Okay, so I’m probably going to seem a wee bit hypocritical after my recent complaint about people jumping down YouTube rabbit holes but this photography debate on the video platform has caught my interest over the last couple of weeks. In one corner is the rather patrician figure of Tony Northrup, a well-regarded photographer, author and YouTuber (alongside his wife and business partner, Chelsea), while in the opposite corner is the self-styled enfant terrible of internet photography, the hirsuite Jared Polin. The source of their disagreement is a somewhat overheated debate around the types of image files generated by – and saved from – modern, high-end cameras.
In a recent and entirely innocuous video for his YouTube channel, Northrup offered the opinion that is some cases, JPEGs, that is small, heavily compressed and less editable image files, were perfectly acceptable for use by the average home photographer on a budget. JPEGs (also written, JPGs) are pretty much the default, out-of-the-box option for most cheap cameras, including the ones inside smartphones, tablets and so on. They take up less room on memory cards or storage devices, and are far easier to view or share with family and friends since they require little or no special software or editing.
Polin, who has built an entire online persona around the use of RAW files, large, uncompressed but hugely versatile image documents, published a critical and somewhat over-the-top response to Northrup on his own YouTube channel. This reflected his deeper interest in professional and semi-professional photography, where the latter format is naturally dominant and often tweaked and perfected in post-shoot editing using dedicated programs, either from the camera manufacturers or the likes of Adobe (including expensive options like Photoshop, Lightroom and so on). It could be argued that Polin’s counterargument is a case of being over-sensitive to some perceived slight, driven by the need to protect his own commercial branding, even though RAW technology was in widespread use long before Polin became its outspoken champion. More likely, it simply came from his genuine dedication to photographic standards coupled with an eye on stirring up some controversy and views for his channel.
Now, let me state for the record, I am a strict amateur photographer. A mere weekend dabbler. This is reflected in my ownership of a Pentax DSLR camera, a brand which no serious pro- or semi-pro would be seen dead with it. I love my K-S2 because it is not a Canon or a Nikon, the must-have devices of real photogs. Pentax is slightly different, slightly maverick, and probably not long for the technological world if industry rumour proves correct. I also shoot in JPEG, simply out of convenience and cost. I can take a shed-load of pics on my 64GB Ultra Plus memory card, slot that into my main PC, and start viewing or sharing them to the connected UHD TV almost immediately. No hassle, no special programs, just click and enjoy. And for me, that is the main thing. I take pictures to enjoy them, to capture a moment or a scene. I don’t need – or want – to play around with my images in Lightshot or other top-of-the-line computer software. I work with Photoshop in my day-to-day job. I sure as shit don’t want to do it at home too. Yes, I do occasionally take pictures in RAW, especially if I’m visiting some special place I’m unlikely to return to (an out-of-the-way historical monument or some exotic foreign locale). But for day-to-day pics, JPEG does me just fine.
Jared Polin is in a different and far luckier position than most of us. He is a professional photographer. A person who has suffered some personal tragedies in his life, but who has overcome a number of obstacles through sheer hard work and dedication to become a YouTube and photography “star”. An internet celebrity of sorts. And if that latter comment sounds like criticism, well, it probably is. I find the Philadelphia-born snapper a bit too brash, a bit too wedded to self-promotion to make for easy viewing. Don’t get me wrong. I honestly do admire his skill and dedication. But the overly self-aware and repetitious slogans and on-message talk really does grate at times. Perhaps its a cultural thing, since I know many Americans love his “can-do” attitude.
On the other hand, Tony Northrup and partner Chelsea, I find rather less exhausting viewing. More stately and less offensively commercial (again, this may just be me, so apologies). I’ve also learned far more from their informative and leisurely YouTube photography channel than I’ve ever learned from Polin’s more frenetic or caustic offerings. I enjoy the latter, more or less, but you actually discover very little from his short videos or longer vidcasts that is useful or of relevance to your own photography experience. The Northrups, however, have given me great advice in countless videos over the last several years (admittedly, they do push their own books and video tutorials but with less in-your-face crassness).
All that said, both make fair arguments from their respective points of view on the issue of JPEG versus RAW files, though I think Jared Polin has taken the wrong impression from the original Tony Northrup video. I have included some added comments on the debate from other YouTube channels, notably the non-partisan CenturyFX Studios and the more eccentrically belligerent Theoria Apophasis. I’m not a great fan of the latter, he tends to be rather dismissive of opinions contrary to his own and there is some online debate about his credentials. That said, his technical knowledge is seriously impressive. There is also a good discussion between professional photographers Jacques Gaines and Amar Talwar on the subject. Finally, Kayleigh June provides some calming thoughts from earlier this year on the hypercritical – and occasionally abusive – world of online photography videos and commentary.
(Yes, this is full-on YouTube narcissism – which I am now guilty of publicising and indulging! Also, the definitions and arguments around RAW and JPEG are far more complex than I alluded to above, with all sorts of side-debates relating to camera gear and settings, but the videos below go into some of that.)
I suspect that the JPG/RAW debate won’t end anytime soon.
As an in-camera JPG has been processed in a way that the manufacturer thinks that most people like, there are some cameras which produce ‘better’ JPGs than others. Some don’t like Nikon green, for example; and red can be troublesome. Olympus are said to produce very ‘natural’ JPGs.
So, I tend to go for RAW, unless it’s just an illustration for emails — though they still need to be shrunk further.
As for equipment, well I have a Ricoh GRD, and Ricoh now own Pentax. But…please don’t hate me…I mostly use Leicas.
These debates are almost always funny. It’s just like the best computer, car, plane, screw driver, hammer, etc…
Use the tool that suits you best. Jesus, if you want f..k with your pics, RAW is better, if you don’t, pick the camera that has colour jpeg you like, and get on with it. A Ferrari sucks when you want to haul wood, and a diesel truck makes a bad sports car.