HOW TO: RAW VS. JPEG

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

Ansel Adams

There have been on-going discussions, debates, arguments and disputes regarding shooting in RAW vs. JPEG format since these options have been available. These disagreements will probably go on for some time because of the advantages and disadvantages to both formats.

RAW format can be compared to black and white negative film, as both require processing to produce the final image. RAW format requires processing outside the camera with software, while black and white negatives require chemical processing in a traditional lab setting.

A JPEG format is like positive color slide film. Your camera creates the JPEG format, just as the lab chemically processes the color slide film.

Some photographers like to shoot in RAW format because it affords more flexibility in controlling color, exposure, white balance and contrast, which can later be adjusted with software. And it is important to them to have as much data to work with when processing the file with software. RAW files do take up a lot of space on data cards, as compared to JPEGs. However, spending time in the digital darkroom works for those amateur and professional photographers who prefer to shoot RAW.

Other photographers like to shoot in JPEG format because of the convenience it affords. They set up their cameras to the white balance, exposure, color balance and contrast of their choice. After taking the photograph, the camera’s processor takes over the job and converts the file to JPEG format using its sophisticated algorithms, then compresses the file. More files can fit on data cards in this format and photos are ready for immediate use or additional tweaking with software as needed.

Some cameras allow you to shoot in both formats at the same time so you get the best of both worlds. You get a RAW file if you want to process the file yourself and a JPEG for immediate use. This method requires good file management skills and more data cards because of file sizes.

Many professional and amateur photographers are now shooting exclusively in JPEG because the format suits their needs. They feel they get the exposure right when they push the shutter button, eliminating the need to shoot in RAW. Which allows them to spend more time in the field, rather than spending time in a digital darkroom.

Shooting in RAW vs. JPEG is simply a matter of personal preference. You can process your files yourself or have the camera take care of that task. Your choice.

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  1. Steve
    October 26, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Nice explaination of the two formats. I shoot both; I like to have the JPEGs for quick review and use the RAWs for processing and final prints. You have a good way of describing these kinds of things; keep up the great articles! And let’s not forget: you always have great images with them! Way to go!

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:14 am

      Thanks Steve, I tried to explain the differences with the two formats for those folks who may not understand and keep it unbiased. Thanks for the kind words, they are much appreciated.

  2. October 26, 2011 at 10:09 am

    You were reading my mind!!! Was just thinking about this. I prefer shooting in JPEG but I’ve been admonished (a lot) for not going the RAW route. Another great article. Just you wait till I get my list of questions together for you 🙂

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:18 am

      Sometime I get lucky that way. I have been admonished for not going the RAW route also, but that is my choice as it is yours.

  3. October 26, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Great photo, David. 🙂 And agree on raw vs. jpg. Both have their purposes and it’s the final outcome that matters. I shoot raw, as I want the control. I try to do everything in camera, being very precise on camera settings, but still at the end of the day, I want to be able to move a slider in the raw processing, if I want to. To me it’s easier than adjusting a jpg. But to each his own. A good photo, is a good photo. 🙂 Great article, David!

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:21 am

      Thanks Katie, I tried to write the article in an unbiased manner. Everyone, including myself has their way of doing things and what works for me or you is the the right way. Thanks for the great comment Katie!!

  4. October 26, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Good tip. I’m still learning about RAW. I had my camera setting on this for a while, but opted to go back to jpg. Thanks for the info.

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:23 am

      Thanks Fergiemoto, one good thing about photography is that it is a never ending learning process. Glad you liked the article.

  5. October 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you for the very clear explanation of the differences between the two formats. I will have to play around with both formats later this afternoon–as I have never really thought about which I preferred. (I think I tend to shoot in JPEG, but perhaps I would prefer the RAW quality of the image).

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:27 am

      Glad to be of help Tarapappas, play around with both formats and see if you like to process your photos to what you envision. It’s your photo and you can interpret it the way you want to. That’s what is so great about photography!!

  6. October 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Thanks for great information and a lovely photo! I think I will stick to .jpg. Returning from Scotland I had a few gigs worth of photos… need more harddrives for .raw… I was about to say for that I take too many photos, but one can never take too many photos!

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:37 am

      A few gigs of photos!!! Wow that must have been some trip to Scotland. I’m with you…I take way to many photos also…well maybe not. I’ll stick with mostly .jpg also.

  7. October 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I, shoot jpeg,and I must say that say that, by my standards, they are not ready “for immediate use”. I probably spend as much time in my digital darkroom as you do. With the softwares that I use I can come with outstanding images, enough that I am regularly asked by publishers for my work, and do pretty well at galleries as well. I resent you saying that shooting jpeg is as easy as using a point and shootl.

