Raw Versus JPG – Why You Might Want to Shoot in RAW Format

RAW Versus JPG – Why You Might Want to Shoot in RAW Format


If you have ever shared a photo by email, or posted one online, you might have seen a three or four-letter extension at the end of the file name that looked like “.jpg” or “.jpeg”. Almost every camera – from cell phones to point and shoots to expensive DSLRs takes pictures in this format – with good reason. You can fit thousands of JPG photos on a memory card, and they are generally good quality and easy to view on a computer or mobile device. You don’t need any special software to open a JPG file, and if you do want to edit one, almost any application from iPhoto to Photoshop can do it. However, all DSLRs, and even some point-and-shoot cameras, are able to shoot in another format called RAW which has some incredible benefits for you. Some people swear by the RAW format, others use JPG, and some use both. There is no correct answer in terms of which one is better, instead it’s important to find a solution that works for you.

RAW Versus JPG: Why You Might Want to Shoot in RAW

To illustrate why you might want to show in RAW format, here are a few reasons I use it instead of JPG.


1. Adjusting the White Balance

Different types of light (such as sunlight, fluorescent bulbs, or a camera flash) affect how colors show up in real life. Our brains are aware of these differences and adjust our perception of the colors accordingly, but your camera doesn’t always know what to do in these various situations. To fix this, it has something called a White Balance setting, which usually contains values like Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, and Flash. Unless you set the White Balance properly, your photos will often have a yellow or blue tint that is not always easy to fix. This is an important limitation of the JPG format, which tosses most of the data it deems unnecessary for a given photo and can make fixing the White Balanc a little tricky. Fortunately, in RAW the White Balance can be easily adjusted to suit the photograph because all the color data is saved.

When you snap a photo in RAW mode, the camera uses one of its White Balance settings as a starting point, but you are free to adjust it however you wish on your computer. Programs such as Lightroom, Photoshop, and Aperture have simple controls for adjusting the White Balance, and even though modern cameras are much better at getting it right on their own I still find myself tweaking the white balance quite often. For example, my camera calculated a White Balance for this photo of a child’s lamp at a value that I thought was far too yellow. Shooting in RAW gives me the flexibility to fix this, and with a few adjustments, I was able to get an image that was much more pleasing to me than the one my camera originally produced.

Little one original

My camera applied a White Balance setting to the RAW file, but I didn’t really like it.

Little one fixed

Using editing software I was able to change the White Balance to a cooler tone that was much more pleasing to my eye.

2. Fixing the exposure

Shooting in RAW not only gives me the freedom to adjust the colors you see, but also to adjust the colors you don’t see. When a JPG photo is too bright or too dark (i.e. overexposed or underexposed), there is not much that can be done to save it because much of the data that was captured by the image sensor no longer exists. Cameras have all sorts of ways to help us get the right exposure when we take a picture, but sometimes things just don’t work out, and you might find that some of your most precious memories were either too dark or washed out. Since RAW keeps all the data when an image is captured, you have much more leeway in adjusting images after the fact.

Tree flowers original

The original photo was way too dark to be usable.

Tree flowers fixed

RAW allowed me to boost the exposure significantly to create a much better photo.

When I shot this picture of some flowers on a tree, I noticed after I got home that it was far too dark to be usable. If this was a JPG I would have been mostly stuck with the results. But, because I shot in RAW I was able to brighten the dark areas and produce a much better image. In JPG, the data from the dark areas would have been just that, dark. The same can be done for overexposed images too; if a picture is too bright or washed out, it can often be saved if it was shot in RAW.

3. General color adjustments

A third reason I shoot in RAW is that I often like to make adjustments to specific colors in a photo. JPG stores 8 bits of information per color for Red, Green, and Blue–each of the three primary colors of light that make up every pixel in a given photo. Don’t get too caught up in the math here–all you need to know is that those 8 bits (2 to the power of 8, or 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2) really mean that a JPG stores information for 256 individual shades of each of the primary colors. RAW, on the other hand, stores 4096 or 16384 shades of information per color, depending on whether your camera supports 12 or 14-bit files. These numbers might not mean a lot, but it’s easy to see that either of the latter numbers is far greater than 256. This means that since RAW gives us so much more information to work with, we have a lot more flexibility when editing the colors of our image.

This photo of a family friend (below) turned out fairly well, but I was not happy with a few elements. Her eyes were too dark and and the colors were not as vibrant as I would have preferred. Thankfully, RAW gave me the freedom to edit the picture in order to create an image that was not only more pleasing to look at, but more accurately reflected what I saw when I captured it. This is much more than simply throwing a filter over an existing image; RAW gives you access to the original color data, which allows for far greater control over the finished product.

