RAW vs JPEG What is What and What to Use

You probably heard the discussion about RAW vs JPEG format when it comes to photographing with a digital SLR camera.

But do you really know what one is versus the other and when it makes sense to shoot in one format or the other?

I know before I got my digital camera I did not know anything about RAW. I’ve never heard it before. I heard and used plenty of JPEG formats before. So initially that’s what I set me camera to use by default. When I got more advanced I realized that JPEG had it’s limitations, so I switched to RAW. And I did have the programs that it takes to manipulate those files now, where I did not have that before.


So what is RAW exactly? It’s not an image file and it does require special software to manipulate. Typically the camera manufacturers have each their own file extension and format.

RAW records at least 8 bits per color, oftentimes more depending on your DSLR. It records an uncompressed file, thus the file size is fairly large. It has a high dynamic range, which means that it displays highlights and shadows.

RAW files need to be processed before they can be shared or printed. They preserve all of the data the DSLR can record.


JPEG other than RAW is a standard file format and not proprietary. It’s readable by most programs on the market.

JPEG records exactly 8 bits per color. It’s a compressed file, thus smaller in size. It has a lower dynamic range than RAW files but is higher in contrast when recorded.

These files can be immediately shared or printed and are able to be manipulated. They loose some color and resolution as part of the process of creating a JPEG.

JPEGs use only about 1/4 of the data the camera captures.

Pros for RAW:

  • Quality.
  • Get all what your DSLR can offer.
  • Get control of the creation of the image.

Pros for JPEG:

  • Immediately shareable and printable.
  • Smaller file size.

Your Choice

You might not have to make a choice on whether to choose RAW vs JPEG. Since most DSLRs can record both simultaneously. And storage should not be an issue nowadays with cards being as inexpensive as they are. But if you do want to do one over the other consider why you bought your DSLR. Do you want to get the most out of it? Then my preference would be RAW.

Share your preference below.




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