If you have been taking digital photographs for years, and chances are you have been, then you are certainly familiar with the JPEG file format. This format is the standard digital photo format for every digital camera in use today. Whether it is a point-and-shoot, DSLR, or your smartphone, the digital camera you are using creates digital photos in the JPEG format.
While you are probably happy with the JPEG format, many of the higher-end point-and-shoot digital cameras, or DSLRs offer another file format called the raw image format in addition to the JPEG format.
For many with digital cameras that can capture photos in either the JPEG or raw format the question is always “should I shoot in raw or JPEG?” For those that haven’t used raw files before there are many other questions that they may be asking. What are the differences between the two formats and what do you need to know when picking on or the other?
Raw vs JPEG – a comparison
|Smaller file size. Lossy compression used to reduce file size.||Larger file size. Lossless uncompressed data directly from the camera’s sensor.|
|High continuous bursts of photos can be taken.||Less continuous bursts of photos can be taken.|
|The standard for all photo and image files. Non-proprietary.||Proprietary format. Each camera may have it’s own raw format.|
|Created and processed in-camera with the settings you specified in the camera.||Unprocessed in-camera, and needs software that can read and edit raw files.|
|Compatible with all photo editing software.||Can only be viewed with photo editing software that is compatible with raw files.|
|Can be viewed in a Web browser or in an e-mail.||Can only be viewed by software that can read raw files. Not Web- or e-mail-friendly.|
|8-bits per color.||At least 8-bits per color, but most raw files are 10-, 12-, or 14-bits per color.|
|Limited amount of editing possible.||A tremendous amount of editing is possible.|
As your can see from the above table, the differences between raw and JPEG files make them look like the exact opposite file formats. In many respects that is true. The fact that each format is so different from the other is one of the reasons there is a raw vs JPEG debate online with advocates in both camps arguing about the merits of each one.
Which format should you choose? As with many technologies the answer is “it depends.”
Which format should you use?
Everyone who has chosen to use a particular file format has done so because of a specific set of reasons, or photographic requirements. From the table that is shown above, you may think that the JPEG file format is the best because it appears to be the easiest to use. In that case, you are correct. But for others, ease-of-use doesn’t always indicate the best file format.
You should choose the JPEG format when…
- You are more concerned with taking a photo, downloading the file to a computer, or uploading it to social media or a website.
- You want to share the photos with friends in family.
- You need to take as many photos as possible in a matter of seconds.
- Editing a photo outside the camera (called post-processing) doesn’t interest you.
- You just want to see the photo without specialized photo-editing software.
- You have limited disk storage space.
You should choose the raw format when…
- You want the best-quality photo possible.
- You want to be able to edit your photos, such as changing the exposure, white balance, and sharpness, as you prefer instead of the camera’s settings.
- You have time to review and edit each of your photos.
- You want to be able to correct mistakes you made with your camera settings without degrading the quality of the photo.
- When disk storage space is not a concern.
Each of the two formats will appeal to different people. There is no right or wrong choice if the format you choose fills the needs of why you need the photos and what you wish to do with the photos.
For me, my preference has always been raw files. I am not the best photographer and I don’t always get the camera settings proper 100% of the time. The ability to edit my raw files when I do make a mistake far outweighs the time and effort it takes to edit the photos. Besides, raw files allow me to get very creative with my photos.
Now the question is, which format will you choose?
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