Shooting with RAW or JPEG is a dilemma that a photographer will face sooner or later. There are a lot of texts explaining the pros and cons of using either of the two but most dabble in technicalities and confusing jargon. I tell you this now there is no right or wrong answer. Ultimately, whatever you choose depends on your shooting and post-processing style.


Switzerland vs. Canada by s.yume

JPEG files are processed right within the camera. This differs from various camera models. You can set your white balance and exposure but the camera will also process the image and add blacks, contrast, brightness, noise reduction, sharpening, etc. The output of this is the JPEG file. This file can be viewed and printed immediately after the shot. However, since the images are compressed and saved to JPEG, a “lossy” file format, much of the initial image data are discarded and impossible to recover.  In a way, shooting JPEG is like shooting Polariods. What you get out of the camera is a finished digital image that can be used as-is.

Event photographers might choose JPEG so they can deliver images faster during the event itself. Some photojournalist might use this file format so they can wire captured images as soon as possible. No need to play around with various settings to get a decent image. A word of warning though, mistakes in JPEG files are quite hard to fix. Exposure and white balance must be checked accordingly to ensure good output.


Night Watchmen by Libertinus

On the other hand, RAW files are unprocessed data of what the camera sensor captured. Because the files are unprocessed, they look flat and unappealing to most people. You’ll need proprietary software to view and edit RAW files. Adobe Lightroom and Aperture are just some of the applications you can use.

RAW files are used for its flexibility in the photographer’s post-processing stage. Unlike JPEGs lossy format, RAW files carry all the information that the camera captures during the shot. With this, you can change your white balance and adjust your exposure more easily. This gives the photographer the ability to control how the image is processed.

The problem with RAW files is that they require some processing before viewing and have a much larger file size the JPEGs.

Both formats have their benefits and their problems. Whether you use one over the other should be determined by your own needs and demands and not which format is used by the most people. In the end, it’s not the format you use that dictates your photography. Nobody won’t even notice what file format you are using unless you tell them. It’s your vision and how you choose to follow it that will define you as a photographer not JPEG or RAW files.


Pros Cons
Smaller file size Less control over the final image
Easier to view and edit Lossy format
Easier to email and upload online Harder to correct color and exposure mistakes


Pros Cons
No image data is lost Large files
More flexible in post-processing Need third party application to convert into JPG
Much easier to correct certain mistakes Needs a decent computer to handle file
Requires more time and effort to get finished output