    Bob Zeller
    http://bobzeller.wordpress.com

  8. October 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    David, I resent you saying that shooting jpeg is like with a point and shoot. I, am a professional that does just fine shooting jpeg, and my stuff right out of the camera is not by my standards ready for “immediate use”. I probably spend as much time processing my images as you do. With the softwares that I use, I get images that I am regularly asked for by publishers, and I also do pretty well at art galleries as well. If shooting RAW fits you, that’s just fine, but don’t low-brow the rest of us.

    Bob Zeller
    http://bobzeller.wordpress.com

  9. October 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    David, I resent you saying that shooting jpeg is like using a point and shoot. I shoot JPEG and, by my standards, my images are not ready for “immediate use”, as you say. I spend as much time in my digital darkroom, by my choice, as you like to do. I am a professional, sucessful enough that I am regularly asked for by publishers, I have my work hanging in homes and offices all over the country. You like RAW and that’s your choice, but don’t high-brow over the rest us who care to do it our way.

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:05 am

      Bob, I was very disappointed to read your comments. And more importantly, with your tone. Primarily, because it is obvious that you mis-read my post. No where in this article did I state a preference for either RAW or JPEG. And if you re-read the post, you will also realize I did not state what format I prefer to shoot. Your assumption that I prefer one format over the other is incorrect. So is your your statement that I said shooting JPEG is like using a point and shoot.

      And I have to say, I resent you saying that I low-brow you, or that I high-brow over you. I take great pains to write posts that appeal to all levels of photographers, be they beginners or experienced professionals. I believe that photography is a medium available for everyone to enjoy, and quite honestly, I do not have a snobby bone in my body.

      As a photographer, I am glad to hear that you have been successful with your photography. I enjoy hearing about anyone who is succeeding in this medium. However, like all professions, we do not always agree on methodology or vision, which is fine. That helps to keep it interesting. But, there is typically one or two spoiled apples in the bunch.

      Since we obviously disagree, and more to my concern,you are mis-quoting me because you are not reading my posts correctly, I am sad to say I would suggest you follow another photographer who shares your methodology and vision.

      • October 27, 2011 at 10:15 am

        David, I feel that I must reply. I may have over-re-acted to what you said, and perhaps I did mis-understand what you were saying. But too quickly, when you inferred that shooting jpeg was so easy and the quality wasn’t up to RAW standards, I got a little rankled.

        I certainly apologize for being so abrupt with you. It really isn’t my style, and I did not act very professional. I do enjoy your articles, and most certainly enjoy your photographs.

  10. October 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Dear David, this was a nice article. At the beginning I was using RAW but then I turned to JPEG, because of the files that do take up a lot of space on data cards, as compared to JPEGs. I know only this. But I am not a professional photographer and I’ve been still learning and trying to improve my photography. To be honest, maybe I am wrong, but there is not any difference for me… In both of them I work on digital way…. Thank you so much, with my love, nia

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:31 am

      Thanks You Nia, That is what is what is so great about photography, you can do so much to create an image the way that it appeals to you. The freedom of choice adds to the creativity.

      • October 27, 2011 at 10:05 am

        You are welcome and Thank you again dear David. You are so nice as always and I love to keep reading and watching your posts… I’ve been learning so nice things from your articles. Blessing and Happiness, with my love, nia

  11. October 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    I forgot to say this, the photograph is so beautiful. Fascinated me. Thanks and Love, nia

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:29 am

      Thanks Nia, I have several like this and it was hard to choose just one.

  12. October 27, 2011 at 12:36 am

    Great photo, and I enjoyed your article!

    • October 27, 2011 at 9:34 am

      Hey Thanks Montucky!! I wanted to point out to folks that there is more than one way of achieving a final image. And whatever way they choose, if it works for them, then it’s the right way. I hope that came across.

  13. October 27, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    nice! I’m mostely using jpeg, because it’s supported by every program 😀

    • October 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      Thanks and very true indeed. jpeg is so versatile!!!

  14. October 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Very informative article. Well written and great image as always!

    • October 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks Vickie, I tried to be fair and unbiased to users of both formats. The way I figure…use whichever format suits your needs. Personally I would rather be in the field shooting…

  15. October 27, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Nice introduction to the what’s and why’s of shooting JPEG vs. RAW formats… I shoot almost exclusively RAW, but have recently begun shooting RAW + JPEG. Truth be told, I’d rather craft the image from the RAW file than the JPEG (which I, inevitably, end up retouching anyway!). The JPEG’s are nice if I want to show my clients the photos immediately, but then again, I can just show them my LCD screen that already displays a JPEG version of the RAW file…

    • October 28, 2011 at 9:29 am

      Thanks Eternalforms, my goal was just as you said, an introduction, for those folks that may not know the difference. I tried to remain unbiased especially since this can become a very heated topic. Again, whatever works…works.

