What formats that you can export from Lightroom varies slightly, depending on the version of Lightroom you have. But the common ones are:
Different usages require different formats. So strictly speaking there is no definite answer which is the best. But I can highlight the advantages of each of them, and maybe you can choose the format most suitable to your needs.
Breaking Down Each Format
Original: It really depends on what the original was. But I assume for many professional photographers, it would be a RAW file. When you export in RAW, a .xmp file, which contains all the adjustments (e.g. exposure, curves, HSL, sharpening, etc.), is created alongside with the RAW file. The good thing is of course your original file is basically untouched and unconverted. Some cameras should read the file if you plug the card back to the camera. However, if you decided to export and keep the raw files, the downside is the large file size, since it is usually uncompressed. A 14-bit RAW file from Nikon D800, which has 36 megapixels, is about 70–80 megabytes.
JPEG: If your use is to send it to your client, to put online for general viewing, or just casual sharing with your family and friends, then JPEG is the best format. Yes, it is compressed, but exactly because of that the file size is much smaller. To give you an example, a JPEG in fine settings is just 15 megabytes, about 5 times smaller than the RAW file. Plus, if that is for general viewing, most of the people cannot tell the difference.
TIFF: However if your photo is for printing, then you may consider TIFF. TIFF can be an uncompressed or lossless-compressed file type. A good thing about TIFF is the compatibility – most of the computers if not all can handle TIFF easily. Even the default photo viewer on Windows or Mac can open it without any plugins. The downside is however the huge file size – it varies but we are talking about a few hundreds if not a thousand megabytes for a single photograph.
PSD: It is great if you are exporting for further enhancement in Photoshop because it is indeed the Photoshop format, so there is maximum compatibility. One good thing about PSD is that all the layers are preserved. But again, because of the maximum compatibility, it does take up space, and so the large file size could be a problem.
DNG: Probably the great choice if you are exporting just for retention/ archival. DNG is basically the Adobe-made centralised solution for all the RAW files. As you may know, different camera manufacturers have different RAW formats. Nikon has .NEF, Sony has .ARW, etc. This could create compatibility issue, particularly amongst different photographers or software. The idea of DNG is that you just need one single software (Lightroom, or Photoshop) to open basically any photos, no matter it is taken by a Canon, Nikon, Olympus, whatsoever, as long as it is exported as DNG. Personally I reckon this is a great idea too, especially for retention purpose, because all the adjustments you made are embedded into the DNG file. So unlike the “Original” export which you end up having two files, you will only have one DNG. Some photographers like it, some do not (because of the conversion). It is a matter of preference, but it is indeed the most convenient choice for retention.
Because I did not know what and how the photographer wants to use the photos after exporting, I could not possibly give him or her a definite answer. But I could talk about my personal preference based on my experience.
As a web travel photographer, who mainly use the photos for blogging, >95% of the time I will go for JPEG and DNG. In case I need to print something big, I save the file as TIFF and pass it to the laboratory. As I have mentioned above, JPEG is for viewing, DNG is for retention. I love the idea that I have all my adjustments embedded in one single DNG file, so that storing is extremely easy.
On a side note, storing is even easier with Adobe’s Cloud Storage these days – where you can enjoy 1TB of cloud storage for just $9.99 using Adobe Lightroom.
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