What is the difference between JPEG and RAW files?
Professional and amateur photographers regularly debate whether shooting in JPEG or RAW is better. While both raster file formats share similarities, there are some key advantages and disadvantages to each type. Discover the differences between JPEG and RAW files.
The main difference between any JPEG and RAW file is its size. RAW files are significantly bigger than JPEG (and any other) image file formats.
That’s because they contain all the raw image information captured by your digital camera’s sensors, completely uncompressed. Like working with a film negative from a traditional camera, the RAW file holds all the original detail, so you have complete control over what you do with it.
This makes it ideal for sharing in a large-format setting — such as blowing up to fill a billboard. Shooting RAW also means you'll need larger memory cards and that they’ll fill up quickly, so you might not be able to shoot as much as in one go.
JPEG files are a much more manageable size because the data they contain is compressed. When shooting in JPEG, the camera’s image processor has essentially developed the image already. Their smaller size enables you to store more files in one place — whether on your camera, computer, or another storage device.
The main advantage of shooting in RAW is that you end up with high-quality files to edit into the best possible image. Capturing and storing all the details that pass through your camera’s sensors means RAW files contain a wider dynamic range and far greater color spectrum than JPEGs.
If a RAW image is under or overexposed, the wider dynamic range makes recovery a lot easier, with greater control over sharpening. Because RAW files are lossless, unprocessed, and uncompressed, they maintain their original high quality and don’t experience any drops in resolution due to resizing.
When your camera compresses a RAW file into a JPEG image, it undergoes a lossy compression process. While the compression makes the file smaller, you will lose some of the data and detail from the photograph, and the image could appear grainy or pixelated. Because JPEGs are 8-bit, there are also color limitations compared to RAW files that can be 12 and 16-bit.
Editing and sharing.
You need to process and convert a RAW file into a JPEG, TIFF, or another relevant format before you can open and edit it. Software such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom enables you to process RAW files, edit, and export as, for example, a JPEG or PNG — making a copy so you still have the RAW file with all its detail.
Because they’re so large, sharing RAW files can be challenging. Plus, whoever is receiving them will need the appropriate software to open RAW files. That’s why many clients, printers, and designers request a JPEG file so they can easily open and preview it first.
JPEGs are one of the most used digital file formats, supported by many modern devices and software. As a type of raster file, you can easily open JPEGs with many programs, share via email, social media, and other channels. The main drawback is the quality difference, compared to RAW files, and having less to work with when editing.
JPEG images are already processed, so can be quickly transferred from the camera and opened with editing software, or sent directly to someone, with no post-processing. Their smaller size makes transfers fast and avoids any camera slowdown when shooting, too.
With RAW files, you need to factor in the time it will take to process and convert the file into a JPEG, PNG, or TIFF. This means storing two versions of the same image, which uses up more storage space, and leads to longer backups and transfers. It can also cause camera slowdown when shooting RAW, meaning your frame rate may fall.
JPEG vs. RAW files: frequently asked questions.