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RAW versus JPEG: Which Image Format on my Camera Should I Use?

If you’ve just purchased your very first DSLR camera, you probably have a lot of things to figure out. . . like ISO, manual setting, shutter speed, aperture and a multitude of other fun camera settings.

And after taking a few pictures in JPEG format, perhaps another question has been growing in your mind: “What is RAW? Should I be using RAW format for my photos?”

The answer to that question is different for everyone, so let’s start by listing out the qualities of both formats to gain a better understanding of what each format does.

RAW format

- Not a true image file. It requires special software in order to view and edit.

- Large, uncompressed files. (A 10MB camera will produce a 10MB RAW file.)

- Captures complete data from the camera sensor.

- Better ability to display highlights and shadows.

- Lower contrast.

- Not as sharp before post-processing.

- Not ready for printing from your camera without post-processing.

JPEG format

- Standard image file which is readable by any image program.

- Exactly 8-bit per color.

- Compressed for smaller size.

- Less ability to display highlights and shadows.

- Higher contrast.

- Sharper images.

- Ready to print directly from your camera.

- Not in need of correction most of the time

So which format should I use?

When deciding which format to use, consider your conditions. If memory card space is an issue for you, then taking JPEGs will allow you to capture 2 or 3 times as many images. JPEG is also a good idea when you don’t want the hassle of editing or processing your photographs, or you want to share your photographs quickly after shooting them.

But if memory capacity isn’t an issue then consider going with RAW. Although larger, RAW files offer you much better quality when you have the time to manually edit and color correct your images.

With RAW, you’ll be able to manually adjust your white balance and work with the entire uncompressed image in post-production. It’s a huge advantage, and the main reason why I love using RAW.

Typically I spend 2 or 3 hours editing my RAW pictures for every hour of shooting. To me it’s worth it, because I need the flexibility RAW provides. . . but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else should shoot in RAW.

JPEG is still a great option if your images aren’t intended for professional use. Even some professionals use JPEG for their images, but they are very careful when it comes to setting a proper white balance and getting a good exposure.

If you are just a casual photographer I would suggest sticking with JPEG. For most photographers, JPEG will work great. But if you want the best possible quality and are willing to do the extra work required then go with RAW and you won’t be disappointed.

Finally, if you can’t decide which format to use, try both! Most DSLRs have the option to let you capture JPEG and RAW simultaneously, so you can work with both and then decide from there.

Just remember that with RAW format you will need to use special software (either an expensive program like Adobe Lightroom, or a free program like Picasa) in order to view and edit your photographs.

Good luck, and have fun!

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

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