Is Shooting RAW+JPEG the Best of Both Worlds?


For a long time in photography, there has been somewhat of a debate between shooting in RAW versus JPEG. Well, maybe debate is the wrong word. Usually, it is a matter of experienced photographers encouraging beginners to start shooting in RAW and stop shooting JPEG. There isn’t much question that RAW files are superior. Those who don’t edit their files probably don’t really see the point of RAW files though. Therefore, there are plenty of people who shoot both RAW+JPEG

RAW+JPG - The Best of Both Worlds?

Usually, this question gets presented as an either/or proposition. In other words, you have to make a decision, looking at the pros and cons of shooting RAW files and JPEGs. But if you could have the advantages of both, however, wouldn’t that be the way to go? You can, actually!

Take a look at your camera’s Quality or Image Quality setting in the menu. Most cameras will allow you to set you to put that setting on both RAW and JPEG. By doing so, aren’t you getting the best of both worlds?

Let’s take a look. But first, let’s review the advantages of RAW files versus JPEGs.

RAW+JPG - The Best of Both Worlds?

RAW+JPEG settings on Canon system.


When you take a picture, your camera is actually taking the data that it receives from the image sensor and creating a file. In the early days of digital, a group of experts got together and agreed on a file format everyone could use. It is called JPEG and stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. The idea is that everyone would use the same format and thus it would be easily shareable. And you know what? That has worked out pretty well. JPEGs are more or less ubiquitous. If you just pick up your camera and start shooting, you are creating JPEGs. It is the default of virtually every camera. It is also the format of virtually every picture you see online.

But when your camera creates a JPEG, a few things happen. The first is that the camera compresses the picture data so that the file size is smaller. A JPEG will only use about a quarter of the data that your camera captures. That means that a large chunk of data is actually discarded. Some of that is color data, which is done by reducing the number of available colors (there are still a lot of colors available in JPEGs though). Where you’ll see the biggest impact is in the highlights and shadows, where some detail may be lost.

In addition, the camera will add some processing to the picture. The camera manufacturers know that you want your pictures coming out of the camera looking sharp and colorful. Therefore, they will add some effects, like sharpness, contrast, and saturation to them at the same time that the JPEG file is being created. That is nice in that the pictures generally do look at little better, but the downside is that you aren’t in control of the process.

And that brings us to RAW files.

RAW+JPG - The Best of Both Worlds?

The RAW advantage

In most cameras, you can go into the menu and change the file format to something called RAW. No, there isn’t really some sort of universal file format called RAW. Rather, each camera has its own way of bundling the data that it receives from the image sensor when you take the picture and creating its own proprietary file (NEF for Nikon, CRW or CR2 for Canon, RAF for Fuji, etc.), which is called a RAW file. Right away, you can see an issue with this, in that these files are not easily shareable. In addition, these files are huge, typically 3-4 times the size of JPEGs.

So why does nearly everyone recommend shooting RAW then? Because they are simply superior files. Whereas JPEGs discard data in order to create a smaller file size, RAW files preserve all of that data. That means you keep all the color data, and you preserve everything you can in the way of highlight and shadow detail.

In addition, whereas the camera adds processing when it creates JPEGs, that doesn’t happen when you create RAW files. That means you are in control of the process. You can add whatever level of sharpness, contrast, and saturation (and other controls) you want. The camera isn’t making those decisions for you.

Sure, these files are bigger, but they are way better. Further, you can always create a JPEG from your RAW file later, which you can use to share online while still preserving all the underlying data of the RAW file.

RAW+JPG - The Best of Both Worlds?

RAW+JPEG in the Sony system.

Shooting both RAW files and JPEGs

So RAW files are the way to go, right? I mean, you are preserving all that color data and highlight and shadow detail. And you are in full control of the processing of your picture. But what about if you are not going to process your photos at all? Wouldn’t it make sense to then shoot JPEG since it is the file that looks best coming out of the camera? Or what if you need to send the photo from your camera right away?

