format, so you see the three-letter extension NEF at the end of Raw filenames.

Raw is popular with advanced, very demanding photographers for three reasons:

  • Greater creative control: With JPEG, internal camera software tweaks your images, adjusting color, exposure, and sharpness as needed to produce the results that Nikon believes its customers prefer. With Raw, the camera simply records the original, unprocessed image data.

    The photographer then copies the image file to the computer and uses special software known as a Raw converter to produce the actual image, making decisions about color, exposure, and so on at that point. The D5200 also has a built-in Raw converter. Either way, the upshot is that “shooting Raw” enables you, not the camera, to have the final say on the visual characteristics of your image.

  • Higher bit depth: Bit depth is a measure of how many distinct color values an image file can contain. JPEG files restrict you to 8 bits each for the red, blue, and green color components, or channels, that make up a digital image, for a total of 24 bits. That translates to roughly 16.7 million possible colors.

    On the D5200, a Raw file delivers a higher bit count, collecting 14 bits per channel.

    Although jumping from 8 to 14 bits sounds like a huge difference, you may never notice any difference in your photos — that 8-bit palette of 16.7 million values is more than enough for superb images. Where having the extra bits can come in handy is if you really need to adjust exposure, contrast, or color after the shot in your photo-editing program.

    In cases where you apply extreme adjustments, having the extra original bits sometimes helps avoid a problem known as banding or posterization, which creates abrupt color breaks where you should see smooth, seamless transitions. (A higher bit depth doesn’t always prevent this problem, however, so don’t expect miracles.)

  • Best picture quality: Because Raw doesn’t apply the destructive compression associated with JPEG, you don’t run the risk of the artifacting that can occur with JPEG.

But of course, as with most things in life, Raw isn’t without its disadvantages. To wit:

  • You can’t do much with your pictures until you process them in a Raw converter. You can’t share them online, for example, or put them into a text document or multimedia presentation.

    You can view and print them immediately if you use the free Nikon ViewNX 2 software, but most other photo programs require you to convert the Raw files to a standard format first. Ditto for retail photo printing. So when you shoot Raw, you add to the time you must spend in front of the computer instead of behind the camera lens.

  • Raw files are larger than JPEGs. Unlike JPEG, Raw doesn’t apply lossy compression to shrink files. In addition, Raw files are always captured at the maximum resolution available on your camera, even if you don’t really need all those pixels.

    For both reasons, Raw files are significantly larger than JPEGs, so they take up more room on your memory card and on your computer’s hard drive or other picture-storage device.

Whether the upside of Raw outweighs the down is a decision that you need to ponder based on your photographic needs, your schedule, and your computer-comfort level. If you do decide to try Raw shooting, you can select from the following two Image Quality options:

  • Raw: This setting produces a single Raw file at the maximum resolution (24.0 megapixels).

  • Raw+JPEG: This setting produces two files: the standard Raw file plus a JPEG. The Raw file is captured at the maximum resolution; the JPEG version is captured at the resolution specified via the Image Size setting. You also can choose whether you want the JPEG version to be captured at the Fine, Normal, or Basic quality level.