Garden portrait original

The original is not bad, but not as good as it could be.

Garden portrait fixed

Shooting in RAW meant I had so much color data available that I was able to adjust the colors to create a more pleasing final picture.

Of course shooting in RAW has downsides too, most notably the file size. RAW files can easily take up 10 times as much space on your memory card as JPG files, which seems like a lot of wasted space if you don’t do a lot of editing or post-processing. To be honest, if you are just shooting pictures of a nature hike or your kids in the park, RAW might be overkill. It’s not that JPG files can’t be edited–they certainly can, as anyone who has ever used an Instagram filter will attest. They can be manipulated in Photoshop and other image editing programs as well, and there is enough color information in most JPG files for some editing wiggle room. But RAW gives you much more freedom to work, and even though the file sizes are much greater, the tradeoff is worth it, in my opinion.

You will have to make the decision for yourself, but whatever you decide, try to resist getting drawn into a RAW versus JPG debate–neither format is objectively better. The important thing is that you find a workflow that fits your shooting style and goals. At the end of the day, as long as you are taking pictures you like, that’s all that really matters.


I won a photography contest with this picture…and I shot it in JPG.

You might be just fine with shooting in JPG, and if that suits you, then don’t let me or anyone else tell you different. But if you have ever wanted to experiment with more advanced editing techniques or just coax a little more out of your photos than you might otherwise be used to, RAW might be just the ticket to a whole new world of photography awesomeness.

Further Reading: RAW vs JPEG: Which Should I Shoot in?

Read more from our Post Production category

Simon Ringsmuth is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

  • mk

    While I understand the benefits of shooting, and editing, in RAW, where I struggle is with the conversion back to JPG for use on websites and as part of MPG videos.

    I use ACDSee (Pro7) as my photo management software, and while I have various options to convert back to JPG, I have tested RAW – converted to JPG using ACDSee and JPG created from the camera (Pentax), and there is little to no difference.
    When I view the RAW file, the image is both sharper and richer in colour on my monitor (Dell 24 inch), but once converted, the difference is negligible.

    Any thoughts as to what options to use when converting?

  • Amaryllis

    I guess it depends on if you actually do post-processing… I’m using a Canon camera, the RAW files look dull, but once I post-process them as RAW on LightRoom before converting them to JPG, they look better than the SOOC JPG files. If you don’t do post-processing such as adjusting the contrast and everything, I guess there’s no point in shooting RAW for you.

    (This said, I am by no means a pro, this is just what I personally think~)

  • Davey T

    Thank you for sharing. Very useful read!

  • I’m glad it was helpful!

  • I was thinking the same thing too. When you shoot in JPG, your camera applies various enhancements such as color saturation, contrast, and sharpening. You can go into the settings of your camera and adjust these, but they remain the same for every photo you take (though most DSLRs allow you to have a few banks of settings you can choose at will). RAW files, by comparison, will generally look dull until you process them in ACDSee, Lightroom, or other software. The reason you are not seeing any difference between the JPGs you convert from RAW in ACDSee vs. the JPGs your camera takes is probably because you are not applying too many adjustments to the RAW files beyond what your camera would do, which result in final images that are similar to your camera. This is just a guess though, and I could be entirely wrong.

  • Nate

    If you spend the time to compose the shot, why would you take it in lesser quality than you can? SD cards are so cheap now it dosent make sense to take a picture less than optimal quality… Picasa can support most RAW formats (specifically .cr2 and .raw) so that takes post processing cost differences out, whats left? Yes you can get lucky with JPG but if you ask any pro photographer 99% will use RAW photos, there is so much more room for error than on JPG. The scope of the “pros” goes from Government PR shoots to weddings to corporate photography. Every one will use RAW format. My issue in your article is where you state “neither format is objectively better,” and the objective is to get the best picture possible then in what situation would a JPG be better than a RAW photograph?

  • Jeff Jones

    A real reason for shooting JPG instead of raw for me is when I shoot sports. The buffer on my Nikon D7000 can fill quickly (8-9 frames) when shooting RAW, and I have to wait for it to write to the memory card. JPG I can shot virtually unlimited. I prefer RAW, but sometimes I have to go to JPG when shooting events.

