Shooting in RAW vs JPEG: Which Format to Shoot in?

Today’s tip of the day talks about the need to make sure you are shooting your images in the right format.
A lot of people don’t pay attention to the format that is set on their cameras and usually end up getting poor looking images.
There are two main formats: RAW and JPEG
What is RAW?
When you take a shot, the light passing through the lens gets absorbed by the image sensor in your camera.
RAW format would save this image absouletly unadulterated, which means no data is lost.
If you’re shooting JPEG, then the camera takes an additional step – which is to convert this RAW image into JPEG by compressing it. This results in a smaller sized image (in terms of space), but some amount of data is lost and hence the image quality is slightly inferior due to the compression.
This is the reason why many photographers will tell you to always shoot in RAW. But is the answer really that simple?
First of all, let’s look at the advantages of shooting in RAW format:
  1. You get a pure uncompressed image that was formed on the sensor, so it’s of the highest quality ( in terms of sharpness, colours, brightness, etc).
  2. It’s much easier to edit RAW images. This is perhaps the most significant advantage of a RAW image. A lot of times you may not get the shot that you wanted. For example, let’s say you took a shot and it came out overexposed. When it comes to editing such a shot using an editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom, you’ll be able to easily edit it and correct any issues when the format is RAW. Extreme editing on a JPEG image will most likely result in loss of quality. For instance, look at the before and after versions of the shot below:
I was easily able to edit this shot for highlights/sharpness/contrast/white balance because I shot it in RAW.
This is not to say that you can’t edit JPEG images at all. But it’s definietly easier and faster to edit RAW images.
3. When it comes to taking prints, RAW images look better.
Now let’s look at some disadvantages of shooting in RAW:
  1. The processing time goes up. You may find that your camera takes more time to write an image to the memory card when you shoot in RAW. This can be a bit of a problem in scenarios where you want to take a lot of shots quickly, like wildlife/sports.
  2. The size of a RAW file is much higher than a JPEG so it occupies more space on your memory card and then on your hard drive on the computer. Though with the modern day capacities of both the cards and hard drives, this issue is not too relevant.
  3. Not all editing softwares accept RAW. For instance, in Photoshop, you have to download a plugin that will enable you to open RAW images.
  4. You have to convert RAW images into JPEG when you have to share them using social networking sites like Facebook and many other applications, which won’t accept RAW images. So this results in an additional step which can be frustrating and time consuming.

So what’s the solution?

There is not a one-stop solution for everyone.

For instance, a very causal and hobbyist photographer, who has only bought a DSLR for shooting family pictures should not really be bothering with all the hassles that come with shooting in RAW. For such a photographer, it’s way easier and quicker to shoot and share images in JPEG .

On the other hand, a complete professional, especially someone who edits and post-processes images thoroughly may want to get the highest possible image quality and hence always shoot in RAW.

A semi-professional photographer may opt to be flexible and shoot in RAW only when the images are of extreme importance.

So you’ll have to find your own sweet spot.

One point which lot of photographers will agree is that if you know you’ll be tweaking the shot a lot in an editing software later on, it’s always advisable to shoot in RAW.

Also, shooting in RAW will make you a more realxed photographer because you’ll know that if something goes wrong, it can be easily corrected while editing.

So in case you’re not sure, you can opt for the RAW + JPEG option that your camera offers. This will allow you to store the image in both formats, giving you the freedom to choose which ever you want to later on. The only downside would be the space consumed, which as discussed before, is not much of an issue nowadays when you can easily delete something with a click of the mouse.

In my e-book – Photography for Beginners (E-book With Videos): The Easiest Way to Learn DSLR Photography From the Comfort of Your Home, which is a comprehensive and step-by-step guide that teaches you the basics of photography, I show you how to edit a RAW image (the same portrait image that you saw above) in Lightroom. Do check it out!



1 reply
  1. Саша Серых
    Саша Серых says:

    The RAW format has a clear advantage over Jpeg. It is enough to compare their characteristics in to understand that the time JPEG is gradually coming to an end. Now more and more cameras are produced with RAW format. As a photographer, I prefer the improved models, so I have the opportunity to get photos of higher quality with advanced photography. Camera FV-5 is what professionals need. I am not talking about amateurs. They may well be happy with the JPEG format.

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