  16. October 27, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Nice article on the raw and jpg formats. I shoot primarily raw (for the past five years) but do go to jpg when I’m shooting on assignment and know few of the photos will be used for anything more than a 4×6 print.

    During the transition I found that I do just about the same amount of tweaking between the two formats, but with raw I have the latitude for doing more if I choose to experiment or if I want a very large print.

    I set my son’s camera on jpg simply because I want him to focus on the composition and photo rather than working on the computer. That can always come later!

    Tricia

    • October 28, 2011 at 9:15 am

      Thanks Tricia for the comment and those are my sentiments exactly. I feel the two formats each have their pros and cons. Just like in the old days with print film vs. slide film.

  17. October 27, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    David, I really appreciated your clear, and, I thought, unbiased explanation of the difference between RAW and jpeg. (I couldn’t tell which one you prefer.) I just got my first camera with RAW capability but haven’t tried it yet because I have no idea how to use it or what its purpose is. For me, jpeg works just fine. But then, I’m not a pro.

    I really enjoy reading your blog and always learn something useful! Not to mention admiring your beautiful photos….

    • October 28, 2011 at 9:20 am

      Thanks Seabluelens for the kind words and I am glad you enjoyed the post. I figure whatever works for the photographer behind the camera is the best way for that person.

  18. October 28, 2011 at 4:18 am

    Thanks for the tips, I am not a professional photographer and it’s useful to know a little bit more about it! 😀 Beautiful picture!! 😀

    • October 28, 2011 at 9:18 am

      Thanks Kristina, it is always good to learn something new about any subject be it photography or cooking or….even if the information is not useful at that point in time.

  19. October 28, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Hi David, I’ve not seen your blog before. Always enjoy finding a new (to me) photo blog. I look forward to reading your blog.
    Early on, like many, I shot all JPEG, primarily for the convenience and for the workflow. When I had less functional software, RAW was just too much hassle to use. As I became more sophisticated with my workflow and the tools I use, I found that RAW has so much more to offer that I would never go back to shooting in JPEG. Not that I don’t acknowledge the benefits you mention above, just that the benefits of RAW outweigh benefits of JPEG for my purposes.
    I find the primary benefit of shooting in RAW is the increase in dynamic range available in my final image. I can recover details in highlights and shadows by adjusting exposure, recovery, and blacks (using Adobe control terms) that, had I shot in JPEG, wouldn’t be available to me. I don’t always need to make these adjustments, but when I do, I am thankful of the capabilities afforded by shooting in RAW.

    • October 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Mike, it’s great that you found me and I hope you enjoy my posts. I try to help beginners and experienced photographers alike. Myself included we can all learn from our own experimentation and from others. I’ve been learning since day one. I agree with everything you said in your comment and I look forward to reading your blog. You have another subscriber! Thanks for stopping by!

  20. October 29, 2011 at 9:26 am

    A good post David and a lovely photograph. I shot in both RAW and JPG for some time, but now shoot more and more in RAW only, so I’m not taking up as much space on my SD card, or having to deal with both versions in my file management.

  21. October 29, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Thanks Mufidah, Those Delphiniums were glorious and yes dealing with both versions could get confusing after a bit…did I adjust this version or was it that version or maybe it was this one… aaaarrrrgggghhhhh I can’t remember…that is one thing about digital vs film in the old days. We have almost an unlimited supply of photos to take and choose from since there are no development costs. That calls for good file management…and storage. Glad you liked the post!

  22. Nandini
    November 5, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Great post. The picture is so smooth in colors. It’s beautiful. 🙂

  23. November 5, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks Nandini, I tried to keep it simple yet informative and Foxgloves are some of my favorite flowers.

    • Nandini
      November 28, 2011 at 8:52 am

      I would love to have this one on my desktop; it is really very pretty. I come back often to have a glimpse of it. The colors are really breathtaking. 🙂

  24. November 9, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Hi David. I’m catching up on your posts that I missed recently. I changed to shooting in RAW about a year ago. It has been a good experience, because I have taken the time to explore photo editing in greater detail. Lately, I have been thinking of occasionally shooting in JPEG and comparing to RAW. Maybe I can speed things up now that I have more knowledge of photography in general.

    I love the foxglove photo! It is one of my favorite flowers. I started foxglove from seed last spring and nurtured it through our extremely hot summer. It doesn’t bloom until the second year, so I’m anxiously awaiting spring to see how they look!

  25. November 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Hi Karen, photography affords so many variables that it can appeal to the novice and experienced alike whether it be a type of camera or the type of processing the individual wants to explore.
    Foxgloves are one of my favorite flowers also…I hope yours do well. We had to nurture ours also and thankfully they got some shade in the late afternoon.

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