JPEG vs RAW: Which photo format is best for construction timelapse?
(HINT: it depends on your project and creative vision)
Which is the better photo format for time lapse: JPEG or RAW?
And why should construction time lapse photographers care?
I’m sure you’ll agree – rivalries make the world a more exciting place.
Where would we be without Pepsi vs. Coke, Marvel vs. DC Comics, Canon vs. Nikon, and JPEG vs. RAW.
Wait – are JPEG and RAW formats really rivals?
Just like with all photography, making the decision to shoot RAW, JPEG, or both, will come down to your project’s specific needs.
In this article, we’ll evaluate the pros and cons of each photo format for construction time lapse.
After reading, you should know which photo format to use for your next long-term time lapse project.
Let’s dive straight in.
PART 1: Why shoot JPEG for construction timelapse?
The default option on all cameras, JPEG is the global standard for photos.
But is it the best choice for long-term timelapse?
Here are some reasons you should consider shooting JPEG for your long-term timelapse projects.
1. Save money: Smaller files save on data
The first advantage of shooting JPEG is that they are more highly compressed than RAW images.
And, more compression means smaller files.
RAW format can exceed 20MB per photo (although there is much variation between camera models).
However, the same photo in JPEG format may be 5MB or even smaller.
When you upload images to the cloud, this smaller JPEG file size is very helpful.
Not only will it upload faster (saving battery life), but it will use less cellular data and require less cloud storage space.
Very likely, you’ll be able to go with a smaller (and thereby cheaper) data plan if you’re uploading only JPEGs.
2. Save time: JPEG is faster in post-production
Anyone who has worked with RAW images knows just how much slower they can be to work with than JPEG images.
And with long-term timelapse, this effect is amplified.
In short-term time lapse post-production, you’ll have 200-300 images in a single sequence.
But a two or three year long-term time lapse sequence is made up from tens of thousands of images.
Not to mention, working with RAW images is very processor-intensive.
Even then, you may fall asleep at your monitor as you wait for it to finish exporting.
…well, you may notice your computer fan starts to sound like a jet engine, and your battery life takes a steep nose-dive!
3. Simpler editing: JPEGS have some pre-processing already done
When you shoot a JPEG image, it immediately undergoes some in-camera editing and processing.
Modern in-camera processing algorithms are pretty sophisticated.
They can include things like white-balance correction, lens distortion correction, noise removal, and sharpening.
So, this pre-processing can save significant editing time…
…meaning you can start work on your creative output much sooner.
For example, pre-selecting the colour balance on the camera means all your JPEGs come out with the same colour profile.
With RAW images, while you can save a colour profile in the metadata as it is captured…
…you will still need to actually apply the colour correction in post-production.
4. Less hassle: Everything supports working with JPEG
Every single photo editing program supports JPEG, but this is not the case for RAW.
And processing RAW images requires special software.
This is further complicated by the fact that there is no single standard format of ‘RAW’.
So, not only does your editing software need to support RAW, it needs to support the RAW format of your specific camera model.
Even for popular software like Adobe Lightroom, there is often a delay of 1-2 months after a new camera model is released before RAW support is added.
Beyond editing, JPEG is the only option for many other platforms:
- Email – RAW images will not display and are often too large to send.
- Social media platforms – most will not display RAW.
- Tablets and smartphones – most will not display RAW.
- Web browsers – most will not display RAW.
5. Make more money: JPEG photos can create extra sources of income
One of the great things about long-term timelapse is the potential to generate revenue from your photos as they are taken, and not just from the final timelapse video.
Photographers, you can make more income by offering your client add-ons and subscription-based services such as:
- Dynamic web gallery.
- Remote site monitoring.
- Up-to-date site photo embedded on a website.
All of these services require JPEG images to work correctly.
For the full suite of value-added web features, head over to the photoSentinel cloud software page.
Click here to learn What to Charge Clients for your construction timelapse service.
6. Great photos: JPEG image quality and size is still really good
If you were putting your photo up on a freeway billboard, then the extra details caught in RAW images are invaluable.
But, a construction time lapse sequence will be scaled down from the native camera resolution (say, 24MP) down to a standard video resolution (e.g. 2MP for 1080P video).
Additionally, video compression can be aggressive (especially when shared on social media).
So, some very fine details that were captured may be lost regardless.
Large JPEGs provide enough size and detail to product full HD and even 4K final timelapse videos.
Some of the best construction time lapse videos we’ve seen were built from medium JPEGs.
7. Choose the resolution you want with JPEGs
Most cameras allow you to choose the photo resolution; generally small, medium or large.
But on some entry-level cameras, this flexibility is only available when shooting JPEGs.
On these cameras, RAW can often only be captured full resolution.
This may take up more space than is necessary, or available, for a long-term timelapse project.