  • nate

    The 800x from lexar (or SanDisk comparable) will fix that problem. Periodically I receive specials on SD cards through adorama.com, and they have some great deals on fast sd cards. For example I shoot with 1d m iii with sports and rarely do I have buffer problems, shooting at 10fps and the file size hovering around 12-13 mb.

  • Jus

    i dont get it. even as a jpg u can still do all the suggested corrections in the article.

  • Yes, all the above edits above can be done to a jpg, but those edits would be destructive edits. Furthermore, some of the edits necessary one a jpg, might not even be needed on a RAW file. For example, getting details in shadows. I show in an example here just how much more detail you can get in shadows just by shooting in RAW:


  • While you do have some leeway for corrections when using JPG, shooting RAW gives you much more headroom to work with and correct errors. All cameras (even iPhones and pocket cameras) shoot in RAW initially, and then toss out much of the data in order to create a JPG file. By retaining all of the data from the original file, RAW allows you to not only fix errors but perform enhancements that are not possible in JPG files. However, there are some important tradeoffs when shooting RAW, so I can certainly understand why it might not be for everyone. Whether you shoot RAW or JPG, the most important thing you can do is just get out and use your camera! 🙂

  • Thanks for posting that, Jason. It’s a good example of how much more detail and color information is captured in a RAW file.

  • Alex

    Where continous shooting should be used, jpeg is a better option, as the buffer cant take only less number of shots, whereas jpeg can be shoot virtually without ever wanting to stop pressing the shutter.

  • mk

    Amaryllis / Simon, thanks for the guidance. Interesting that both of you indicate that RAW looks dull at first glance. I am going to have to do some more RAW shooting and look at this again. (or clean my glasses).

  • It’s a little strange, but yes, RAW actually looks worse at first than out-of-camera JPGs. Your camera fiddles with the RAW file and applies several adjustments before saving it as a JPG and tossing out the extra data. But if you shoot in RAW, your camera basically says “Ok, you asked for it–good luck” and gives you the RAW unprocessed data that you have to then adjust manually. Many people use presets in programs like Lightroom (I’m assuming ACDSee supports this also) to apply automatic tweaks to RAW files when they are imported, and you could look into that if you don’t want to adjust every single one of your RAW files by hand.

  • I won’t say RAW is not definitely better, but JPEGs are not as bad as some affirm. All the vegetation was almost black in the original shot and was recovered even being JPEG, so it’s not as bad as many people pretend.

  • That is gorgeous, Aaanouel. It almost looks like a Trey Ratcliffe-style HDR image, and to think it was just a JPG at first. You’re right, there is certainly a lot more you can pull out of a JPG (and it also depends on your compression settings, which I didn’t even touch on in the article) than what people sometimes realize.

  • JenniferHope

    I resisted shooting in RAW for a long, long time. All I ever heard about was the “immense” time it takes to process a RAW file, how there is little difference in the finished product, and “if you shoot it correctly, you don’t need thousands of bits of color data”. A few years ago I was shooting birds of prey and decided to try RAW. I took one photo, looked on the preview screen and panicked. It looked awful – extremely dull and lifeless. So I switched my settings to take both RAW and JPG simultaneously. Once editing, I noticed that Aperture did a nice job bringing up the image (automatically applying some preset adjustments to a RAW file). Sure, the colors, shadows, and highlights in the RAW files could be tweaked with more precision but that’s not what sold me. The details in the RAW files were amazing. I could see a noticeable difference in each feather, the tree bark, the leaves…I was stunned. Now I shoot mostly in RAW because you just never know when a photo becomes a treasured gem that needs a little more TLC. The only downside is the file sizes…that’s a killer.

  • Thanks Simon.

    That’s my point, may be not so much as RAWs, JPEGs content more info than what we may suppose, just pulling shadows up with “Shadows & Highlights” command reveals lots of hidden details. I’ve processed many same shot RAWs and JPEGs in parallel finding not great differences and that it’s not such a big deal using RAW instead, meanwhile having a lot smaller files which is important to me.

    In my opinion, RAW format (even being better of course) has been simply over estimated and JPEG sub-estimated (previous shot with Sony A65, bellow with HX100V).

  • I discovered (and played with) RAW last year. And although JPEG can produce some excellent results, I like the safety net that RAW shooting provides. Being able to re-adjust the colors, white balance and exposure that much afterwards is a blessing in many situations.
    For example, I took many pictures during several dinners with friends and colleagues the past two weeks. The light in the restaurants was very difficult to deal with (at least for a non-pro like me), being both quite dim and colored (mostly yellowish). The files straight out of the camera all required tweaking but the final results are really nice.
    But yes, processing all the files in LR takes much time, so you need to find the right balance between a safety net and the processing time!!

