RAW vs jpeg: Here’s why you should shoot RAW files

  • the difference between RAW and jpeg tutorial by Megan Squires

RAW vs jpeg.

If this is something you’ve pondered recently, chances are you are currently shooting in jpeg.

And if you are shooting in jpeg, chances are you feel like you should be shooting in RAW.

Just like that diet you committed to as your New Year’s resolution, you know you should do it, you know you’ll feel and look better if you do, and you know the end result will be something you’re so proud of.

the difference between RAW and jpeg tutorial by Megan Squires

But does shooting in RAW really make that much of a difference?

Am I going to see the benefits right away, or is it something—like in so many other aspects of photography and life—that I’ll have to work hard, practice, and perfect before I notice any significant changes in my work?

Before I explain the main differences between RAW and jpeg, let me first start by saying that, like everything else, they both have their share of pros and cons. While I’ve found the pros with shooting in RAW to greatly outweigh the cons, there are many times that I do exclusively shoot in jpeg, and I’ll explain that in a moment.

the difference between RAW and jpeg tutorial by Megan Squires

So what is RAW? RAW is a file and not really an image in the sense that a jpeg is. This file format requires special computer software to view and the file cannot be printed without processing on some level. Think of it just as it sounds: raw. Just like meat that can’t be eaten without being cooked or prepared first, RAW files must also undergo preparation in order to be printed as images.

When you click the shutter, a RAW file captures all of that data that your camera’s sensor records. RAW files are not compressed like jpegs are; therefore the quality of a RAW file versus a jpeg one will be significantly higher. RAW files record greater levels of brightness, give you the ability to easily adjust white balance, and can even offer you the option to “save” some files that might otherwise not be salvageable due to exposure issues. When shooting in RAW, you have more control over these aspects of your photograph because there is much more data available to control. While a jpeg file is compressed and typically just between 1-3 MB in size, a RAW file is much larger, usually between 2 to 6 times larger than a jpeg file.

the difference between RAW and jpeg tutorial by Megan Squires

In addition, when you make changes to a RAW file, you are not losing any of your original data. With jpegs, each time you open them, some amount of quality is lost. This is due to loss data compression. When an image is re-expanded, though the quality comes close to the original, it will not retain the same quality unless
you duplicate it and save it as a new copy. This can be both frustrating and time consuming. RAW files are lossless and allow you to edit without affecting the quality of the file.

When looking at the two options, both RAW and jpeg have their advantages. RAW files must be processed or “prepared” in order for them to become images as I mentioned earlier. With RAW files, the production time takes longer, much like an oven takes a significant amount of time to prepare a fully-cooked dinner. Jpegs don’t
require this lengthy editing/processing, just like a microwave nearly instantly heats up a meal. Jpegs are printable straight out of the camera. And like the oven, RAW files are much larger in size than the smaller “microwave” jpegs. While one offers instant gratification, the other takes more time, but the end result is often
more pleasing and enjoyable.

the difference between RAW and jpeg tutorial by Megan Squires

As I said earlier, there are some occasions where jpeg is the best choice. When you plan to shoot many images and are not concerned with editing and correcting each one, often jpeg is the perfect fit. Family vacations, everyday shooting, and instances where you produce mass amounts of photographs are often great times to switch to jpeg. I cannot tell you how many Disneyland images I have sitting on my computer instead of printed out in albums because I shot them in RAW. Use jpeg for instances where you are not as much concerned with the quality as you are with documenting the moment, and you probably won’t have the files and files of untouched memories taking up space on your computer that I do.

If you haven’t tried shooting in RAW yet, I challenge you to try it. You might be surprised by the control you gain over your images through ability to alter and adjust many of the details you can’t with a jpeg. And after all, you have nothing to lose but a bit more processing time and little space on your memory card.

the difference between RAW and jpeg tutorial by Megan Squires

About the Author:

Although Megan started dabbling in photography when she purchased her first DSLR in 2005 it wasn’t until 3 years later that her journey took a deeper meaning and has defined who she is as a photographer. In Folsom, California, where she lives with her husband and two children, Megan uses her Nikon D4 and an assortment of lenses to photograph in her bright, clean, and classic style. On her days off she loves to sip a can of diet Coke after a morning of sleeping in. Follow that with a little antiquing and you’ve got quite the day for Megan.