Why not take both? Your camera will likely have a setting allowing you to do both so that every time you take a picture the camera is creating a RAW file and a JPEG. That would allow you to have all the advantages of both file types. How might that benefit you? Here are a few ways I see:

  • You can use a JPEG immediately: First of all, you can use JPEGs immediately.  Let’s say you have Wifi in your camera or want to otherwise share the photo immediately. JPEGs make sense for this. RAW files don’t. They aren’t easily shareable and they don’t look the best coming out of the camera anyway.
  • Future-proofs the photo: What if you are creating RAW files with your Canon camera and in 10 years Canon goes out of business? Will your RAW files lose support over time? This seems unlikely, but it is enough of an issue that Adobe has been pushing its own cross-platform solution called DNG (digital negative). However, if you have a JPEG, this will never be an issue. Everyone is shooting JPEGs and they aren’t going anywhere.
  • You can see how the camera processes: If you have a JPEG sitting next to your RAW file on your computer, you can see how your camera decided to process your photo. In other words, you can see how much sharpening, contrast, and saturation was added and, if you like it, mimic that effect when you do your own processing. This can be helpful when you are just starting out and trying to decide how much processing to add to your photos.
  • LCD preview: When you look at a photo on your LCD, you are seeing the JPEG version of your photo. You can add different processing via the Pictures Styles. That includes things like Black and White. So if you want to see effects while maintaining the integrity of the RAW file, then taking both can be beneficial.

Why not shoot only RAW?

But wait a second, you might think. Surely these are really minor advantages. Why bother with all that? Why not just use the RAW file?

Yes, these are really minor advantages, but at the same time, what is the cost? Virtually nothing. Over time, data has gotten cheaper and cheaper. Adding a JPEG costs virtually nothing. Memory cards these days hold hundreds or even thousands of pictures, and they are now pretty cheap. You can now get a 64GB card for about $35. You can get hard drives that store terabytes of data for under $100. These prices continue to come down as well. Compared to the RAW files you are shooting, the JPEG just takes up a tiny bit of data. So while I agree that adding the JPEG doesn’t add a lot, it also doesn’t cost a lot.

There is one other aspect I haven’t mentioned though and that is speed. Remember that your camera has to write all this data to your card. If you are just taking a few pictures at a time (or one at a time), this will not be a factor. But if you are someone shooting sports or wildlife with a serious need for the maximum frames per second, then there will be an additional cost. The time to write the additional file will slow you down a little bit. In that context, I could definitely see foregoing the extra file. But for most of us, this won’t apply.

RAW+JPG - The Best of Both Worlds?

Why not shoot just JPEG?

At the same time, there are some photographers who will think to themselves, “Well, I don’t process my pictures, so I might as well just shoot JPEGs to get the best looking file I can straight out of the camera.” To those that don’t process their pictures, I would first say, “You should be.” You don’t need to make dramatic changes or make them look surreal, but you can do wonders with some tweaks.

In any case, just because you don’t do any processing of your pictures now doesn’t mean you won’t ever process your pictures. In a year or two, you might change your mind. When that happens, you don’t want to be kicking yourself for not having obtained the best files possible.

Best of both worlds

I have been shooting RAW+JPEG for several years now. Do I actually use the JPEGs? Admittedly, almost never. I always edit the RAW files and usually don’t touch the JPEGs. As mentioned, however, the JPEGs don’t cost me anything so I am sticking with this setting. In addition, there were few times when I was on the road and wanted to send photos straight from my camera so having the JPEG turned out to be useful.

So that’s how it works for me. But ultimately the decision on what type of files you want to create is up to you. What do you think? Is shooting RAW+JPEG the best of both worlds of a waste of space?

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  • Lee

    I think all concerned could do with a detention or litter picking in the school yard. Never read such childish nonsense from apparent grown adults. My 9 and 10 year old boys have more productive discussions. Grow up, people.

  • stephen eather

    amen to that! Folks, life is far to short for petty bickering. Agree to disagree, be polite and mature and move on. There’s far too much angst in the world now, so how about some grace and peace be shown to all parties.

