Our tour and tuition guests often ask: ‘Should’ I shoot in RAW or JPG? What’s the difference between RAW versus JPG?
RAW vs JPG
What do these terms mean? How do you choose which one to use? Basically, it comes down to personal preference along with how you might like to use the image later on. Read on to learn a little more about each one – we hope it helps you decide.
By default, most digital cameras save the photos you take in a format known as ‘JPG’ (also known as JPEG). This standard has been around for quite some time. It can easily be viewed on all computers, smart phones, tablets and other appliances such as televisions. The main advantage of JPG: its easily shared via email, social media, web sites, etc without the need for post-processing.
Have you heard of the term ‘lossy’? Well, a JPG file is considered ‘lossy’. It’s the method used to compress the files and where some of the picture information is lost during the writing of the file. Having your picture quality set on a high level or fine detail may reduce the amount of detail lost during this process. But every time you save over the same image, the quality reduces some more.
Other disadvantages of shooting only in JPG is the limited ability to adjust the image after it has been taken with the camera. Simple minor edits are okay, but more detailed or heavy editing will show up the limitations. For example, trying to recover highlight or shadow detail in the bright or dark parts respectively of your image.
‘RAW’ is the name of a file type for an image or photo not yet processed. RAW files provide a considerable increase in flexibility for editing but cannot be shared straight from the memory card. Each camera manufacturer has their own RAW file types (e.g. Nikon’s file extension is ‘NEF’). RAW files need to be processed using image processing software such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One or other software compatible with your model of camera. Some manufacturers ship software with their cameras to allow you to process RAW images from your camera.
Shooting in RAW provides you with the ultimate image quality. Although the camera usually compresses the RAW files, most camera manufacturers uses a ‘lossless’ compression method when written to your memory card. The image detail saved directly from your cameras sensor is a much higher quality. With the appropriate software, you have the ability to recover some detail that may not be seen in under- or over-exposed regions of your image. You can also make a much larger range of image corrections to improve the final picture, or alter the image after the fact.
The main disadvantages: the file sizes are larger than high quality full-size JPG files, and as mentioned earlier, there is the need for post-processing software to view, edit or manipulate these files.
Post-processing software is your digital ‘darkroom’ – much more convenient that the darkrooms of the past when it was necessary to use chemicals and a specialised set-up to process film.
Some cameras allow you to shoot simultaneously in both RAW and JPG. This may help in allowing you to capture a small-size JPG to give the flexibility to share the JPG’s directly from your camera while retaining a high quality RAW image to post-process later on. In the past, this is the way I used to take my photos. But these days with smartphone and tablet apps for WiFi and/or Bluetooth enabled cameras, it’s much easier to share directly from the camera because the app generally works with either JPG or RAW images.
I still prefer to get the image I seek in-camera as best I can while shooting – this helps to avoid a level of post-processing. Aiming to get your image right as you shoot it encourages you to think about the settings and composition. Any adjustments I choose to do are mostly minor. Essentially I try to limit post processing to simple adjustments to ensure the scene appears as close to how I saw it with my own eyes – a much more rewarding result for me.
The following images are an example of JPG (left) versus processed RAW (right). Here we are able to see some of the changes: details have been recovered in the highlights (bright areas), a little bit of brightening of the shadows, and lens corrections.
Have you enjoyed reading this article?
We hope we’ve helped you to better understand the difference between RAW and JPG. Which format do you shoot in? Feel free to share a comment or question below – we’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading. Coreena and Roy.