File Formats: RAW v JPEG

RAW & JPEG are two different types of electronic file

The principal differences between the two types are:

  • RAW files are literally the raw data as produced by the camera at the moment of pressing the shutter
  • They have no ‘built in’ file format
  • You are then free to adjust this data through Photoshop or a similar application on a computer
  • You can change; exposure, white balance, contrast, brightness, etc
  • You can return all settings to the start point and begin again
  • A RAW file is, in effect, a digital negative


  • JPEG’s are generated by the camera after exposure & are written onto the memory card
  • Preset data for exposure, white balance, etc will be embedded in the file & can never be removed
  • The parameters are decided by you in advance
  • Your latitude to change & make alterations afterwards are very limited
  • The file will be compressed & this is achieved by discarding information that can never be retrieved


If you are working digitally then having a camera that will allow you to shoot in RAW format as well as JPEG can be an advantage.
However a JPEG that is produced by the camera at the same time as a RAW is not as satisfactory as one that you generate yourself from the RAW file during post-production.
Many DSLR’s will do both RAW & JPEG at the same time but this will reduce storage capacity.


Why shoot RAW?

  • When creating digital prints of the highest exhibition quality & size
  • Shooting high ISO values in low light
  • When you want to make high quality monochrome conversions
  • Photographing a subject with a high dynamic range
  • When you are uncertain about the colour temperature of the subject


Why shoot JPEG?

  • When the end result is for small scale or low quality output
  • If you need fast workflow
  • When you need low res images for web or onscreen use
  • When you need to shoot quickly
  • When the end result requires minimal post-production


Filed under Exposure, Lighting, Tech Tips

4 responses to “File Formats: RAW v JPEG

  1. That’s a very helpful summary of the main differences and pros and cons. I shoot in Raw on my Nikon D300. But I recently bought a Canon compact, choosing one which enables Raw and JPEG but found that Adobe LR doesn’t support raw on that particular model. So , disappointingly, I just use JPEG on that one. But I feel there must be a way around it.

    • Paul
      It may be that you need to check for updates to your version of LR. If not you may need to upgrade to a more recent version. Another option is to see if an application called Silkypix (?) is still available. It used to be free shareware that would unpackage any RAW file.

      • i think you are right re. upgrading LR. I am still using versio 3 (used to it and comfortable with it). But it is probably time to install version 5. I will investigate thatSilkypix option as well. Cheers.

  2. Terence F. Jones

    Obviously, Julian knows what he is talking about after his many years as a professional photographer.

Leave a Reply to paulshelley Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s