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JPEG Versus RAW—What You Should Know About File Formats

Posted by Art's Cameras Plus on

Learning the basics about file formats can help you take better photos

When you buy a new digital SLR camera, you suddenly have a lot of options for taking better photos, but first you have to figure out the basics—like choosing whether to work with JPEG or RAW files. Better yet, start simply by decoding all those acronyms: SLR stands for single lens reflex; JPEG stands for joint photographic experts group, the people who developed this format for compressing image files; and RAW stands for …nothing.

RAW isn’t actually an acronym—it’s the industry term for a complex photo file that has not been processed or converted into an image. Thus it contains a massive amount of “raw” data from the camera sensor, which you can then download, select, and manipulate with special photographic software to create an ideal image for any need.

By comparison, a JPEG file is essentially assembled in your camera using preset contrast and color parameters. You can adjust the compression level for higher resolution and better quality, and since files are easy to work with and share, JPEG is the most popular image format.

Now that you know what each file is, here’s a quick list from the Certified Photographic Consultants at Art’s Cameras Plus of reasons why you might choose one over the other.

Benefits of Shooting in JPEG Format

  • Smaller file size of a JPEG means faster opening, editing, and transferring, plus it requires less data storage capacity so you can take more pictures.
  • JPEG is a standard format, readable by most image programs on the market. You will need professional conversion software to view or enhance RAW files.
  • JPEG is considered "user-friendly," even for computer amateurs. If you are not an experienced photographer with a solid understanding of all your camera’s capabilities and settings, shooting in JPEG is recommended for better results.

Benefits of Shooting in RAW Format

  • With significantly more data and control over creative details like tone, sharpness, and contrast, you can craft an ideal image.
  • Small flaws, such as over- or under-exposure, are easily corrected in a RAW file.
  • White balance, even if it’s not properly set when taking a photo, can be fixed in post-production.
  • It’s possible to enlarge an image beyond the sensor's resolution of your camera, while maintaining high contrast in the scene, for large-format prints or applications.
  • RAW files provide higher quality when converted to JPEG, compared to shooting directly in that mode.

Learn More in Our Local Photography Classes

Still unsure which format is best for you? The topic of JPEG vs. RAW is an ongoing debate in photography—one that Art’s has dedicated an entire class to. We encourage you to check out this and other sessions in the Art’s Photo Academy to learn about all your options and how to get the most out of your equipment. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of making memories through photography.

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