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RAW or JPEG?

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Mason Resnick is the editor of the Adorama Learning Center and a lifetime photography enthusiast.

One way to decide

If you own a DSLR you choose to shoot photos in either RAW or JPEG format. (Most compact digital camerass only offer JPEG, although a few high-end models have RAW capability). What are each format's advantages and disadvantages?

Let's find out....


JPEG

Advantages:
  • Smaller files take up less room on computer and memory card
  • Can be printed without any post-processing
  • Sharper
  • Processed in the camera
  • Supported by all image editing software

Disadvantages:
  • All files are compressed to greater or lesser degree
  • Lower dynamic range
  • Compression causes slight loss in tonality
  • Post-processing can increase compression artifacts each time image is saved

JPEG is ideal for rapid-sequence action photography, when memory card capacity is at a premium, and when you need to make prints directly from your camera.


RAW is best when image quality and control over the final result are the most important factors. Photo by Mason Resnick

RAW

Advantages:
  • All info captured by sensor is in image file
  • Uncompressed file
  • Higher dynamic range
  • Changes in post-processing do not affect orignal image
  • Allows for more control over image

Disadvantages:
  • Produces big files
  • Slower write time in camera slows camera down when shooting rapid sequences
  • Must convert to JPEG (or even better, TIFF) on computer before printing
  • Proprietary format, not supported by some software

RAW file postprocessing in Adobe Photoshop puts many key image control features at your fingertips before the image is converted to JPEG. Photoshop will also automatically fix RAW images' color temperature, exposure and other factors, but you can overrule its decisions easily.


It's easy to add special effects, such as vignetting, using Adobe Photoshop's RAW utility. Photo by Mason Resnick

 

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