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Differences between RAW and JPEG

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by David Em
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A RAW file is uncompressed, while a JPEG file is compressed. Aside from that, here are the differences between RAW and JPEG.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Person taking a photo.

Image file formats

When you take a picture, the camera captures data and creates a digital image.

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There are many different types of file formats and the following are the most common ones:

  • JPEG – Joint Photographic Experts Group
  • RAW
  • TIFF – Tagged Image File Format
  • PNG – Portable Network Graphics
  • DNG – Digital Negative Format
  • GIF – Graphics Interchange Format
  • PSD – Photoshop Document

RAW and JPEG are the most common image file formats among photographers and are the best known.

Since these two are the most common, there are many opinions on why you should choose one over the other.

In order to figure out which image file format you should use, you need to understand the differences between RAW and JPEG.

From there, you can make a decision as to which is better for you.

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What is RAW?

Camera LCD screen with a circle.
RAW images are uncompressed and unprocessed (Photo by David Em/Portraits Refined).

RAW is an image file format, that’s uncompressed and unprocessed. Out of the camera, the RAW image will look flat and dark.

Images that are shot in RAW need to be viewed and processed by the camera’s software or other software that can process RAW files such as Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, or Luminar.

A RAW image is waiting to be processed, so it’s not ready for printing and viewing until it’s been edited. Although it begins as a RAW file, the end result is a JPEG file after you export it.

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Advantages of RAW

1. Control Exposure. When you shoot in RAW, you have more control over the exposure in post-processing. You can easily adjust the highlights, shadows, and exposure.

RAW images collect more data when the photo is taken. This results in better recovery for underexposed or overexposed images.

2. More Shades of Color. Most cameras will either capture 12, 14 or 16 bits for RAW images. This is higher than the 8-bit JPEG file, which means RAW images capture more shades of colors.

8 bits 256 shades of red, blue and green.
12 bits4,096 shades of red, blue and green.
16 bits65,536 shades of red, blue and green.

3. Easily Fix White Balance. Although the camera will record the white balance. With more data, it’s easier to adjust.

Manipulating the white balance of RAW images won’t negatively impact the quality of the image which is why shooting in RAW is beneficial.

4. Better Details. Instead of the image being processed by the camera, you’ll process it using software that can make the image better than what it would be out of the camera.

When you sharpen and reduce noise from a RAW image, the outcome will be better than a JPEG that the camera produced. You’ll be able to process the image into a photo with better quality and details.

5. Great Prints. With more data and higher quality, RAW images are the best way to get high-quality prints. RAW is also important for wallpapers or other large file outputs.

6. Proof of Ownership. When you edit a RAW image and export it, the result is a JPEG. It’s not easy to manipulate RAW images.

Therefore, if you need to prove that an image is yours or to show the original photo, a RAW image file will do that.

Disadvantages of RAW

1. More Time and Effort. RAW images need to be processed which means it’ll take more time to bring a RAW image to the final product. This adds more time to your workflow.

2. Takes Up More Space. The larger file size means that it takes up more storage space.

Therefore, your memory card will fill up more quickly than it would with JPEG images. In addition to filling up quickly, the capacity is lower meaning you can’t store as many photos on the memory card.

This also means that you’ll need more storage on your computer or backup devices.

3. Unable to Share Easily. RAW files require specific software to load them and convert them to a JPEG file. If you share a RAW file with someone, they’ll need to have software that has the capability to view it.

What is JPEG?

Camera LCD screen.
JPEG images are processed by the camera (Photo by David Em/Portraits Refined).

JPEG images are processed and compressed by the camera, which means that they are ready for printing and viewing right out of the camera.

Since JPEG is a compressed format, it takes up less space on the memory card and has a smaller file size.

Advantages of JPEG

1. More Common. JPEG files are more common and don’t require special software to view images with this file format. Therefore, it’s easier to share JPEG files and they’re more user-friendly.

2. Already Processed. JPEG images are processed in the camera. Settings such as white balance, contrast, saturation, tone curve, and sharpness are already applied to the image which means you don’t have to edit the photo.

3. Saves Time. Since the image is already processed, you don’t have to post-process the photo. This will save you time since the photos are ready to view right out of the camera.

4. Small File Size. JPEG files are much smaller than RAW. They take up less space which results in faster backups. The smaller file size means your memory card, computer, and the backup device can hold more photos.

Disadvantages of JPEG

1. Reduced Quality. A JPEG file undergoes lossy compression, meaning some image quality is lost during the compression process.

The quality of a RAW image that’s converted to a JPEG is better than the quality of a JPEG image out of the camera.

2. Less Shades of Color. The 8-bit JPEG captures significantly fewer shades of color than a RAW image.

3. Limited Recovery. Since JPEG images contain less data, it’s also more difficult to recover details such as underexposure or overexposure.

How to change the file format in the camera

  1. Go to your camera menu
  2. Select quality
  3. Choose JPEG or RAW

Best software for RAW images

Conclusion

Shooting in RAW or JPEG is a personal preference. JPEG will save space and have a smaller file size while RAW images will take up more space and have a larger file size.

More resources:

Featured photo by Unsplash.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

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