  • Terence McKenna

    Can I add support to something mentioned in the article. I shoot for a local National Historic Site. I shoot in both JPEG and RAW. While I edit my raw files when I have time later in the day, the JPEGs are immediately available for posting to Facebook et al. During the recent eclipse, we had an event and gave out T-shirts and solar glasses. With my Jpegs, I was able to post updates throughout the event. Live or nearly live updates attract traffic to our website and uses up little extra data.

  • Rachel Webb

    I don’t use lightroom but only photoshop. On my computer the RAW files show as an icon, so I take both RAW + JPEG and then I can see from the JPEG if I want to process the RAW image. If it’s crap, bad image or exposure, I just delete both. Probably a clunky way to work but I hate lightroom and this workflow is fine for me (until someone shows me a better way!) Also, sometimes the JPEG is perfectly adequate.

  • Brian Nickson

    Although I consider my view was correct, I fully concur with what you say . Unfortunately this is an all too common state of affairs as ” Social Media ” allows contributors to cash their “angry” stamps with impunity.

  • CA_Guy

    Don’t blame your granddaughter. Always check your camera settings before the photo shoot.

  • Jack62

    You’ll need the Lightning (Don’t you love Apple’s 3rd grade labeling, Lion, Zebra, Rhinoceros, etc.Just kidding on the last 2.)) to SD Card Reader. I have uploaded to the iPad, but haven’t tried the cloud yet. I would experiment before setting out on a trip to see if you could make it work.

  • Jack62

    I’m afraid that for you we all do!

  • box box

    While I don’t appreciate JvW’s name calling and attitude, I agree with his position. I get that there is an entire world of post production effort that can do wonders to a photograph. But the idea that those who do little or no post production work are equivalent point-and-shoot photographers is an unfounded conclusion and actually pretty insulting. Perhaps in the professional arena this is true, but I thought this was a photography site opposed to a guild master site. Consider that you can spend a lifetime mastering the ins and outs of a camera, a dozen lenses, lighting, and an array of subjects. But if you master all of that and don’t have a knack for subjective adjustments to hues and shadows then clearly you are a terrible photographer. Let’s be reasonable. Field camera work is an art. Post production is an art. Outside of professional production where both are mandated, combining these two can make something amazing but in the end the final product is up to the artist.

  • sitaramamv

    At 70+yrs age, you have no idea how much of distraction an 11 yr old creates. I could get a lab full of Ph.D. students under control in no time but an 11 yr old? They invented ‘setting on wheels’. By the way, the Angor Wat mess was entirely my own creation. I hope Ms Hildebrandt does not find anything amiss in this exchange.

  • Gerald Murphy

    Thanks! I’ve had a look at the apple store and they seem to do two lightning camera connectors – one for SD card and one for usb. I’ll order both. I did try transferring photos from my desktop as email attachments but RAW files are too big – it’s a one-at-a-time job and the iPad doesn’t recognise the attachment as a photo. I think that I may be able to use the usb to lightning cable that came with the iPad for charging but I’ve read that you have to import them via iTunes. I just hope that after all this I can import them into LR once they’re on the iPad. That was the only reason that I bought the iPad rather than a Samsung S2 or S3. Thanks also for your suggestion about practice sessions. I won’t have time once I get to NZ!

  • dabhand

    As my Pentax has two sd slots I find it convenient to write jpg to one and RAW to the other. I do this for several reasons, not least of which is in the event of the RAW card corrupting; Another as has already been outlined by AnthonyD42, it can be very useful to visualize what a particular treatment may deliver, especially in the days and weeks after returning from a trip when one’s memory may, or in my case will, be hazy. I also find having jpg’s useful for quickly assessing the quality of a particular series of shots and that in turn can be very helpful when initially assessing any series of bracketed shots. Finally, for those who feel their way is the only way – sorry, there are at least as many imaging and processing workflows as there are photographers.

  • Doug Luke

    Thanks I hadn’t thought of doing that.

  • MRBILL2008

    I follow the same exact procedure.

