It seems to be one of the biggest debates in digital photography–what’s better: RAW or JPEG? Who wins?
Some pro photographers say JPEG: you should always know the perfect settings for a photo. And others say always shoot in RAW: it’s better quality and you have more power to change things later on.
Well, I think both formats have advantages and disadvantages, so rather than take one side for everything, I’ll run through some of the key differences between them, and then suggest when each format makes sense.
- allows maximum control in post-processing
- allows you to change white balance later without any loss of quality
- allows you to change exposure, saturation, sharpness, curves, etc with less quality loss than you’d experience with JPEG
- larger filesize means you’ll fill up your memory card faster, and it’ll take longer to download images to your computer
- can only take a few shots in a burst before filling up your camera’s buffer
- any post-processing will result in quality loss (especially exposure adjustments)
- smaller filesize means you can fit more on a memory card (usually twice as many), and you’ll download images faster to your computer
- allows you to shoot significantly more shots in a burst
Why RAW usually makes more sense
It’s important to remember that the JPEG format was originally created to compress images and make them easier to transport over the Internet. JPEG is an image distribution format.
On the other hand, RAW is an image capture format. It was created to give you maximum control in the digital darkroom. To get the highest quality images, this digital darkroom is very useful in making small corrections to the image (e.g. color temperature, curves, etc).
Shooting in RAW usually makes the most sense, if your goal is to get the highest quality image possible. It’s especially important for landscape shots, where white balance is often a problem.
Does JPEG ever make more sense?
With all the benefits of RAW, it may seem like the clear winner for everything. However, there’s one property of JPEGs that may make them the winner in some situations:
With JPEG you can shoot a lot more photos in a burst, than you can with RAW.
This varies with each camera, but as an example, my Canon XTi can only take 10 RAW shots in a row before pausing a few seconds as it writes the photos to the memory card. But, with JPEG the camera can take 27 shots before this pause.
This is why JPEG is great for shooting birds and butterflies, as they can never stand still for just one second!
What do you think?
Have you found another reason to shoot in JPEG or RAW? Do you only shoot in one mode? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains or the Mojave Desert, both located in the beautiful state of California.