  • Bob

    I am relatively new to digital photography but when I was younger, I did did a fair amount of film work and liked the darkroom processing. I bought into the expert recommendation that raw was better, like film negatives, and changed to shooting raw instead of jpeg. But for a long while I saw no information on what I would need to do to the raw file to make it even close to what I got out of the camera as jpeg files. After many books, internet searches, magazines, tutorial, software, different camera, etc. I am a little, well much better now, I believe.

    I use Lightroom mainly but it is a steep learning curve to getting the raw file to be equivalent or better than the jpeg the camera would have produced. True, to get a really good jpeg file from the camera you would have to make all the proper adjustments before taking the picture.

    Here I am trying to reset the expectation that changing to raw won’t magically make your photographs better you still have to get the camera settings and post processing correct and your computer monitor properly adjusted. But with raw you will have more latitude for adjustments in the post processing

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    When retrieving the raws in Lightroom, what I get in camera is signficantly different from what I see in lightroom… And When i need to do continuous shoot, Raws really slow me down…

  • Vilim

    Photo looks really great, but even on first sight on the picture, I can find few downsides of JPEG. Vegetation is still to dark, and is a bit blur. And also, there is a hallo effect on top edge of vegetation. And also, ISO seems to high, or maybe it is just low resolution.

    All in all, it is really great picture. If it is shot in RAW(with none of these bad effects I mentioned), I would apply it to my desktop background 🙂

  • I have heard the same argument for shooting in JPG too, Jennifer. “Why mess with RAW if you just learn to get things right in the camera when you take the shot.” And for those who do that, I say more power to ’em. I also try to nail the exposure right from the start, and RAW is probably overkill for some of the shots I take too. But like you, once I saw the advantages of RAW and how much leeway it has in postproduction, I never wanted to go back to JPG.

  • “Changing to raw won’t magically make your photographs better”

    Great point, Bob. In fact, changing to RAW will actually make your photographs worse! Until you learn how to properly adjust them on your computer, like you said. It takes a lot of work (until you develop a good workflow and possibly some custom presets) to massage RAW files so they look as good as out-of-camera JPGs, but the nice thing is you actually have all the data available and a lot more freedom to make creative choices afterwards.

    Sometimes people talk to me about RAW vs. JPG, but in truth, if you want to be a better photographer the best thing is to get out and practice things like framing, composition, and lighting.

  • The safety net is one reason I like RAW as well, Antoine. Good point! Even though most of my shots are just fine coming right out of the camera, I like knowing I have plenty of data to use if I do mess something up.

  • What you’re seeing in camera is a JPG preview that it builds of the RAW file, which always looks different from what you see in Lightroom (which is also building its own JPG previews of the RAW files). It’s kind of a weird concept to wrap your head around, I admit. And if shooting in JPG works for you, particularly if you are shooting continuously on a camera with a limited buffer size, then my advice would be to keep doing what you are doing and just enjoy taking photos 🙂

  • JenniferHope

    The amount of detail in RAW totally sold me. Now I feel like I’m doing myself a disservice (even for family snapshots) if I shoot in JPG. Kinda wish I was still oblivious to the difference. lol

  • ClayTeague

    Jason, JPG edits do not have to be destructive. Lightroom and ACR both can edit JPG files non-destructively.

  • Yes as Simon has said RAW files are unprocessed in every way. The advantage is not just being able to adjust at will but changing them at any time. If you have your camera set to shoot JPG and sharpen to a certain degree, add contrast by a set amount and pump saturation – you CANNOT undo those later you get what you get and that’s it.

  • To a point. JPGs only have so much data then LR is “making it up” and you could end up with a lot of noise in your image. Also as I mentioned above whatever you apply in camera to your JPG cannot be undone later. So if it comes out too contrasty that’s what you get.

  • I started shooting RAW last year. Technically, I shot RAW 5+ years ago for a vacation and came back and didn’t see the “great value” of RAW…they looked like my JPGs and still needed to be post processed. FF to last year when I also started to shoot Manual Photography. I gave RAW a shot and yes the files are larger in size and you take time to edit each…I was mostly editing my JPGs anyway. But the clarity and details (on a JPG can get lost/trashed) in RAW is exceptional.

    I let my brother shoot my kids’ birthday parties and set a WB for a room inside but said if outside or in the sun room, just switch to Auto. he forgot…and those pics in JPG can nay be adjusted so far. most are now Sepia or B&W. I noticed this lack of control after shooting in RAW and having the ability to adjust as needed in post.

