This is a question much debated, sometimes with civility and other times folks just let their emotions get the best of them. When I got serious about photography just over 1 year ago, jpeg was all I knew and frankly, it was all I could handle. I simply did not know what to do with a raw file and was intimidated but the endless array of options available to get to the final image. My problem at the time was I did not have a clearly defined vision for the final result.
Every image captured on a camera sensor starts out in a ‘raw’ format. The camera then processes that image and applies the in camera settings to produce the final jpeg image (in camera settings do not apply to raw files). Technology has advanced so much over the last decade that we can now find cameras that produce excellent results in the form of jpeg files. There are many in camera settings that give anywhere from acceptable to great results on a good number of cameras. This of course saves time and money for the non professional photographer who just wants to record memories with the best technical quality possible without investing additional time in post processing. Even some professional photographers choose jpeg for personal family photos. So shooting in jpeg does not make one any less of a photographer. A photo is not just about technical quality.
I look at jpeg as the in camera photo lab. You set the options and it does the work for you. That’s fine as long it is for you or for a someone who does not pay you for photography services. This is where raw comes in. Any serious photographer that charges for his/her services shoots in raw. Why? In short, a lot more control over the final result and tremendous technical quality. Good post processing software is not cheap. A computer than can handle it all is not cheap either. No camera body available today can do what professional processing software does. In the right hands, the results are anywhere from superb to breathtaking (even on 12Mb sensors, just in case you think you absolutely need the D800 or MarkIII to crush your competition).
Either way, there is no free lunch. Every good photograph requires thought, knowledge (both of photography principles and your camera) and work. Take a look at the 2 photos below. Even at web size, you should be able to tell which one was shot in jpeg. The same camera and lens were used for both and the jpeg file was even post processed for better quality. Does it match the photo from the raw file? If you were a paying client, which image would you rather have?
All my best,