RAW VS JPEG : Understanding The Impact On Photos

You have heard professional photographers throwing around the term shooting in RAW but what exactly is shooting in RAW mean in photography?

So should you shoot in RAW or JPEG? This depends on your preference and how much time you want to spend shooting vs. editing.

In this article we are going to see what is a raw format image, the difference between RAW and JPEG formats, the pros and cons of shooting in raw vs shooting in JPEG, and last but not least we will see situations in which you can shoot in JPEG instead of raw formats.

What is a RAW format image?

RAW is a file format that contains minimally processed data from the image sensor and color filters of the digital camera. RAW files are thus “raw” and aren’t ready to be used because they need to be processed first. Because RAW files contain more information than JPEG files, you’ll get higher-quality images if you shoot in RAW.

What are the pros and cons of RAW?

RAW images allow more information to be saved while shooting compared with JPEGs. This means you can get more details and better quality when editing in post-production, but it also means they’re larger in file size and take up much more space on your memory card.

Shooting in RAW has the most advantages for professional photographers who want serious results. This doesn’t mean that it’s all perfect and can be used in all situations. Here are the pros and cons of shooting in Raw format:

RAW files Pros

  • Gives more flexibility and a Wide creativity range

Raw files give more flexibility when it comes to editing, the fact that it retains more data gives the ability to play around with different components to get the final result.

  • Recoverable (can save bad photos)

When a raw file is underexposed, it’s easy to edit it and increase the quality.

  • Non-Destructive Editing

Raw files retain the data and are not destructive when you change the settings. The editing in post-processing software does not alter the original file. 

  • Convertible to other RAW formats

Adobe offers DNG* Raw format, which can be used to convert other raw formats and have a common format to edit in your Software of choice.

RAW files Cons

  • Bad portability

Raw files are heavy and very bad for easy portability. An average raw file is around 18MB or 20MB. So if you ever asked yourself if you can send raw files by email, it is not to send them by email before converting them into JPEG.

  • Requires large SD cards and Portable HDs

If you are not a professional photographer or ready to spend for your hobby, you shouldn’t go all-in with shooting all in raw, because they take a lot of space and your Portable HD will be full in no time. Another particularity is that shooting in Raw requires a fast SD card to capture all those data in Raw.

  • Requires post-processing software

Raw files require software for editing. The most popular is Adobe Lightroom but you can find others.

  • Editing time-consuming

As I said in the previous point, Raw files can not be used without post-processing editing and this can be time-consuming if you have a lot of photos.   

What is JPEG?

A JPEG is an image file that is compressed via lossy (meaning it reduces the data without being able to retain the same level of detail as its original) compression. Almost all digital cameras use this type of compression to save space, so photographs are usually in JPEG format when they are displayed on a computer screen or printed.

Unlike a RAW file, which is uncompressed and therefore retains all its information in digital form, the percentage of noise reduction is removed from JPEG images, making them look less crisp than those captured with RAW files.

What are the pros and cons of JPEG?

JPEG files are smaller than RAW files meaning they are easily portable and they are pretty much ready for use out of the camera. See more details below:

JPEG files Pros

  • Ready for use

JPEG is already processed and compressed and ready to be used. In simple terms, the camera already did the minimum processing with the settings you set in your camera and did the best it could to have a good result. 

  • Lightweight: being that JPEG files are compressed, they are lightweight and easily portable and can easily be transferred on the web.
  • Compatibility: Most operating systems, devices and softwares support JPEG.


  • Poor color shades.

JPEG files are 8 bits, which means they have only 256 shades of colors for each of the colors red, blue, and green. That means when the camera compresses a photo into JPEG it does lose the ability to record a lot more colors.

  • Details loss in compression.

The compression algorithm does the compression but loses some details while doing so. When files are heavily compressed this loss in details on the files can be noticeable.

  • Less recoverable.

Since the JPEG files have less data as we saw, sometimes mistakes in the settings are really difficult to recover.

How to set your camera to shoot in RAW: Step by step

  1. Depending on your camera brand (will show Canon camera screens) Go to your shooting mode and select in the lower right corner the Image quality and size option.

2. Select your file type

A combination of RAW and a Large JPEG. With this option selected, you will be shooting in RAW and will have a JPEG file saved as well on the camera memory card.

There are two options the camera gives you to use raw formats, one is the RAW+JPEG format and the only Raw format.

The raw+jpeg format lets you shoot in both raw and jpeg formats at the same time, this gives you a flexibility of choice. You can happen to be satisfied by the quality of the JPEG and feel like not spending more time editing, this is where this option comes in handy.  

The Raw format is used when you have mastered your workflow and only want to shoot all in raw. This can be time-consuming when editing your whole day’s shots.

Raw and JPEG files examples Before and After

In the examples below I chose to go extreme with the situations. I used underexposed and overexposed photos to show the results of the editing I made for both RAW and JPEG files.

Underexposed RAW Before and After
Under-exposed RAW Before and After
Underexposed JPEG Before and After
Under-exposed JPEG Before and After
Overexposed RAW Before and After
Over-exposed RAW Before and After
overexposed JPEG Before and After
Over-exposed JPEG Before and After

RAW Vs JPEG: Frequently Asked Questions

Why does JPEG look better than RAW?

It’s normal that RAW files don’t look as beautiful as they appear on camera. When you shoot in JPEG the camera compresses and tries its best to process and combine all the colors to produce the final results. 

When to shoot in JPEG instead of RAW format

Shooting in RAW has its advantages but it doesn’t fit in all situations. Considering the Pros and cons of shooting in RAW, it’s clear that in a situation where you are required to deliver your photo in a tight time constraint, it’s better to shoot in JPEG and avoid all the editing requirements. 

Why do professional photographers use RAW?

RAW files retain more data and are richer when dealing with post-processing. So, Professional photographers, as well as serious photographers, choose to shoot RAW because it gives them the ability to edit the files with much more flexibility and color range to choose from.