Which Image Format is Better —RAW vs. JPEG?

Summary: Are you confused over the choice of shooting in JPEG vs. RAW in your DSLR camera? This post shares which one is better- JPEG or RAW, and how you can use each to create the best photos that meet your purpose.

The dilemma of shooting in RAW vs. JPEG is not new. Especially, those new to photography often ask which format they should choose on their camera LCD screen to capture superior quality pictures.

Professionals may claim uncompressed RAW is the best format, while many others hail JPEG as the most versatile image file.

This post explains how RAW files differ from JPEG, along with the advantages and shortcomings of each. Quitting the technical deep dive, here you will know why the choice of image format in photography should be need-based.

What is a RAW image format?

A RAW file is unprocessed and lossless. It has raw image data directly captured from the camera sensor, and has maximum image information.

An image shot in RAW format has a wide color palette. It can record 14 bits per pixel and display up to 68.7 billion colors. Thus, RAW is considered the best format for processing photos.

RAW image formats are proprietary to every camera brand. For instance, Canon records RAW images in CR3 & CR2 formats, Nikon does in NEF, Fuji DSLR in RAF, Kodak in KDC, K2F and so on.

However, not all image-viewing and editing software support RAW formats..

Advantages of RAW format

  • Creative flexibility: RAW format offers greater creative liberty while editing without worrying about quality loss. You can increase or reduce exposure, sharpness, saturation, contrast, color space, white balance, etc.
  • Maintains image quality after processing: Unlike JPEG, lossless compression doesn’t degrade the quality of a RAW image file after editing or processing.

Disadvantages of the RAW format

  • Need more work during editing: Unprocessed RAW photos usually appear dark and shady. They need to be processed and worked upon in an image editing software, such as Lightroom, Photoshop, etc.
  • Occupy more space: RAW files are large and thus occupy greater space in the storage media.
  • Not for social media: Large-sized RAW file formats – CR3, NEF, DNG, ORF, PEF, ERF, MRW, NRW, RAF, RW2, SR2, etc., are hard to share and view on the web and social media.
  • Take time to transfer or copy: Bigger size RAW files take longer to transfer or copy from camera SD card to computer or other devices.
  • Lack of wide software support: RAW formats are unique to camera brands. Camera manufacturers regularly develop new RAW formats, whereas, software developers are not always attuned with the launch. So not many image viewing and editing software offer support for RAW camera formats.

When to use the RAW format:

  • Editing for professional use: Use pictures in RAW format when you want to edit without compromising the quality.

TIP: Repair corrupt or damaged RAW photos

Losing RAW photos to corruption can be terrible, as not many repair software support this unique camera format. Here’s an advanced tool – Stellar Repair for Photo that works on RAW files of Canon, Nikon, Sony, Samsung, Fuji, and several other camera brands. Using the software, you can repair corrupt, distorted, damaged, greyed-out, or inaccessible RAW camera files and JPEG file format from any camera.

Photo Repair Photo Repair Mac

What is JPEG image format?

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) image format uses a lossy compression to store digital photos. The file format can store 24 bits per pixel and display over 16 million colors.

Given its ability to compress, it is a popularly used image format.

JPEG compresses the image to a smaller size. This helps to increase the number of photos stored in a memory card. You can also share small JPEG files freely on social media and between devices. JPEG can store high-resolution photos in a smaller size as well.

However, the compression in JPEG comes at the cost of the quality of the image. But often, the loss is not perceptible to the eye.

Advantages of JPEG/ JPG format

  • Already processed by the camera: When you shoot and save photos in JPEG, the camera has already processed it. Unlike RAW, a JPEG image. doesn’t require much work during the processing stage, like setting exposure, white balance, contrast, saturation, sharpening, etc.
  • Occupies less space: JPEG is smaller in size than RAW photos, thus occupying less space on the storage media.
  • Widely supported: JPEG is supported by all image viewers, editing programs, and devices
  • Quality after compression: Can save high-resolution pictures in compressed size.

Disadvantages of JPEG format:

  • Irreversible processing: As the camera has already processed the JPEG image, reducing the sharpness, contrast, brightness, etc., is not possible.
  • Subsequent work degrades quality: Editing JPEG or any  processing can lead to further loss in the image data and subsequently in the image quality.

When to use JPEG?

  • Online sharing: Use JPEG to upload pictures on the website or share on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, WhatsApp, etc.
  • Printing: Printing posters, cards, and other high-resolution images.
  • Email: Sharing JPEG on email is fast and easy.
  • Transfer: JPEG images download, copy, and transfer quickly compared to RAW files.
  • Storing more number of photos: Storing digital photos on your computer, SD card, etc.

Shooting in JPEG vs. RAW — which is better?

RAW vs JPEG comparison
Photos captured in RAW and JPEG format

To begin with, keep off the myth that shooting in RAW is always the best choice.

The decision to shoot in RAW or JPEG format should depend on how you will use your prospective images. Be clear if you want to work heavily on your photos, print them, share on social media, upload on the web, etc.

Professional photographers usually prefer unprocessed RAW format as it gives them a free-hand while editing. But in case you have to quickly share your work to a client or share on social media, capture photos in JPEG format, as camera already processes them. You can simply download and share them.

If you are a photo enthusiast on a photography day-out and want to shoot more pictures quickly, prefer JPEG. The compressed JPG images record faster and occupy less space on the camera SD card. This way, you can save more photos on a single memory card.

So the choice of shooting in RAW vs. JPEG is purely need-based.

PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: To enjoy the best of both JPEG and RAW — shoot in RAW. Once you obtain the high-quality post-processing output of RAW photos, export in JPEG or convert the copy of the RAW to JPEG format for printing or sharing, etc.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that there’s an image quality difference between RAW and JPEG formats. The uncompressed RAW file displays higher quality. The RAW format makes processing flexible compared to JPEG. Nonetheless, the advantages of keeping to JPEG cannot be ignored, which makes the format highly popular.

So finally, which is better – RAW or JPEG, depends on how you want to utilize the pictures.