RAW vs JPEG – A simple guide for beginners

RAW vs JPEG – A simple guide for beginners

The RAW vs JPEG topic seems like a never ending debate in photography. There are photographers who say always shoot RAW, while others say shoot JPEG. A number of questions come in mind when thinking about who should you listen to.

What is RAW format? What are the advantages and disadvantages of RAW versus JPEG and why? Will shooting in RAW complicate your post-production and workflow?

Having a thorough understanding of advantages and disadvantages of both formats is essential for beginner photographers to make the right decision on whether to use RAW format for their work or JPEG.

RAW images, or “digital negatives” are virtually unprocessed files that come directly from the camera sensor. Think of them in the same way as you think about the raw food ingredients you buy from the store – they need to be cooked before you can eat them. Same goes here – you will need to edit your images before you can share and show them. JPEG on other hand can be viewed and shared immediately after you take them.

RAW images preserve the most amount of information about an image and generally have better dynamic range than JPEG images. RAW files have way greater latitude for editing and fixing mistakes.

Here is an example image shot in RAW format and edited in Adobe Lightroom:

RAW vs JPEG - A simple guide for beginners

So, just a quick list with the advantages of the RAW files:

  • RAW files contain better dynamic range than JPEG (ratio between the maximum and minimum measurable light intensities of light and black) and can later be used to recover underexposed or overexposed images or parts of an image
  • Unlike JPEG, RAW files utilise lossless compression, so they do not suffer from image-compression artefacts
  • When a RAW image is generated by the camera, all camera settings (metadata), including camera-specific and manufacturer-specific information, are just added into the file – nor applied! This is a huge advantage over JPEG, because if you accidentally use a wrong setting (underexpose, overexpose or pick wrong White Balance) on your camera, you will still have an option to change it later

The biggest disadvantage of the RAW format is the need of post-processing (editing) the files. You will spend time and effort to do that, not to mention money on a software (like Adobe Lightroom).

So, just a quick list with the advantages of the JPEG files:

  • JPEG images are fully processed in camera and all settings you have adjusted on your camera such as White Balance are already applied to the image
  • JPEG images are much smaller than RAW images and therefore consume a lot less storage
  • Most modern cameras and software packages support JPEG images, making the format extremely compatible
  • JPEG files can be used / shared immediately after you take them, without the need of editing

So, what format should you use? My answer will always be this – do you plan on editing your images? If yes, RAW is the way to go. If you are serious about your photography, want to grow and want to be able to showcase or sell your work, you should be using RAW format.

For me shooting in RAW format far outweighs the advantages of using JPEG. I edit all my images, professional and personal, and RAW format gives me much more flexibility to do that.

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