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  • Kerry Paradis

Photography 101: RAW versus JPEG. What Does it Mean and Why is it so Important


Raw vs JPEG

When shooting in RAW, you can recover the image so it is not so blown out.

One mistake I make all the time with my clients is I talk the photography “lingo” forgetting that people might not always understand what I am saying. This blog is going to be geared toward the term RAW. You may or may not have heard this term before, but I will describe some of the benefits of shooting in RAW for JPEG. This way next time you hear me say it, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

First off, all photographers should ALWAYS be shooting in RAW format. RAW is the file format that captures all the data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. When shooting in a format like JPEG, the image is compressed and lost. Since there is not any compression in the RAW format, you’re able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problems that you can’t correct if you had shot it in JPEG. The biggest drawback to shooting in RAW is the pictures are much bigger. When I take the pictures off of my camera, the average picture is around 25-30 MB. A compressed JPEG is around 8 MB. It does ultimately cost more because you need bigger SD cards for your camera and bigger drives to back up your pictures, but the benefits are worth any cost. Another drawback is it slows down your camera a bit as saving more data for RAW takes up more time for each image. It take up 2 to 6 times memory than your normal JPEG files, and they are more time consuming. Raw files cannot be opened, uploaded or printed directly like JPEGs as they require a specialized software made especially to process RAW formats. Here are some of the top reasons to shoot in RAW:

The Quality is Better than Any Other Format

Every camera initially takes the picture in RAW format. The camera processes the picture internally and compresses/converts the pictures to JPEG. The processing applied by the camera is generic, and uniform across the entire image. In contrast, when you capture RAW images, you have full control over how much processing is applied to an image, and where in that image you apply it. Basically, any image you capture is much more forgiving than the corresponding JPEG would be.

Brightness Levels Are Much Greater

JPEG records 256 levels of brightness, and RAW records between 4,096 to 16,384 levels! The effect this has on your images is huge. Those additional steps of brightness let you make more adjustments (expoosure, blacks, fill light, recovery, contrast, brightness) to your image without a significant reduction of quality, because there’s more levels to work with!

Correct Under and Over Exposed Images Better

Obviously you want to get the best exposure in camera, but sometimes things move fast (especially with weddings!) and you wind up with a dramatically over or under exposed image. With RAW you have additional information in the file, so it’s much easier to correct the image without a drastic reduction in quality. You can also recover more blown highlights and clipped shadows.

Easily Adjust the White Balance

You may or may not have heard the term, “White Balance”. Cameras try and automatically detect their own white balance. Depending on where you are shooting, the white balance can vary dramatically and cameras aren’t good about adjusting accordingly. During my shoot, I have a card that I hold up and take a picture of. This card tells me what white is supposed to look like. When I go into editing, I tell the image to adjust the picture according to that being what is white. If you have never edited a picture before, you probably have no idea how much of a difference this makes. Great white balance and colour are essential to an awesome image, and shooting RAW lets you make the adjustments easier and faster, with better results.