  • Doug Luke

    I have left my camera set as RAW with a low quality jpeg for my daughter-in-law if she wants quick copies of photos of my grandchildren while I am with them and away from the computer.
    The other reason is I like panorama shots and will quickly link the jpegs to see if its worth processing the RAW photos especially as I don’t always have a tripod with me on a walk

  • Adam Tulik

    I see “shooting RAW” as something similar to certain religion cults. Millions of followers and no one dares to ask WHY. And if someone does – he’s damned. All PROS shoot RAW, says the dogma. FALSE! I’m a pro, I never shoot RAW. Well, almost never 🙂 Out of 50K pictures I shot last year, perhaps 100 were RAW. 8 or 12 bits of color for wedding pictures just won’t matter, more editing options? Not really.

    The most important technical aspects of a picture – focus, shutter speed, aperture and ISO – can’t be changed later, no matter if you shoot RAW or not. If a picture is underexposed, the matrix didn’t have enough time to catch image data, and it’s just not there. Too much exposure – the details get washed away with light and that’s what you’ll find in your RAW image. Blurry pictures, out of focus – nothing will fix that, and these are most common reasons we hit delete button.

    Yes, we can nicely change white balance in RAW – so what? Send me your JPEGs with incorrect white balance and I’ll fix them perfectly in several seconds. More details? Of course. Which would matter if we were photocopying books, but no one will notice these details even on a 20×30 print.

    The biggest disadvantage of RAW is the size – and I’m not even talking about storing data – I’m talking about speed of processing. I have a very fast computer at home with 16GB of RAM – and editing RAW images is way slower than JPEGs. I’d be fine with it if I was to edit a few pictures a day, but usually there are hundreds of them. Even going through, let’s say, 200 pictures to choose a few best ones, takes 5-10 times more if they’re 30MB, rather than 3.

    If you make nice pictures only using RAWs, change your software, or learn how to use it, because with JPEGs you can do exactly as much.

  • Richard Bauman

    My camera has a setting for saving RAW and JPEGs simultaneously. I’ve done this a few times and after processing a RAW, and tweeking its JPEG counterpart, I can’t see enough difference to warrant shooting in RAW. I think you nailed it when you said: “The most important technical aspects of a picture – focus, shutter speed, aperture and ISO – can’t be changed later, no matter if you shoot RAW or not.” This is the mantra photographers should be chanting , not “Only shoot in RAW.

  • Paul Plak

    RAW + JPEG is very useful when shooting with Camranger or tethered, so that you get a quick view through WiFi and still have the RAW for further editing

  • Adam Tulik

    Now let’s just wait to hear how ignorant and unprofessional we are 🙂 But I would bet any money they couldn’t tell a JPG from RAW on a print or computer screen.

  • Richard Henderson

    I agree. I try to get it as right as possible in camera. Does that make me some sort of point and shoot moron? I think they both needed to be banned. They both had bully attitudes.

  • Richard Henderson

    I do not completely agree. Both should have been removed. They both displayed bully attitudes and disrespect for the wider photographic community.

  • Richard Bauman

    I just processed a couple of RAW files, just to verify my notion (and yours) that RAW isn’t the only way to get good images. I got the RAW and JPEG looking the best I could get them. It’s hard to tell them apart. In one instance, I think the JPEG looks better. In the other the RAW and JPEG results are comparable.

  • Mike C.

    You need to go on the web site for your camera and download the file for your OS. I use both Sony and Nikon cameras. I have no problems viewing my RAW fives on a PC with windows 10.

  • Rachel Webb

    Thanks so much Mike. Seems a bit mad that I’ve never done that!

  • Mike C.

    You are welcome. I find that it makes it easier if you can see the raw image. Happy shooting.

  • Emil Ems

    I find it somewhat superfluous to shoot in both JPEG and RAW. This is so since ADOBE BRIDGE will in any case show me a preview of the raw file that is nothing else but a JPEG embodied in the raw file. So why bother replicating this JPEG once more, if I already have it in BRIDGE to look at? If I am satisfied with that preview, all I have to do is convert the raw file to JPEG, using BRIDGE’s automatic script for such conversion.

