RAW vs Jpeg

The debate over whether you should be shooting RAW vs Jpg continues and many photographers still don’t seem to know the difference and what the advantages are of shooting one over the other.

Obviously, there is always a give and take, as you will often find the case in photography. Get a little more of something, lose a bit of something else.

So, let’s take a quick look at both

JPG or jpeg

The best thing about jpg is how convenient it is as it means your photos are ready to share
or print immediately. The size is also smaller, so you can fit more on your memory card or hard drives.

Now why are they smaller? Well, to make them that small, the information available has to be compressed and to compress it, some of the information is discarded. Everytime you do any processing on it, when it is saved anew it compresses again and some of that image quality is lost again. Also, when post-processing, since you have less leeway, pushing the image will add noise and artifacts to your image as it attempts to create information that is now missing.
Now that sounds really bad doesn’t it? but….Depending on the final destination of your images, it may even be an advantage to shoot jpg as the smaller file takes less time to transfer from the camera’s buffer which means it will allow faster shooting speeds. If you are taking sports photographs for the local newspaper, you may prefer to shoot in Jpeg as you can capture longer bursts of shots and the quality may not need to be as good as they will be printed on inexpensive paper.


RAW files are uncompressed files, therefore they contain all the information that you camera is able to record, but also means the files are much bigger and you cannot automatically upload or print them. You will need to bring them into a software program such as lightroom or Aperture etc., to be able to work on them and/or convert them to formats that are both viewable online and/or printable.
Seems like a hassle, so why use it?  Well, since it contains so much more information, it gives you much more leeway in the final result of your image. They also have more dynamic range, so hold more detail in the shadows and highlights.
Obviously, the strength of RAW means that it may actually enable you to rescue a photograph that would have been underexposed or overexposed or to fix a problem with white balance,
but it shouldn’t be used as a crutch. It is always preferable to get the best possible image to start with and use the power of raw to enable you to push that image in the direction you want without adding a lot of noise and sacrificing quality.

Think of the data for your photograph as ingredients for a cake mix. With the jpg, your cake is pretty much baked when saved as a .jpg. With the raw, you still get the cake, but if it’s not exactly what you wanted, you get the latitude of changing around the ingredients a bit  to  give  it a different flavor and perhaps add a bit of this and take away a bit of that without degrading the quality of the original.  You can do some of that with the jpg also, but since you are missing some of the ingredients that you discarded when you decided to bake your cake, you can’t adjust what’s no longer there. Forcing it on the .jpg will add the noise we talked about earlier.

In most circumstances, RAW would be the best choice, but again, depending on the final destination, there really is no absolute right choice, only what is the right choice for you!
Creative Commons License
Raw vs Jpeg by Maggie Terlecki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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