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How to: RAW vs JPEG

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

My take to why shooting in RAW is by far better than using the Jpeg format.


Starting as a new photographer there is a lot to learn and to get lost in regarding settings on your camera, what to use when and why. So lets take a little sit down, grab a cup of coffee and I will try to give you some understanding around the subject on using RAW file format vs using JPEG file format.


Lets start with a little look down memory lane. I remember when I frist started shooting photography, I used the auto setting and shot in JPEG format. And was very happy with doing so. Most of us start here, and many remain here. Over time looking at all the other beautiful photographies, I figured I wanted to try doing some post editing to make my photos pop some more. Downloaded Photoshop, loaded up some photos but found out that little could be done before the image turned funky. This made me wonder what I was doing wrong or missing out on. So I did some research and flicked through the settings on my camera, where RAW file format came to my attention. Turned it one, where the first thing I noticed was available image count on the memory card suddenly got cut in half or more. The images looked no different or worse in my preview. So why bother with it. Well there is a difference, so lets get into it.

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What is a JPEG image?


Jpeg is short for "Joint Photographic Experts Group", a group back in the day that developed the format to compress graphic files enough so that they could work on the average PC. The concept is called "lossy compression". What it does is take away a lot of the image data that is not visual to the human eye, and also average out the colour variation set in the image. This means that the camera processes the image within and does file compression. Giving it a smaller need for space on the memory card.


Here are some bulletpoints on advantages and disadvantages with JPEG:

Advantages

  • The most universal file format, compatible with most apps, browsers and softwares.

  • Point and shoot, no big fuzz afterwards.

  • Because of their small size, giving it faster upload and transfer speed.

  • Using Jpeg as format, the camera sets the white balance and saturation by the preset settings used.

  • When using Jpeg, due to its small footprint the camera can write the images fast to to memory card, giving no slowdown when shooting multiple images.

  • You can with most cameras choose what grade of compression you want. Less means bigger file and opposite with harder compression.

Disadvantages

  • Lossy compression as the technical term is, will compress the image to save space which also reduses the image quality. Especially between colours gradients and sharp edges.

  • Being limited to 8-bits, giving it a hard limitation to 16.8 million possible colours. Meaning all the other colours are essentialy discarded when the file is being processed to JPEG.

  • The file retains less data. Meaning that if you want to do some post processing, you will have limited possibillities to retain dynamic range. If you unluckily under - or overexposed your image, it can be very hard to recover the lost data in the highlights or shadows.


Captured in RAW, edited in Lightroom, saved and shared as JPEG.


What is a RAW image?


The easiest way to describe a RAW image is to think of it as the negative film from the old fil cameras, but in this case a digital version. It is an image file that contains the unprosseced data from a digital cameras sensor. As the negative film the RAW file also has to go through a post processing to deliver its full potential. Unlike JPEG files, RAW files are camera specific and need special programs that are compatible with the camera and its RAW file. Having a brand new camera that is just released can also mean you have to wait a little while before the software has been updated to

be able to read the RAW files. For post processing you need software like Lightroom or Photoshop to be able to read and edit the files. The RAW files straight out of the camera can be quite bland, compared to JPEG files.


Here are some bulletpoints on advantages and disadvantages with RAW:

Advantages

  • Compared to the restricted 8-bits of an JPEG image that can only contain up to 16.8 million colors, a 12-bit RAW image can contain up to 68.7 billion colors. A major upgrade, but you can step it even further to 14-bit RAW images which boosts the potential to 4.4 trillion colors. Some high-end cameras are even capable of recording 16-bit RAW images, giving you the insane potential of 281 trillion colors. By comparison to JPEG, the differences are huge. In short meaning a lot more to work with compared to JPEG files.

  • The recovery potential in a RAW file compared to JPEG are substanstial. Highlights or shadows in a under - or overexposed image potentially lost in aJPEG file, can with far bigger success be recovered in a RAW file.

  • Since the colour space is not saved into RAW images, you can change these in post processing.

  • Compared to JPEG, compression of the RAW file is lossless, meaning you can compress the file without losing quality.

  • A RAW file is yours, and can be used as a proof of ownership and authentification for a photograph.

Disadvantages

  • size, the files needed to contain all this information is quite large. needing more storage space, and longer time to backup.

  • some softwares can have issues with compatibility, since RAW files are aren´t standardized.

  • sharing a RAW file is harder, since the receiver need appropriate software. Meaning you most likely have to convert it before sharing.

  • RAW files need post-processing and conversion.



Shooting in RAW, gives you more to play with and stores better details in the highlights and shadows.

What should you use?


To end this blog post, lets try to answer this question. For me the transition to use of RAW as a format is permanent, I look at advantages of shooting in RAW to far outweighs the advantage of using JPEG. Yes the process after is somewhat tidious, but to make the most out of them it is necessery in my opinion. Also if you are worried about storage, the possibilities today are quite large with cloud storage, portable harddrives etc. In very short you could say that if you are serious with your photography, and wanting to be able to use your cameras full potential and have more freedom and possibilities in post process shoot in RAW format. If you take photos for fun, and don´t have the time nor need or want all the post production then use JPEG.


Have fun capturing


Thomas

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