  • Walter Pinkus

    Coming from shooting film ‘forever’, carrying two bodies to have color & b/w, then getting an advanced point-and-shoot that did not do raw to start figuring out digital, I jumped to a Canon 5D after seeing that it produced as-good or better images than I had been getting on Kodachrome 64. I had been selling my work, both color & b/w as fine art prints in sizes to 16×20.
    I started out saving both RAW and JPG. For my uses, I process and print a very small proportion of what I shoot. I process, in some cases very heavily, in Photoshop, on 16 bit files to maintain the color resolution that might be lost working at 8 bits. I found that I was rarely accessing the JPG files. Then I came upon the “Instant JPG From RAW” application that batch-processes extracting the JPG images that are embedded in the saved RAW files. At that point I stopped saving separate JPG files in-camera. On the rare occasions where I know I’m going to want to use a lot of images and distribute them with negligible processing (such as going to family Thanksgiving dinner), I set the camera to JPG-only.

  • Sorry? Did I miss something? The comments removed had direct insults towards another person. That is what we do not allow or tolerate here. What political bit that you feel is in appropriate did I miss?

  • No, I read all the comments in the entire thread. I felt the only one calling other people names was banned. I warned them both and the other guy continued I warned Michael as well and he stopped. I gave him credit for that.

  • Jenn Fry

    love this idea!

  • I have 2 card slots in my DSLR so use the faster CF slot for RAW and the slower SD slot for JPEG. It works for me, as the newspaper I work with wants files “no larger than 2mb” so there’s no point working with a massive RAW file. It’s much faster to import 20 JPEG images from my camera and work with them than it is 20 RAW files, and as they do not need nor want any arty or heavily post processed files, working with JPEGs seems like a no-brainer. If I need to work with a particular file a little more, I can just import the single RAW flie.

    It’s all subjective though. Modern photography techniques blur the line between photography and digital art. If you work on post processing a photograph so much that it bears no resemblance to the original image, is it still a photograph? Or is it digital art? If you’re happy with what your camera produces, then why not just shoot JPEG? If you prefer to work your magic afterwards, then obviously you would shoot RAW. Both formats are right, or wrong, because of the way you perceive your own art, but neither is less, or more important than the other.

  • Tim Laborde

    Looks like we have a reason to disagree if we want and a reason to agree if necessary. To each his own.

  • Larry Kurfis

    Just which camera sensor only shoots JPG? ALL sensors create RAW files. Post processing commonly creates a JPG file. “Shooting JPG” gives postprocessing decisions to the camera manufacturer. You have limited, if any, creative control by the manufacturer.

  • KC

    Maybe. It depends on the camera and how well it creates a JPEG.

    It comes down to whether you’re going to do a lot of “post”, or there’s a chance you’re going to revisit the image and edit it again. And that brings up other variables.

    JPEG’s are Raw images processed in camera. Sometimes they’re very good. Other times, not so much. But that’s not the biggest variable. It depends on your editing software. We take for granted that Raw is a non-destructive workflow. In some cases, so is JPEG. Almost. Every time you save a JPEG it deteriorates a little. It’s being re-interpreted. So, you don’t want to do that to the original image. Versions cut that to one generation of loss (unless you edit a version). We’re seeing something new, and it’s subtle. LR is non-destructive with JPEG’s. Only one generation loss and only on Export. Google Photos as well. I’m sure there are others, but these are the two I use often.

    In a perfect world Photoshop would default to Save AS, or versioning, to protect the original JPEG.

    Generally, I shoot Raw. It depends on the camera, of course. My “rugged” camera doesn’t offer that option. It’s not a critical issue since the situations I use it in are pretty miserable. IQ is down the list a bit. Getting an image is at the top.

  • Alan Smith

    My camera (Pentax K1) has 2 SD slots so in slot 1 I use a 32g card for RAW and a 4g card in slot 2 for JPEG. I usually never even look at the the JPEG unless I need to transfer a file by WiFi to an iPad or a phone straight away. I don’t use any cards larger than those in case the card fails and ten lose hundreds of pics. I would sooner waste a bit of time changing to fresh cards than pile hundreds more photos on 1 card and risk losing all of them.

  • Mary Shill

    I edit photographs in PSP raw. I will now have to use another editing program. Which can I use which can edit PSP raw.

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