Difference between RAW and JPEG in photography
Basic Photography Digital Photography
Pixean
August 3, 2018

There are several debates that run through a photographers mind when they are planning for a shoot. Raw vs. jpeg seems to the most common one. This debate is quite common amongst amateurs and professionals. There is a common thought that professionals always shoot in raw while amateurs prefer jpeg. This is not always true. Both raw and jpeg modes have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. You, as a photographer, need to decide whether shooting in raw is more profitable for a particular shoot. This depends on the lighting and environmental conditions as well as the client requirement. Since photography is a creative art form, you will not come across any such formulas that tell you what to do exactly. Once you get to know the exact differences between raw and jpeg, it will be easier to take a decision every time. Let’s take a look at the differences between raw and jpeg.

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1) The basic difference: Raw is not an image file which most people think. It is a file that contains all the information of the particular image. Information is stored in the form of pixels. Jpeg on the other hand, is an image file. When you are shooting in raw mode, you are actually making an information file where all the data across the millions of pixels are stored. Jpeg is a compressed file created by the camera itself. So when you are shooting in raw mode, the camera captures whatever it actually sees. In case of jpegs however, once the image is shot, the camera internally processes the image a little and compresses it to a jpeg format file.

2)  The post processing factor: Now, you already know that raw files are pure information files whereas jpegs are image files. Since raw files contain all the data of the pixels, tweaking them is easier. Hence the power of post processing increases significantly when you are shooting in raw mode. Jpeg image files are already compressed files. They don’t have as much information. Even jpeg files can be processed effectively in post processing, but the control gets significantly reduced. In raw files, the highlights, shadows, brightness and contrast levels can be adjusted to a huge extent which can lead to a drastic change in the image quality. Even ordinary images can be brought to life by some effective post processing. This is not possible in jpeg images. This is the reason most professionals prefer shooting in raw mode. Having said that, it depends on the client requirements too. I was shooting a sporting event once. The client requirement was quite clear. He wanted maximum number of images and that too for sharing them live on social media. In such a case where is the time to do post processing? Can you deliver ordinary images then? No. I navigated to the picture control section and increased the contrast, brightness and vibrancy by a stop each. This introduced a bit of punch to the images. Since the images had to be shared on social media then and there, I shot the entire event in jpeg. Yes of course I shot a few creative images in raw as well for my own portfolio. Come on, there is an artist in me which makes me do such things!

3)  Size: Raw files are data files, containing information of all the millions of pixels. Hence they are quite large compared to the jpeg image files which are already compressed by the camera. The size of a raw file in an entry level dslr can be around 20-25mb whereas jpeg, even of the highest quality is often less than 10-15mb. Jpeg file sizes can be controlled in the camera by selecting any of the three common options, basic, normal and fine. The fact that the raw files are bulky and take a lot of space, pushes several photographers to shoot in jpeg mode.

4) Burst mode and memory cards: If you are more into action photography, you will require the burst mode more often than not. Burst mode is nothing but the ability of the camera to continuously keep on clicking images till you release the shutter button. Each and every image shot in the process have to be written to the memory card. Now, if you are shooting jpegs, the files are much smaller in size. Hence the time taken to write such an image to the memory card is quite less. With an average memory card also, burst mode can be effective while shooting in jpeg mode. What about the raw mode then? The files are much larger in size and the entire process is going to be slow as a result. If you are shooting in burst mode in raw format, you have to make sure that you have a very fast memory card (preferably 95mbps and above). Otherwise, there are chances that you may miss many shots.

5) Display quality: Raw images are an exact replica of what the camera is seeing. Jpegs are internally processed images. Hence raw files often appear a little flat compared to the jpegs. Obviously, this can be changed in post processing but this is something that should not worry you. Raw files can be later converted to jpegs, tiffs and BMPs. Jpegs too, can be converted. But this results in further loss in quality

6) Integrity: Raw files cannot be destroyed. You cannot change a raw file. Whatever changes you make in post processing, gets saved in the form of enhancements. In case of jpegs, the changes you make actually impact the original jpeg file. Hence you can always get back the raw file. 

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Now that you have an idea about raw and jpeg files, you need to take the decision. As mentioned earlier, analyse the type of photography you are doing. Take a note of the client requirement too. If you believe you have the time, go ahead and shoot in raw mode. At the end of the day, quality of the final image is of prime importance. You need to analyse which route is easier for you!

Basic Photography Digital Photography
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