RAW and JPEG: The Lowdown! {Part 1}

RAW and JPEG: The Lowdown! {Part 1}

There is an endless debate between photographers about whether to shoot with RAW vs. JPEG.  I am not really going to address that.  This post is meant to be a simple, easy explanation of both file formats and to give you a brief rundown of the different characteristics of each one.  If you want a more in-depth discussion about each, pop over to this post all about RAW vs. JPEG.


Essentially, RAW files are large files that record the most information that your camera possibly can. They are “RAW” meaning that no compression or processing has been applied by the camera.  

By recording the most info, they also give you the most flexibility for making changes to your photo after the fact during processing.  For example, if you overexposed your shot, a RAW file may have enough information stored in the highlights that you are able to save the shot.  The same with a shot that is underexposed.  (I say MAY because nothing is a miracle worker if you really, truly blew it!) RAW also gives you the flexibility to choose white balance settings and camera style settings later as if you took them that way in the camera. This is also the mode that "most" professional photographers I know choose to use.  

However, it is important to understand that RAW files come out of the camera with less contrast and saturation than you may have thought the photo had when you spotted it on the back of the camera.  If you 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 instead of applying its own developing and compression to the photo.

RAW files can’t just be shared straight out of the camera with others since most computers can’t read the camera manufacturer’s proprietary file (Nikon’s RAW files are .NEF files and Canon’s RAW files are .CR2.)  However, Lightroom can and it is easy to export a copy as a JPEG when you are ready to share your images.


JPEG files can also be (and should be--never use the small or medium JPEG settings, trust me) large files.  The big difference here is that with a JPEG your camera manufacturer has applied its own set of develop settings and then compressed those settings into a file format that is universally understood by everyone.  It is smaller in file size than a RAW photo and contains less saved information in the file.

JPEG files come out of the camera with the same saturation and contrast as you saw on the back of your camera.  This file type is great for those who like to print or display their shots straight from the camera. AND, with updates to software, these files can also be processed with Lightroom and Photoshop much the same as a RAW file, just with a little less latitude in fixing errors in exposure, etc.  Professional photographers also choose this file format, and that is a perfectly acceptable choice, too.

Which One?

It is important to know that they are BOTH reasonable choices with their own set of pros and cons.  This isn’t a right or wrong test.  You get to decide which is right for you and once you have decided, you’ll know why and you won’t feel as though you are following the crowd or doing what someone told you was best.

Happy Photographing!

Presets for Lightroom Classic