14 Comments

  1. Michele Apr 26 2013 at 11:10 am - Reply

    “Use jpeg for instances where you are not as much concerned with the quality as you are with documenting the moment, and you probably won’t have the files and files of untouched memories taking up space on your computer that I do.”

    That’s the part I need to try. I’ve been shooting RAW for a year, but still haven’t gotten very far in my processing skills. I have focused more on getting it right in camera and often find it hard to see what I can do to improve my photo in Lightroom beyond adding a little contrast and clarity. I’m going to try flipping it back to JPG sometimes.

  2. Sharon Apr 26 2013 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Great article, thanks! I do have a question. I’ve noticed that my RAW images have a lot more noise in them! Is that pretty standard and/or am I possibly doing something wrong. Obviously the noise is greater the higher the ISO. I’m using a Canon 5d Mark 11 with a L-series lens. Thanks!

    • Sarah Wilkerson Apr 26 2013 at 10:52 pm - Reply

      Hey Sharon! Odds are that you aren’t seeing as much noise with the JPEG because the camera is applying automatic noise reduction to that JPEG. You can apply noise reduction to your RAW images in Lightroom or ACR.

  3. Rachel Apr 26 2013 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Great article! I’m a photography beginner with my 1st dslr. I’ve only been shooting in jpeg because frankly raw intimidates me. The fact I have to edit it..etc.. I have bought the software but with 2 lil boys I’m still trying to find time to read about my camera lol 😛 …this article is making me want to out my butt in gear & try raw!! 🙂

  4. Jill Apr 26 2013 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    Are the pictures above RAW or jpeg?

  5. Kayla Apr 26 2013 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Hi. I have a technical question. I have photoshop CS2 (old school, I know). I’ve used RAW before, but (embarrassingly) I don’t know how to open the RAW editing plug in. Any suggestions?

  6. Jacquie Apr 26 2013 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this! I’m always confused about RAW and how it is better. If I open RAW files to edit in Photoshop Elements, do all my editing, then save them as jpegs, am I following all necessary procedures to create good “printable” images? Or am I missing something…

  7. Kara Apr 26 2013 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    Great article!! i totally agree.
    what have you found to save the image as after editing the RAW thats the best and that can be opened easily for anyone??

  8. Danielle Apr 26 2013 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    Do you know of a good resource to learn step by step editing of a RAW image? It is much different than a Jpeg.

    • Sarah Wilkerson Apr 26 2013 at 10:54 pm - Reply

      Danielle, most people use Lightroom or Photoshop ACR. There’s tons of information about RAW processing on the CM forums! You can sign up with code VIP2013 for a free trial if you want to check it out! http://www.clickinmoms.com/signup

  9. Jackie Apr 28 2013 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    Hi megan, i just started using RAW. and i’m wondering….after i export from lightroom, for some reason, the files are still only 700ish K. Is this right? Seems kinda small, especially if i need to enlarge something. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  10. Iliasis Muniz Jun 28 2013 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Looove this article! I have never shot in RAW. Idk how to get my settings to shoot in RAW yet. This is the first time i actually understood the differences between jpeg and RAW! Thank you sooo much it really has helped me understnad more.

  11. Lisa May Jul 14 2017 at 3:04 am - Reply

    Great article! I was personally first introduced with shooting in RAW when I was still learning about photography and I had no idea about the big difference and how much shooting and editing in RAW can be helpful and useful to give you real quality images. I actually use this: http://www.aftershotpro.com/en/pages/raw-file/ but no matter what software anybody is using, shooting in RAW gives more options when it comes to finalising the image you’ll use and gives you the chance to correct things that the settings on the camera might have got wrong,

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