Magic Monday: RAW vs. JPG

A common question I’m asked in my classes is to explain the benefits of shooting RAW images vs. JPG.

This is the file type of your images, and to change it, you’ll usually find the option located under the “Quality” button or menu item on your camera.  Its referring to the quality of the file size of your images.  (fine, norm, basic, etc. are all JPG images and just vary in the size of quality of the image).

What is RAW?

RAW is the largest file type and as such records the most information for your image.  It compresses nothing.  All the information is there.

JPG is a smaller file type and compresses the information available into what the camera thinks is the most important information.

How does this effect your images?

The main benefit to shooting a RAW file type is in the ability to edit your images later with more flexibility.  Think of the RAW file like a film negative.  Because so much information is there, when you go to the darkroom to process the photo, you have much more flexibility in the development of the image.  Want to really bring up the contrast or exposure?  Since you have all that information available to you, you can.  You can pull those elements much much further in editing before distortion or artifacting may take place.

Think of the JPG like a film print.  You could scan the print and do some editing digitally to it later, but since you’re not working from the negative there isn’t a whole lot of information there to work with, and as such, you will see distortion in editing much sooner than if you were working with the negative.

CONS of RAW:

1.  Very large file size.  You won’t be able to fit as many images on your card.  On my typical 4 gig card I can fit only about 200 images, vs. about 600+ JPGS on the same card.

2.  You need an editing program that will specifically handle RAW images.  Photoshop will open the RAW file, but it won’t save it as a RAW, it saves it as a .tiff or .psd file.  Lightroom WILL indeed edit RAW photos and keep them in RAW format.

3.  You can’t print a RAW file.  It must be exported as a JPG.

4.  Flat images.  In most cases, JPGS actually look better straight out of the camera (the camera will add a little contrast to the images when it makes those compression decisions to the information it records in JPG format).  RAW images do look a little flat, but the allure lies in the amazing editing power that comes later.

5.  Can take up TONS AND TONS of space on your hard drive 🙂

PROS of RAW:

1.  Editing power on steroids!  You will notice a HUGE difference editing a RAW file rather than a JPG file.

2.  If you missed your exposure (a stop or two under or over exposed?)  its easier to bring the image back to where it should have been with the amount of information recorded.

CONS of JPGS

1.  Not as much wiggle room in editing.

PROS of JPGS

1.  Takes up much less space on your cards and hard drives!

2.  Looks better straight out of camera

3.  You can print JPGS.

Personally, I shoot everything RAW.  I have exclusively for about 2 years until last week!  I was covering an event, I was confident in my exposure, and just decided for fun to try JPG.  Half the event was RAW and half was JPG.  My JPGS needed no editing whatsoever.  They downloaded faster and took up less space.  My RAWs needed a little boost still with contrast, downloaded slower,  took up more space, and still need to be saved as JPGS before I can do anything with them (print, email, upload to a gallery, etc.).

There’s certainly a place for both 🙂

avatarBrooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. She is a proud new mother to a perfect baby boy. During the day she uses her BM and MM in Music Composition to write silly songs to make small people smile and laugh. During the nights and select mornings Brooke teaches private photography lessons as well as monthly photography classes in Logan, Utah. During the weekend she dreams up crazy and fun photo shoots for her fabulous subjects. Brooke welcomes comments, questions, new friendships, new clients, and new coats and hats for her growing collection.

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11 Responses

  1. I admit, I’m a jpeg shooter. There has been a picture or two that I’ve lost because of improper exposure but I’m ok with that. My current computer can’t handle RAW!
    On another topic, I just recieved my first anonymous “constructive feedback” as a comment on my blog today. I would love to hear your thoughts on this in a post someday — have you ever receieved negative feedback? Would you ever leave a comment on the blog of someone you’ve never met with (unasked for) constructive feedback? I’m just wondering if you’ve run into this before 🙂

  2. RAW was kind of a revelation for me when I got my DSLR. But I did everything backwards and started using Lightroom long before I got my DSLR. Don’t forgot that using RAW also reduces the speed at which your camera can take pictures. For event photography or sports photography this might be a big deal.

  3. Oh Thanks Vince! I didn’t know that RAW slowed the camera down in the more current cameras. I know my mom’s 7 year old DSLR can hardly handle them, but I’ve actually never had a problem with slow operation in camera with my D200 or D700. I can imagine that it would be slower for some cameras though.

    Sports photographers often shoot in JPG or RAW+JPG. Having the JPG option for them lets them view their images quickly to be able to send them off to a newspaper or for publication much sooner. But then they still have a RAW version if they need to do something extra later.

  4. Marcie! No problem being a jpg shooter 🙂 I’ve been thinking of using that mode more often!

    As for constructive feedback in comments… this would be a good post! And I’m actually planning on a “comments” post in the near future!

    Quick answer though… I’ve never left constructive feedback on anyone’s blog ever ever ever. I only give feedback when asked for it. It takes a lot of courage to post your work for others to see,and although I look at a lot of images (my own included) where I see improvement that could be made, I also realize the need for people to be ready and prepared for the criticism with the right mentality to grow.

    I’ve only received one negative comment on my blog last year from an upset local photographer. He was mad that I was teaching classes and had some choice descriptions on what I was doing to the photography industry by teaching people how to take pictures. I used it instead as a spring board for a discussion on my blog.

    Receiving criticism is really hard for me though. Likely I’d have my feelings hurt and get worked up about it, mull over it, spend too much time thinking about it and then likely end up agreeing that I could probably improve and like most things in my life in which I’ve been criticized, spring back into the work full force with an “I’ll show you! I’m going to do even better!” attitude. (not necessarily the best motivation… but I have to honestly admit that many of my accomplishments in the arts fields have been in hasty reaction to criticism and determining to do better. I need to mature more in that category.)

    All in all though… I absolutely believe in building people up over tearing people down. And criticism should only be given in the proper environment. And I don’t believe on someone’s personal blog is the proper environment whatsoever.

  5. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe on older DSLR’s you have the TIFF option but not the RAW option. Not quite sure on the difference, but TIFF definitely would be a larger file type than the JPG. And yes, every time you open your JPG files and adjust them they loose more detail. You always want to be working with the highest quality as possible, and the less times you save something in photo-shop the better. Try and do all your work on one shot or save it as a psd file (not compressed with all the layers still present.)

  6. I am another self admitted jpeg shooter. I hate editing. I hate post processing so if I can get it right straight out of my camera I’m all there 🙂
    I really should try shooting in RAW though just to see the difference.

    1. Nothings wrong with being a JPG shooter Kenzie! 🙂 I absolutely love RAW, but have started to have a desire to try doing jpgs too. They look so much better SOOC. As long as you do everything else right on your exposure you should be awesome…

  7. I am going to try Raw. I think it might help some in the clairity. I just did a shoot and some of the photos are blurry, and its frustrating, becaue there great shots otherwise. I need to upgrade but the money is just not there but I dont feel I am ready. I need more practice.

    Brooke do you do phone q&a? Since I won’t beable to come in july now.

    Thanks again you have taught me so much just through your blog!

    1. Hi Jenny! Getting sharp images won’t be any different with RAW than it is with JPG. You need faster shutter speeds, and need to understand how to work your focus better. And yes, I would absolutely love to do a phone Q&A 🙂

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