Dental Photography: RAW or JPG files?

In dentistry, we want to record everything for good and reliable documentation. We also need to ensure that the records are not tampered with. 

For this reason, RAW camera images may seem like the most obvious choice when it comes to choosing the best file format in dental photography. 

For those of us who may not be 100% sure about the difference, here is a quick summary. 

Most digital cameras will let you take images in a RAW format, or a JPEG or JPG format. 

The RAW is typically a much larger file, as there is more information.

The JPG is compressed, but as we will find out in a minute, the image quality is not much different. 

Let's look at the difference between these two file formats, and the real-life pros and cons when considering them in Dental Photography. 

Image Quality

Many people will wrongly assume that a RAW image is better quality compared to a JPG. However, how are we defining quality? 

Is it the number of megapixels the camera has? Well, both formats will use the same number of megapixels. 

JPGs are compressed, doesn't this mean that the quality is reduced?

Not Always, but as we will see a little later, there are different levels of compression, and you can choose these in the camera settings, for JPG they are often denoted as the grain (Fine or standard), in the file settings. 

What about colour reproduction? Actually, straight out of the camera, the JPGs will usually look better than RAW images. (there are examples later)

This is because there is an expectation to process the RAW images after taking them.

The JPG images are often processed in the camera to produce more lifelike images, and you are able to tweak the colour profiles if you feel that you need to. 

Image Size

If you are taking regular dental photographs, then image size may be something to think about. 

The average RAW image is significantly larger when compared to the size of a JPG. 

Again, this may make you think that by choosing the RAW, you are getting better quality, but a lot of the file reduction is from the way the image is encoded with the JPEG format. 

JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, and this standard was developed in 1992. The end file size depends on the level of compression and the size of the file. 

For JPG images, there are two ways to reduce the file size, either reduce the grain, or the file size. We do not recommend reducing either of these.

Small file sizes make the images far easier to move images around and most social media sites compress images even further when you upload to them. This makes the sites easier to load, as small file sizes will download in less time. 

Also, we should note that often you need more specialist photography software to open the RAW images, and JPG are almost universally used online. 

JPG Compression

Let us quickly look at image compression in JPEG, and how this works. 

In a program like Adobe Photoshop, you are able to save the image with different levels of compression. This is what the same dental photograph looks like, with different levels of compression. All pictures have been scaled to a width of 1080 (standard HD resolution)

100 quality small

 

50 pc small

 

0 pc small

 

100% Quality JPG

433kb

50% Quality JPG

68kb

0% Quality JPG

36kb

You will likely need to download these images to see the difference (just click on the image to see the full-sized image). 

The first thing to notice is that the 0% looks compressed, it is very easy to see that this is not a good quality image - but also notice that the small thumbnail of this image does not look too bad. 

The 50% however, does not look terrible, even at 1080 width resolution. 

The 100% is straight out from the camera and scaled down to 1080 width, but otherwise great quality. 

You can see the relative file sizes, all three are very small and usable. 

The original, non-scaled image is about 6mb and if we had a RAW image of this, it would be 24-31mb

Even the RAW image size is kind-of manageable with today's technology and internet speeds, but when you are taking over 100 photos a day, you might want to consider the extra time and usability of RAW images.

How will these images be used?

Most dental photography is used to document a case or some work. 

With the right permission, you can then use these photos in your marketing or for education. 

For your documentation, you may want the image to be tamperproof, and technically, a RAW image is tamperproof. 

If you edit a RAW image, a separate image with the edits is created, and the original remains as is. 

You can create a JPG from a RAW image, with all of your edits, and again, keep the original RAW, which for medico-legal reasons could be a positive reason to have RAW images. 

However, if you are using Dental Notebox to manage your portfolio, then whatever you upload cannot be changed. You are able to download as many times are you like, and make edits, but the original files are left in place, making your JPG files tamperproof. 

If you are taking very artistic images, which need a lot of editing, then a RAW format would be useful, RAW images do allow a lot more in terms of editing flexibility. 

Time for image editing

When a RAW image comes from the camera, it often looks very flat and boring. If you set up your camera to take a RAW+JPG, then you can see the difference (if you look close enough!)

DSCF0139-3

 

DSCF0139
Raw Image, there is less contrast, and colours are a little flatter JPG as processed by the camera. The colour of the hand is more natural and the colours in the cube are slightly brighter and the shadows are not as deep.

Now, to be fair, if you were to use a program like Adobe Lightroom to manage your RAW images, and wanted to export, you can easily a colour profile to make the exported JPG look good - this is exactly what most cameras do when creating a JPG. 

So the question again is: What is the benefit of the RAW? Where is the extra value in a clinical environment? 

Taking all of this into account, we feel that shooting in JPG on a well set up camera system is the most sensible for routine dental care, especially from a clinical efficientcy point of view. 

There is another option: RAW+JPG. This option will store both, a JPG and a RAW image. For all the reasons mentioned above with the management of the RAW images, we feel this option is almost the worst of all solutions! Increasing your workload and complexity in the management of your dental photographs. 

 


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