Today’s Question: Many of my clients want a JPEG as a deliverable. Am I better off to shoot the original photo in raw, using Lightroom and Photoshop to develop it and then render the final JPEG image in the size they want? I have tried both ways and the raw seems to win every time; but it could just my bias.
Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, I recommend capturing in raw, and then processing the image and exporting as a JPEG for the client.
More Detail: As I’m sure every photographer knows, there are a variety of benefits to raw capture compared to JPEG. With a raw capture you have higher bit-depth, greater dynamic range, and expanded dynamic range. In addition, with raw capture you avoid the issue of JPEG compression artifacts in the original capture, which could be worsened when exporting a new JPEG copy.
In short, a raw capture provides you with the best capture from the start. You can then optimize that photo with greater image quality compared to a JPEG capture. If relatively strong adjustments are needed, a JPEG capture will be more likely to display posterization, or a loss of smooth gradations of tone and color. This is due to the lower bit-depth of a JPEG capture compared to a raw capture.
The only reason a JPEG capture might be preferred over a raw capture is that there is the potential that a JPEG capture might be ready to send to a client right out of a camera, without any processing required. However, in my view the quality benefits of a raw capture outweigh the potential workflow advantage of a raw capture.
This issue, by the way, is one of the reasons some photographers prefer to use Raw+JPEG capture. With this approach you get a raw capture for optimal image quality, along with a JPEG capture that could potentially be sent to the client before you even start processing the raw capture.
Keep in mind, however, that Lightroom Classic does not import the JPEG from a Raw+JPEG pair by default. If you want to import both the raw capture and the JPEG generated by the camera, you’ll need to turn on the “Treat JPEG files next to raw files as separate photos” checkbox on the General tab of the Preferences dialog.