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  • Andrew JK Tan

Nikon D850 - RAW VS. JPEG , a simple comparison on DETAILS captured

Hi everyone,

I have been very impressed with the Nikon D850's JPEG file format so far that I have been neglecting using RAW as long as I did not encounter scenes that had an extreme dynamic range.

Nikon has been strengthening their JPEG format options by offering a JPEG FINE* format which is intended to provide the photographer with even better quality as the JPEG FINE option. The JPEG FINE* option uses a compression engine which is intended to ensure maximum quality and file size varies with the scene. From my experience so far , file sizes can reach 34MB per file (at full size resolution)

The JPEG FINE format which has the same 1:4 compression ratio as the JPEG FINE* still biases towards smaller file sizes and irrespective of scene the file sizes roughly stay the same.

So far I have been extremely happy with the JPEG FINE* (Star) performance. However I still wanted to share with my readers that the RAW format is still the way to go for when :

1. encountering extremely high dynamic range (scenes with lots of deep blacks and very bright highlights)

2. the photographer wants maximum and better quality details.

I am now going to share an unscientific way of showing the differences between the D850 NEF RAW format VS. the JPEG FINE* format. This informal comparison is just a simple way of communicating the differences between the formats.

First I will share my D850 Picture Control settings which affect the JPEG FINE* format before doing the comparison

- Picture Control set to STANDARD (default settings)

- High ISO Noise Reduction set to NORMAL

- Active D-Lighting set to LOW

All the above settings only affect the JPEG file formats but NOT the RAW format.

The D850 was setup to capture RAW 14 Bit Lossless Compressed and JPEG FINE* at the same time.

The subject for this comparison is a Heron which was pretty far even for my Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens @400mm focal length. I felt that this was a good "worst case type image for comparison as to me it has a lot of GREY tones which can easily show up artefacts like grain and noise much more effectively.


ISO800 , f8.0 , 1/320s , JPEG FINE* , Hand-Held , 7:50am with the sun behind the subject on a cloudy day (Click on image to enlarge)

ISO800 , f8.0 , 1/320s , RAW , Hand-Held , 7:50am with the sun behind the subject on a cloudy day (Click on image to enlarge)


The Heron JPEG FINE* file (top) is a tad darker overall likewise the textures of the sea (background) is more pronounced. Not really much to choose really.


Screen Capture @400% magnification

JPEG FINE* file , NO Post Processing , (Click on file to enlarge)

Screen Capture @400% magnification

RAW NEF file , NO Post Processing , (Click on file to enlarge)



- is darker as observed previously

- lesser feather details than RAW version

- feather details are more smoothened , a sign of the in-camera noise reduction in action

RAW NEF file

- significantly more feather details

- feather details captured are finer and more natural & realistically rendered (head / neck area)

- file has more grain (note this is at 400% magnification) which is expected

C) 300% ON-SCREEN VISUAL OBSERVATION - Shadow lightened by the same amount of 70

Screen Capture @300% magnification

JPEG FINE* file (Click on file to enlarge)

Screen Capture @300% magnification

RAW NEF file (Click on file to enlarge)


Similar observations as seen in the 400% magnification comparison with the RAW NEF file clearly winning out on feather details and quality of rendering.

The yellows in the JPEG Fine is a little stronger (effect of STANDARD picture control settings)

What I am happy to observe was that with such a high amount of shadow details recovery , the JPEG FINE* file was still very clean in recovery with no observable artefacts which are not desired.


I hope you enjoyed this simple comparison focusing on details captured !

YES ! , there is a difference in quality and the amount of details especially fine details captured between JPEG VS. the RAW format and this should be the case as the RAW format captures at least 16X more digital information then JPEG. To see these differences though , the photographer has to pixel peep at 300% to 400% magnification sizes.

Having said the above , the JPEG FINE* file format of the D850 is really high quality even at ISOs up to ISO12,800 and at the normal viewing sizes of the scene captured , the differences when compared to RAW are mostly indiscernible.

Sharpness wise (at least for this example) , I do not see any differences comparing the JPEG FINE* vs. RAW 14bit Lossless Compressed.

This means that I will still be happily using my JPEG files for the event & sports photography genres.

Cheerios , till the next sharing. Happy Shooting !

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