Hi. My name is Scott, and I’m a JPEG shooter.

I wanted to step up and make this shocking admission after I read this comment (from reader Tom Bruno) on my blog post from Friday (link):

Great shots, Scott! I’m green with envy, not just at how good your shots are, also that you get passes to shoot from the sidelines. But I am shocked — Shocked! — that you shot in JPEG.

I know. Imagine how much better they would have looked had I shot in Raw. ;-)

True Confessions
OK, truth be known, I only shoot in JPEG on one single occassion: when I’m shooting sports. However, I’m not alone. Most of the professional sports photographers I’ve talked with shoot in JPEG as well, because when it comes to sports, JPEG offers a number of advantages to the sports shooter:

(1) More Continuous Shots Per Burst
The most important advantage probably being that you can shoot more continuous shots in JPEG mode than in Raw mode without filling your camera’s internal buffer. A lot of fast action sports are shot in high-speed continuous mode by holding down the shutter button as it rapidly fires up to 9 frames per second. That will fill your buffer mighty quick, and all of sudden, you’ve missed “the shot” because your camera’s buffer start to stutter.

I did some checking, and on DP Review (a respected source for this type of data), they broke it down this way:

  • Shooting in RAW: You fill the buffer with about 17 Raw photos.
  • Shooting in JPEG: You fill the buffer with about 65 or so shots.

If you’re using a fast memory card (I use 600X high-speed Lexar cards), that means shooting in JPEG, my buffer really never gets full because of how fast the cards write to the card which clears up the buffer.

(2) JPEGS take less time to process
If you’re covering a game for a news outlet, JPEGs are going to save you processing time, because they’re already processed. By that, I mean they’ve already had contrast, color enhancements and sharpening applied within the camera itself, so JPEG images look more “finished” and are ready for uploading without a lot of tweaking.

When you set your camera to Raw mode, it turns all that in-camera processing (contrast, sharpening, color enhancements) off, because you’ve chosen to do all that yourself later in Camera Raw or Lightroom. That processing of the Raw image takes time, and so does re-saving the files as JPEG for uploading when you’re done. Of course, you could shoot Raw+JPEG, but that has its disadvantages, including eating up memory cards much faster, and taking longer on import.

Also, if you’re covering a game for a wire service or news outlet, the editing you’re allowed to do is very limited in the first place, so JPEG files are pretty much ready to lock and upload. The smaller file sizes make it faster to download off your memory card, and faster to upload to your client as well.

(3) JPEGs Don’t Eat up Much Space
You can fit an awful lot of JPEG files on a single memory card, which means not only will you have to be swapping out memory cards much less during the game—you might not have to swap out at all. Remember my post from a few weeks back about fitting more than 4,000 JPEGs on my single memory card? (here’s the link).

So What am I Really Admitting To Here?
What I’m saying here is that there are times when it makes perfect sense to shoot in JPEG, depending on what you’re shooting. Remember, better shots than you and I will ever take in our lifetimes were taken in JPEG format long before their was a Raw format. It’s just a file format. Not a religion.

What if you totally disagree?
Then shoot your sports photos in Raw. :-)