When it comes to digital photography, there are two main file formats that you will encounter: RAW and JPEG. So, what is the difference between these two formats, and which one should you be using? Shooting in RAW or JPEG is one of the biggest debates in photography, as each offers its own advantages and disadvantages. The RAW vs JPEG decision is dependent on your workflow preferences and shooting style. In this article, we’ll discuss RAW vs JPEG and provide you with our recommendations.
What is RAW? What is JPEG?
RAW files are the raw data files captured by your camera’s image sensor. These files contain all of the information captured by the sensor, and as such, they are much larger in size than JPEGs. RAW files also require special software for viewing and editing, as they are not yet processed into a viewable image. However, because RAW files contain all of the information captured by the sensor, they offer much more flexibility when it comes to editing and processing.
JPEGs, on the other hand, are processed, viewable images. JPEG is a standard image format that is widely used on the internet. JPEG uses a lossy compression algorithm, which means that some detail is lost when the file is compressed.
When to Use RAW and When to Use JPEG
Most professional photographers shoot in RAW format because of the flexibility it offers in photo editing. Some photographers with cameras that have the ability to record their images on multiple cards (via dual card slots) may decide to record RAW on one card and JPEG on the other to get the “best of both worlds.” Our general recommendations is to shoot in RAW for anything important such as professional work for clients or photos of significant moments in your personal life. But for everyday moments where the expectations and quality of each photo isn’t as important, consider using JPEG to save time in your workflow and space on your hard drive.
Advantages of RAW
The advantage of shooting in RAW is that it opens up a lot more options in photo editing. Before we process an image, we need to check the color balance, temperature, noise and detail of the image. If we want to make any adjustments, such as noise reduction or exposure adjustments, we need to use the RAW files to get the best results. Essentially, we are taking one of the RAW photos and processing it as a natural image.
Disadvantages of RAW
Although shooting in RAW gives us more flexibility to make adjustments, this will make for a slightly longer workflow. As mentioned before, RAW images need to be processed and then converted to JPEG . Although the majority of processing software can process RAW files, Lightroom and Photoshop can do a much better job of RAW to JPEG conversion. These extra steps can be a little more time consuming, but you do have more control over what you can do with your images. So to recap, here are the main disadvantages of RAW:
- Larger Files
- Unprocessed so the image can look flat without photo editing
Advantages of JPEG
If you have a firm understanding of photography and the different settings on your camera, you can choose between shooting in RAW or shooting in JPEG. Pick the one that best suits your workflow system and photography style. Here are a list of advantages of shooting in JPEG:
- Less storage space for your memory cards and hard-drives.
- Less bandwidth and time to share images
- Images are already processed, so they can be quickly delivered and shared. This is especially important for news photojournalism, sports, and other action photography.
Disadvantages of JPEG
With JPEG images, you do not have the same flexibility as you did with the RAW files. This is because there is much less information in a JPEG file when compared to a RAW file, so you will not get the best results. Another huge disadvantage of shooting in JPEG is that it is impossible to shoot a single-shot HDR image. This is because a JPEG does not capture enough tonal range or does not have the information to give us the options to process the image the way we want to in Lightroom. In addition, we need to perfect the white balance when shooting in JPEG since we do not have full control. Although we can make temperature and tint adjustments, we still do not have full control over white balance. As a result, we will not have many options when it comes to detail enhancing.
Visual Examples and Comparisons
Here are some visual comparisons from our friends at SLR Lounge (used with their permission) in their RAW vs JPEG article. This visual illustration shows how RAW gives you more flexibility when correcting over and under exposed images in post production.
You can try shooting in both RAW and JPEG to decide on what works best for you and your workflow. However, if you are just starting to learn photography, we highly recommend that you shoot in RAW instead of JPEG since you have much less control when shooting JPEG. If you eventually feel like you have a firm grasp on photography, then try shooting in JPEG to see if you prefer that over shooting in RAW. Just remember that if you do decide to shoot in JPEG, you need to dial in your adjustments perfectly since you do not have as much flexibility as you would when shooting in RAW.