    Here’s a link to some photos I fixed in Aperture based on RAW files. Some were shot in a moment where I forgot my last setting and the ability to fix over/under-exposures is great, as is adjusting for a color cast. Also, I need to post the full process of Epcot/Spaceship Earth that I shot (overexposed). I saved the RAW straight to JPG so I could adjust both and see what I could get starting out “the same”

    Flickr link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/36990401@N06/sets/72157643062534885/

  • Those photos are a perfect example of why I like to shoot RAW. When I shot JPG I had to make sure my camera’s settings were properly adjusted before each shot (or at least each general shooting condition, such as “Indoor,” “Night,” etc.) It’s amazing how much you were able to pull from the Epcot, Jasmine, and Lionfish shots. They would have been nearly unusable in JPG, but thanks to RAW you ended up with some fantastic images.

  • Thanks. I know the Epcot image isn’t as great as my other shots I took with better settings but this was an OUCH and almost a simple delete, but I wanted to check on how far I could push things. With the JPG version i tried to correct, the blown out portions were still blown out and the rest was overly contrasty.

    As for Jasmine, my wife was taking photos of us on a ride and turned to see Jasmine and quickly snapped and said she didn’t think it would be anything to use as it looked too dark but she said it was a great pose.

  • swalt2493

    I shoot in RAW and use Photoshop Elements 12 for post processing. Inexpensive software, but some pretty impressive results. And the learning curve is not bad at all.

  • Eric Dye

    I always shoot RAW. I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on a camera body just to throw out half of the sensors information as soon as I click the shutter.

  • Bob

    Thank you both…

  • Donald Ferguson

    I always understood (and recently confirmed) that JPEGs lose data every time they are opened. Use a copy file to work on. Always use a copy and store original off computer drive.

  • Jinhyuck Yang

    Hi, to be honest, I haven’ read till the end but I came here to check if RAW files can be editted (Exposure and/or Adjustment) and then modified to JPG files? I like to post some beautiful pictures I have taken. So there is no point of taking with RAW if it cannot be modified to the JPG as long as the JPG is accepted to post only. I mean, it would be only advandage of editting photos? Also, I have a question about RAW and JPG mode. I have this ambiguous RAW+JPG in my Cannon 100D. I thought it would save as 2 pictures as I shoot each shot but it doesn’t work like that. Everytime I take a single shot, it only saves 1 image and I’m so confused about this.
    Lastly, where do you get the Editting program? Can you recommend me, please?

  • Good question, and yes, you can export RAW files as JPG images after you are done processing them. This is where programs like Lightroom really come in handy, because they allow you to make non-destructive edits to your RAW files and then export as JPG for sharing online or with friends.

    The RAW+JPG setting does actually save two shots (one RAW, and one JPG) but depending on the program you use to import the images you might only see one file.

  • nipun

    Even I shoot in JPEG all the time. With Lightroom, I am fairly able to work with JPEGs.

  • Dennis Vogelsang

    A shame Fuji’s Raw converter is dreadful to use, this is why I’ve opted to shoot in JPEG when using my X-T1 camera and in Raw + JPEG when using my Canon 5D-M3, as Canon’s Raw converter is a delight to use!

  • Sarah Smallwood

    i used to shoot in JPEG and switched to RAW and I’ve never looked back its not about whether you have it right in the camera or not it’s about taking what you shot and developing it I take a lot of animal pictures and coats look flat in jpeg. I did very little editing of this one

  • Kathy Sandlin

    Does anyone shoot in JPEG fine, and if so why.

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    I shoot in RAW. You can’t dispute the fact that with RAW you have much more image information to work with. That is all I needed to make this choice.

  • freeopinions

    JPEGs lose data every time they are saved. If you open it and make a copy, then close it is not re-compressed and thus loses no data.

  • freeopinions

    Lightroom doesn’t touch the original file at all, it merely appends metadata to the file, which is used to make a copy when exported.

  • freeopinions

    JPEG Fine is just a jpeg file with the least amount of compression. The less compression you use the less data you lose and the bigger the resulting file.

  • harold

    I do both at the same time. Probably no need but. I usually store them in RAW and convert the ones I want to use.

  • freeopinions

    Whether or not you “get it right in the camera,” the resulting jpeg is
    still a software engineer’s vision of how your camera’s raw photo should
    look. I prefer to do my own “engineering” on the raw file, and I like having all the data there to work with.

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