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.
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.
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.
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.
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.