RAW vs JPEG: what to use and when?

Find out which format is able to score more points in the ultimate face-off battle between two most popular image formats. It is RAW vs JPEG.
Gaurav Achpalea

What is Creative Life?
Creative Life is a series through which I share my knowledge about photography and videography skills. Both these crafts have become quintessential for people wanting to become digital content creators. The more you develop these skills the more you raise the production value of your digital content. This eventually could translate into producing quality content that has the potential of gaining traction and popularity with time.

Raw vs JPEG: Let the battle begin!

Would you ever swap real gold for fake gold? If you answered ‘No’, ‘Nah’ or ‘Never!’ then this post is for you. 

In today’s day and age where there are so many mobile phones that can take a photograph, what is it exactly that makes professional cameras relevant? Apart from interchangeable lenses and imaging sensors, there is one more aspect that is often overlooked. This aspect is the ability of a professional camera to shoot photos in RAW file format.

Now imagine this… you walk into a pizza parlour and order a pizza with some extra toppings. When the pizza arrives you remove all the extra toppings that you paid extra for and eat the rest of the pizza. Would it make any sense to do that? As ridiculous as the pizza example may sound to you… when you purchase a professional photography camera and shoot in JPEG file format instead of RAW, you are doing something equally ridiculous.

So what exactly is it that makes RAW photos so much better than JPEG photos? If one had to be really concise in answering that, it could be done by saying just one word – INFORMATION.

However, feel free to read on if you would really like to get technical and know all the nerd stuff that goes behind both these file formats.

Ready for the deep-dive, are we?

A JPEG image, in short, is a compressed and processed version of a RAW image. All of this processing is done in-camera and the final results of a JPEG image hence rely heavily on the camera that you are using. In RAW images though, the final image does not rely so heavily on the camera that you are using. This is because RAW images are uncompressed and unprocessed images. The image that you see is exactly the image that got captured on the imaging sensor in your camera. And because it is uncompressed too, there is no loss of information in a RAW image.

Every single pixel in a JPEG image contains far less colour and brightness information levels when compared to a RAW image. When working on your image in post-processing, this is the very reason why RAW images are able to render far better results than JPEG images. To dig further into this…

While a RAW image is either 12-14 bit a JPEG image is just 8 bit. 

What does this mean? 

This translates to your captured image having only 256 levels of colour and brightness in JPEG, while RAW images record between 4,096 to 16,384 levels. And all this in every single pixel of your image. One megapixel refers to one million pixels. Now calculate for yourself how many million pixels in an image will carry all this abundance of information when capturing a RAW format image from your camera.

Alright, alright… so what if every single pixel in a photo has far more information? How is it going to help me get a better photo? Because right out of the camera RAW images look so much worse than JPEG images!

Well here is how… when working on your RAW image in a post-processing software of your choice you get far more colour and brightness range to work with. This means the colour correction can be done more accurately and the over/underexposed parts of your image (if any) can be fixed without leaving behind artefacts

To sum it all up, mentioned below are pros and cons of RAW vs JPEG images. 

JPEG file format

Better for web or lower quality uses.
When less digital storage space is available.
Post-processing is not necessary.
No specific software required to view images.

Less pixel information.
Limited colour correction.
Limited exposure correction.


RAW file format

Better for print purposes (magazines, hoardings, etc.).
More pixel information.
Better colour correction possible.
Offers a wider range for correcting over/underexposure.

Takes up more space.
Software required to open RAW images.
Post-processing is mandatory.
Eats up far more digital storage space.

So now, it is time for you to decide for yourself – who is the winner in RAW vs JPEG?

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