JPEG or RAW?

Whether to shoot in RAW or JPEG is a burning question every photographer has to answer at some point. It determines everything ranging from the file size to the quality of the photo.
As a budding photographer do you know what these two file formats mean? Are you aware of how they affect your images? Let me break it down.

What do they mean?

Imagine a RAW file as a diamond in the rough (RAW-gh lol! get it?) and a JPEG file as a nicely cut and polished diamond.
 

JPEG

stands for Joint Photographic Experts Guild. It’s a format for compressing image files. A couple of OG photographers got together and found a way to reduce the file size of images as well as maintain it’s quality. All JPEG files are processed within the camera. When the image is shot, the camera processes the sharpening, noise reduction, contrast, brightness, etc. The camera basically shows you the photo the way it thinks you want to see it.
Just like a polished, cut diamond, all the impurities are removed and the picture is refined to it’s finished product.
Now because these images are compressed and saved as .jpeg or .jpg, a lot of the initial image information/detail is lost and cannot be recovered.

RAW

This file format captures all the image information/detail recorded by the cameras sensor. Its an uncompressed, unprocessed file. Just like a diamond in the rough, you have plenty to work with.
Straight from the camera, the JPEG is on the left and RAW file on the right:
Don’t jump too quick to a decision just yet!

Pros and Cons

In order to best judge the more superior file format, we have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of shooting in both.
 
 

PROS 

JPEG 
  • It’s user friendly. JPEGs are a standard format which is readable by every image program. You won’t need a special one. Therefore, regardless of the software you use to edit, view or share the pictures, you’re good!
  • Provides a more convenient way for printing and sharing. Since the camera already processes the picture to be ‘perfect’ there is very little work that needs to be done.
  • The smaller file size. Have you ever tried zipping a 1GB folder on your laptop? When compressed the file size is drastically reduced which saves space. That’s how JPEGs work! If you’re working with a memory card that doesn’t have that much storage, like an 8GB, shooting in JPEG will come in very handy.
  • Allows for manipulation. Just because JPEGs are processed by the camera doesn’t mean they can’t be processed some more if needed.
RAW
  • It’s lossless. All the data your sensor captures at the time of shooting is attached to the RAW file, nothing is lost as opposed to it’s counterpart.
  • Gives you more control. RAW files contain a dynamic range. That is, the ratio between the maximum and minimum measurable light intensities of light and black. It enables you to  recover overexposed or underexposed photos. To illustrate imagine a JPEG compass, it only has North, East, South, and West. I mean, it’s still a compass but you’re limited to 4 directions. Now imagine a RAW compass. It has North, North East, East, South East, South, South West, West, and North West plus the longitude and latitude! You’re almost limitless.
jvsr-09
Here is a visual representation of the dynamic range between a JPEG file and a RAW file. Which is which?
  • Better JPEG quality. A RAW file can be converted to a JPEG during post processing. The quality of a JPEG file generated from a RAW file is much higher than shooting directly in JPEG.
  • It’s admissible in court. Now I know this got dark real quick but hear me out! Due to its unchangeable image format, it can be submitted to court as evidence. This may not be valuable at the moment, but you never know…
 

CONS

 

JPEG

  • You lose a great deal of image quality.
  • Since the image is already processed by the camera, there could be some irreversible camera settings. For example, if you change the white balance on your camera when shooting, it will be difficult to reverse it. Same thing applies with image sharpening, contrast, and many more.
  • You guessed it! it’s not admissible in court because of its changeable file format.
 
RAW
  • Not really an image file. Don’t be confused my dear. The file does contain an image but it will require special software to view it. Software including but not limited to; Photoshop CS, RawShooter Premium, Adobe Lightroom, DXO Optics Pro, Portfolio Extensis 8, Picasa, etc. This being said, its not suitable for immediate printing and sharing.
  • The files are bigger. A simple JPEG could be 2MB while a RAW, 10MB.

WHICH IS BETTER?

I started shooting in JPEG because I had no idea what a RAW file was and how to edit it. In fact, the JPEG file format was the default on my camera. I believe shooting in  RAW is the most superior file format because you can do a whole lot with it, but it doesn’t mean you should always shoot in RAW. There are situations where JPEG precedes RAW.
I covered a friends graduation recently and he wanted me to make a gif of him and his friends doing the Cristiano Ronaldo celebration. In order for me to capture well exposed, high speed action shots, I had to change the file format from Raw to JPEG. Why? Because shooting in RAW slows down the camera. How? The camera has to save up about 10MB worth of information, so shooting in high speed continuous wouldn’t work.
1r4m0i.gif
Gif was made with Imgflip

Here are some pointers:

If you’re low on storage or memory, shoot in JPEG.
If you want to make major edits to an image, shoot it RAW.
If you don’t have time to post process, shoot in JPEG.
If you need court evidence, shoot in RAW.
 
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. Now, I shoot in both JPEG and RAW (at same time? yaas!). What situation do you face and what will be the better option for you? If you’ve never tired shooting in RAW give it a go! Tell me which you prefer in the comment section below!
Until next time raindrops,
Enem Odeh 🌸
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