RAW vs JPEG (What's the Difference?)



A common question that many photographers have is "what is the difference between shooting RAW and shooting JPEG".  It's a common misconception that the only benefit of shooting RAW is the ability to "rescue" an image.  This, however, is just the beginning.  There are several interesting benefits to shooting RAW that are less known, as described below.

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Understanding the Difference Between RAW and JPEG Files

To understand this concept, it is helpful to understand both RAW and JPEG files themselves.

  • A RAW file is a file containing all of the information recorded by your camera's sensor during exposure.  There is no compression or processing applied to the file by the camera.
  • In contrast, a JPEG file is a file that has been compressed by your camera, and does not contain all of the information recorded by your camera's sensor during exposure.  Rather, your camera has chosen certain information to discard.

Now, as many photographers may already know, the information contained in RAW files grants the ability to easily correct under or overexposed images without a drastic loss in quality, adjust white balance, and achieve greater levels of details and sharpness in post processing than is feasible when using JPEG files, as explained below:

Raw vs. JPEG

Exposure: RAW vs. JPEG

When using a JPEG file, information in the brightest and darkest areas of your image has been lost and in a case of under or overexposure, the detail in these areas is not recoverable.

This is not the case with RAW files and many issues can be easily corrected.  While it is ideal to achieve the best image in camera, there is a likely a time when every photographer will take an under or overexposed image.

difference between raw and jpeg

White Balance: RAW vs. JPEG

The white balance of RAW files is easily adjusted.  This not only allows for the correction of an undesirable white balance, but also allows for a multitude of creative options in post processing.  In contrast, a JPEG file has a set white balance, and is difficult to adjust.  This means less control over the colors seen in your image.


Brightness: RAW vs JPEG

Another benefit worth considering is the wide range of artistic freedom RAW files grant to the photographer.  Consider this: A JPEG file records less than 300 levels of brightness.  A RAW file, on the other hand, has the capacity to record anywhere from 4000 to over a whopping 16,000 levels of brightness!

The levels of brightness recorded have a direct effect on the adjustments you will or will not be able to make in post processing.  The multitude of brightness levels recorded in a RAW file grant creative control to the photographer, namely you or me!  For instance, because my images are bold, colorful and creatively edited, shooting in RAW is very important to my workflow.

Contrast: RAW vs. JPEG

RAW files come out of the camera with less contrast and saturation than the image you see on your camera viewscreen.  When are using RAW, your camera manufacturer assumes that you will be developing this photo with software, like Lightroom or Photoshop, and it leaves the developing to you.

On the other hand JPEG files come out with the same saturation and contrast as you saw on the back of your camera.  This file type works great for those who like to print or display their shots straight from the camera with no post processing.

RAW or JPEG files?

Sharpness: RAW vs. JPEG

Another noted feature of a JPEG file is the appearance of sharpness.  While JPEG files appear sharper than RAW files, this is not necessarily the case.

The sharpness seen in a JPEG file is the result of your camera's processing system.  The processing systems available for a computer are far more advanced than the system your camera is utilizing.  The greatest detail and sharpness will be achieved by processing RAW files using software such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

Destructive vs. Non-Destructive Editing

Finally, one of the greatest benefits of shooting in RAW format is the ability to edit non-destructively.  When processing a RAW file, the original file is not directly affected.  Essentially, the RAW file you are editing is a reference file, with the edit being a set of directions that will be applied upon export of your image.

When processing a JPEG file, you will experience a loss of quality during the process.  This loss of quality occurs each time a JPEG file is opened, edited, or saved.

 Raw File Type

File Size: RAW vs. JPEG

As I mentioned previously, RAW files contain much more camera sensor information that JPEG files, so naturally a RAW files are significantly larger than JPEG files.  You will need to keep this in mind when you are considering your storage requirements.


Is shooting in RAW format right for you?  Only you can say what works best for you and your workflow, but this information is well worth considering and hopefully, answers a few of your questions concerning RAW and JPEG files.

Do you have any questions or comments about RAW vs JPEG?  Leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you!  And PLEASE SHARE our tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

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