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What is the Difference Between RAW and Jpeg?

If you’re serious about photography, be it as a hobby or profession, you will certainly need to understand the difference between shooting in RAW versus Jpeg. Both have advantages and disadvantages and sticking with one or the other is not wrong, it just depends on your desired outcome.

What are RAW and Jpeg formats?

Jpeg is a file format cameras use to store pictures. Jpeg formatting is by far the most common format (versus RAW). It was created to efficiently and quickly compress image data into a small size without decreasing image quality. When the camera takes a picture in Jpeg, it processes the image data (according to the camera settings) and shrinks it down.

On the other hand, a RAW file is not a finished product; it is the unprocessed ‘raw’ data stored on the memory card. As such, RAW in and of itself is not really a file format, but actually a general term used to differentiate between it and a processed file. Every camera manufacturer uses a different file designation. For instance, Canon’s is .cr2, and Nikon’s is .nef. Because RAW files consist of the original information stored by the camera, they are always going to be large files, often 20 megabytes or more depending on the size of the camera’s sensor (for example, RAW files produced by the full-frame Canon 5Diii are around 27 megabytes).

So, which one should you use?

This is a common question from old and new photographers alike. Oftentimes, when you see the same image exported from a RAW file (as a Jpeg) and one produced by the camera, they look pretty much the same. However, RAW files have significantly more image data, especially color information, which can be extremely useful when editing images. This is without a doubt RAW’s chief advantage over Jpeg. With RAW, you, rather than the camera, can choose what an image’s ultimate result will be because there is more ‘raw’ data to work with. You can more easily correct flaws within a photo, such as brightening up an area that is too dark or color-correcting the white balance. It is still possible to edit Jpeg photos, but since they are already processed, there is far less manipulation you can do with them. Another advantage to shooting RAW is that you can always go back and export to Jpegs format. RAW is also great for when you want to combine photos (a technique referred to as HDR) to create an image that shows the full range of light and color that can’t be captured in one picture. In short, RAW files give you much more control.

RAW does have its disadvantages. As mentioned above, RAW files are large. As a result, they can be too unwieldy for the average person and even for professional photographers. They not only take up a lot of space, which limits how many photos you can take in a single shoot, but they can also slow down the speed at which you can take photos (meaning, the processing time in the camera slows down because it takes longer for the increased amount of information received by the sensor to be sent to the memory card). The time it takes to edit RAW files also tends to increase, especially if you have an older computer. Additionally, since RAW files are unprocessed, they can only be read by the camera company’s software or on programs like Lightroom or Photoshop. In other words, it is impossible to upload a RAW file to Facebook, for example.

With Jpeg, these issues are not a problem. You can take more photos without worrying about storage space or processing time and easily upload them to social media sites. If you’re traveling and don’t have time to edit photos, using Jpeg can be useful. And in general, if you use the right camera settings, Jpegs can be good quality images and sufficient for what you want. The downside of course is that you will have less ability to edit photos the way you want to and to correct any problems.

That said, you can always use both. For example, this can be a good way to balance the advantages and disadvantages of RAW. You can either save the duplicate images on one card or, if your camera has two card slots, save them on two cards. In this way, you could cut down post-processing time by spending more time editing a certain number pictures in RAW and making minor changes to other pictures in Jpeg. Using this double option would of course slow down your camera’s processing time and take up more space on the memory card and hard drive but it would give you some flexibility in terms of editing.

In the end, using RAW or Jpeg (or both) is up to you. I shoot in RAW most of the time because I prefer taking my time to edit most or all of my photos. For me, it’s important to have the greatest amount of flexibility when it comes to editing. I would suggest you evaluate what your wants and needs are and start from there. You will eventually figure out which one is better for you, or how to use them both.

Luxe presets work with both RAW and jpeg formats.

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