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RAW Versus JPEG…

Which one is right for you?

One of the first things you’ll decide when you set up your camera is what image quality and format to use. You’ve probably noticed that your camera offers multiple options in its menu: JPEG, RAW, JPG + RAW, and sometimes TIFF. Initially, this decision can feel a bit overwhelming, but knowledge is power! Below we’ve outlined some of the main benefits and drawbacks of each file type to help you make your decision!


RAW

All DSLRs capture images initially in RAW format, regardless of whether you choose JPEG or RAW. Converting your image into a JPEG is simply an extra step your camera takes after the RAW image is captured. The RAW format is, as it sounds like, a collection of the exact pixels captured when a picture is taken. RAW files are twice as large as JPEG files.

Benefits:

  • Adjusting exposure in post-processing is more effective. Ex: highlights that may have been lost in the JPEG format are more likely to be recovered.
  • User has complete control of the editing process.

Drawbacks:

  • Files are twice as large as their JPEG counterparts, thereby taking up more room on memory sticks and hard drives.
  • RAW files cannot be printed as-is. They must first be processed through software that can edit and convert RAW images (Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, iPhoto, etc…)
  • RAW files have lower contrast, less saturation, and no sharpening compared to their JPEG counterparts.

JPEG

Those who aren’t keen on editing their images in a post-processing software often choose to set their file format to JPEG. JPEG images are compressed.

Benefits:

  • JPEG files take up half the space of RAW files, so you’ll be able to fit twice as many images on your memory stick and/or hard drive.
  • JPEG files look better than RAW files straight-out-of-the-camera (SOOC). They’ve got more contrast and saturation, as this is part of the conversion process.
  • You can print JPEG images as they are… no need to convert them with fancy software!

Drawbacks:

  • If you’ve over or underexposed your image, you’ll have a harder time fixing it in a post-processing software.
  • JPEGs are “lossy” files, meaning they can continue to lose information every time you open, edit, save, and close them. If you edit and save them too much, you’ll end up with a file of lower quality.
  • A boost of saturation and contrast has already been added to the file, so you have less control over the final image in post-processing than you would when working with a RAW image.

In the end, the decision lies with you! Amateurs and professionals alike often prefer one or the other file format for the reasons listed above, so there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer. If you’re not settled, don’t be afraid to try both file types out (either separately or using the “RAW + JPEG” quality setting) to see what you like best!