- JPEG is the industry standard for image files and most all cameras use
JPEG as the default file format.
- JPEG files are compressed. Think of it like an MP3 file for music and other audio files.
- JPEGs are strictly 8 bit per color.
- JPEGs are much smaller in file size due to the compression. A 16-megapixel camera will churn out roughly a JPEG file between 2 to 6 MB’s in size
- JPEGs are processed IN camera (but you can still edit them further afterward)
- Depending on in camera settings JPEGs can (and usually are) higher in contrast and sharper.
- The dynamic range of a JPEG is significantly lower than its RAW counterpart.
- JPEGs are suitable to be posted online and printed immediately.
- As I touched on above, JPEGs can be edited after being exported from your camera but since JPEG is a lossy file format, there will be data loss EVERY time you resave a JPEG after making even the smallest correction or edit.
- RAW files are image files that retain all of the digital information that your camera sensor is capable of recording. If you’re a long time shooter with experience with film cameras, think of RAW as a digital negative on steroids.
- RAW files come in many incarnations and each camera manufacturer has it’s own proprietary RAW format. There is a universal RAW file format called DNG from Adobe but it is not used by most photographers I know.
- Unlike JPEG, RAW files are uncompressed similar to AIFF audio format.
- RAW files contain much more shades of colors compared to JPEG files – raw files have 12 or 14 bits of intensity information per channel (4096-16384 shades), compared to JPEG’s gamma-compressed 8 bits (256 shades).
- RAW formats use lossless compression which allows the photographer to manipulate and save the images over and over with no digital deterioration of the file.
- RAW files have significantly higher dynamic range compared to JPEG.
- Before printing or sharing online, RAW files require post processing with image editing software (such as On1 Photo RAW).
- RAW files are typically not as sharp or contrasty or color corrected as a JPEG can be but this is a good thing since it allows the photographer to edit their images as they see fit as opposed to letting the camera do it for them. This gives the photographer far more control over their final image.
- RAW files are larger than JPEGs since they retain much more data. A 16-megapixel camera will deliver a roughly 16 MB RAW file.
- RAW files are read-only files. All edits to the image are made on a sidecar file and finally saved as a TIFF, JPEG, or other image file type.
So then, why RAW?
Serious photographers and even many, if not most amateur photographers will benefit from using RAW as their image capture file type.
You get far more control over the final look over your images when shooting in RAW and even have the opportunity to fix and correct things with greater precision than you ever could with JPEGs. Even simple changes like white balance/color temperature, shadow, and highlight control, and exposure are far more manageable with RAW files.
Why would you not want to have all the added benefits of RAW over JPEG is probably the best question you should be asking yourself.