JPEG vs. RAW.
Most modern digital cameras shoot and save images as JPEG or RAW files. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, but photographers should use the most appropriate format for their needs — especially because it can affect the editing process. Understand the differences between JPEG and RAW and choose the right file format for your next project.
What you’ll learn.
- What is a JPEG file?
- What is a RAW file?
- What is the difference between JPEG and RAW files?
- JPEG vs. RAW files: frequently asked questions
What is a JPEG file?
A Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) file is a lossy raster file format that compresses an image to make the file smaller. JPEG files are some of the most popular and widely used image formats in the world. Photographers can shoot in JPEG mode, while graphic designers, illustrators, and other creatives can edit their work in them.
What is a RAW file?
A RAW file contains all the uncompressed and unprocessed image data captured by the sensors of a digital camera or scanner. They’re also a type of raster file format, but one that maintains lossless quality. RAW files are not images — they’re just large files filled with the image data as it was captured.
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.
Is a RAW file bigger than a JPEG file?
Generally, a RAW file will be between two and six times larger than a JPEG file. RAW files are bigger because they contain a much greater amount of image data. A JPEG image is essentially all that data compressed down into a smaller file size that’s easier to share.
Does converting RAW to JPEG affect quality?
Going from a RAW file to a JPEG will affect quality because you’re converting to a lossy format. RAW files contain a high amount of detail — converting to a JPEG means compressing the details into a much smaller file size with less space to store image data.
Should you always shoot in RAW?
Many professional photographers shoot in RAW because the format captures the highest level of detail. It can often be easier to edit exposure later with a RAW file. However, shooting in JPEG has its benefits, since their smaller file sizes allow you to shoot more images at once and transfer files faster.
Why do my RAW files show up as JPEG?
Depending on the camera you use, shooting in RAW may sometimes cause the files to show up as JPEGS by default. The original RAW file should still be there though. On your camera settings in the editing mode, choose the option to “Use RAW as original,” if possible.
What does RAW + JPEG mean?
RAW + JPEG mode is available on some digital cameras, and lets you shoot and save in both file formats at the same time. This saves two copies — the original RAW file and a JPEG. This lets you preview and use a JPEG image immediately — but uses up more memory since you have two files for just one image.
Compare JPEGs and RAWs with other file types.
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