Also, a similar issue can occur when shooting both RAW and JPEG – some cameras only let you shoot large JPEGs when also shooting RAW.
Even if you’re not uploading RAW, uploading large, fine JPEGs can still chew through your cellular data pretty quickly.
Shooting JPEG only will always give you the flexibility of the full range of resolutions available on the camera.
8. You may need to use JPEG anyway
Some popular video editing software doesn’t support a sequence of RAW photos.
So, even if you shoot RAW images, so you will need to convert them to JPEG if you want to them import them as a photo sequence into Adobe After Effects or Premier Pro.
PART 2: Why shoot RAW for construction time lapse?
Shooting RAW images does bring a number of benefits you may want to consider.
In recent years, things have changed which may have made a RAW workflow worth it for a long-term timelapse.
1. Superior creative control: RAW has no pre-processing
With RAW images, you have superior control over every aspect of processing, to extract maximum quality out of your images.
Just as a pastry chef doesn’t start with an off-the-shelf cake mix, a photographer may not want to start with a pre-processed image.
RAW images are flexible, and you don’t have to deal with any bad processing decisions the camera may have made at capture time.
2. RAW gives you more precise colour control
One of the biggest advantages to capturing RAW is colour correction.
RAW images retain more detailed colour information about what the camera sensor saw.
And this enables powerful changes to be made when applying filters, or adding presets.
JPEG images lack this additional information.
Attempting to apply filters or presets with a JPEG file can sometimes result in ‘unnatural’ looking results.
3. RAW allows precise matching of white balance
For an outdoor long-term timelapse, there will be a huge variation in lighting conditions, with the corresponding differences in white balance.
With RAW images, the white balance can be selected during post-processing, rather than needing to be set in camera.
Accordingly, this allows the use of software to help ensure very consistent white balance between shots.
While most software will offer adjustment of white balance on JPEG files…
…attempting to make large changes in white balance to JPEG files will often give odd results.
For example, there may be a noticeable colour cast, or colours may appear unnatural.
4. RAW files retain full dynamic range
The smaller file sizes of JPEG images do come at a cost.
A significant portion of these savings comes from removing the subtle tonal details hidden in the highlight and shadow regions of the image.
This information is not easily noticeable by the human eye, so the data is “clipped” and the detail is thrown away.
However, that information can be very useful during editing.
When editing JPEG images, you will may find that only a limited range of highlight and shadow adjustment is possible.
Eventually, you’ll encounter undesirable blocks of solid white or black.
This enables images to be brightened or darkened by as much as 3-4 stops, while still retaining many of the details.
Undoubtedly, this is a game-changer for time lapse projects that encounter large changes in lighting conditions.
By adjusting settings like “gamma”, “shadows” or “recovery”, the subtle tones in the shadows and highlights can be reclaimed.
And this greater dynamic range across your long-term timelapse movie can give you a more natural look.
These techniques are most effective when working with RAW files.
PART 3: How to shoot both RAW & JPEG for construction timelapse
Both RAW and JPEG formats bring their own strengths and advantages to the long-term timelapse table.
But – these two formats don’t need to be rivals!
With the photoSentinel Mach II there is no need to be limited, as you can capture both.
As outlined below, the most common workflow is to upload JPEGs to make use of the timelapse web gallery…
…while saving RAW locally to the large capacity SSD, to be collected periodically.
1. Shoot both RAW and JPEG images
You can set your camera to capture both formats.
This gives you the flexibility of RAW for editing, and the advantages of JPEG’s fast access and broad compatibility.
When choosing a camera, take into consideration whether the camera will allow you to set the size of the JPEG when shooting with RAW.
Some cameras will only let you pair RAW with large, fine JPEGs, which may end up being cost prohibitive to upload.
2. Upload JPEG
By uploading the JPEG images over the cellular network, you make use of photoSentinel’s timelapse web gallery and other online features, creating opportunities to generate extra revenue from your clients.
3. Save RAW to the SSD … or upload them too!
The photoSentinel Mach II Premium Package comes with a large 500GB Samsung SSD.
To save on data costs, you can choose to save the RAW images, and collect them manually as needed.
Alternatively, you can set the photoSentinel Mach II to also upload the RAW images – either over the cellular network or LAN.
However, before doing this make sure to consider any extra data costs you will incur.
Hopefully you have an idea now of whether RAW, JPEG, or both are right for your next long-term time lapse project.
But if you’re still not sure, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to ask.
We also have a whole set of articles you can use to upskill on your time lapse knowledge.
What’s your preferred photo format for long-term timelapse? And how does this impact your workflow?
For any questions about the photoSentinel platform, or to find out how photoSentinel could help your workflow and grow your business revenue, feel free to contact our sales team.