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Photography 1.03: Is It Better To Shoot RAW or JPG?

Updated on June 7, 2020
Photography Focus profile image

I am passionate about photography and love to teach what I've learned during my 30+ years of working as a professional photographer.

Choosing how your camera saves the photos you take can be a confusing issue for new photographers.

The aim of this article is to discuss what image formats are and which ones you will use. It’s important to understand the differences as it can affect the technical quality of your photos. What format you choose also affect the post-processing aspect of photography

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The Two Most Common File Formats Cameras Use

RAW and jpg are the two most common file formats cameras have. Most cameras will let you save your images as one format or the other, or both simultaneously.

There are pros and cons to both of these file formats. Some people prefer to always save their photos as RAW files while others are content with jpg images. There is no right or wrong choice. You can opt to save both formats at once to allow yourself to choose which files to use later. But this also has its drawbacks.

Whether you shoot RAW or jog you’ll not notice any difference between them when you using your camera monitor to view them When your camera saves a RAW file it only shows you a small jpg version on the monitor.

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Setting Your Camera to Save Images as RAW Files

RAW files contain all the data the camera captures when you take photos. They are large files and you can manipulate them more than jpgs without loss of quality.

These large files take longer for your camera to write them to the memory card. When shooting a lot of photos in quick succession you may find your camera stops taking photos for a short time. This happens when the camera buffer is full. It needs time to write the large RAW files to the card before you can take any more photos.

Because RAW files are not compressed they contain all the visual information the camera sensor captured when you took the photo. This data can be manipulated during post-production with better results than jpg images will provide.

At a glance, an unprocessed RAW file looks a bit flat and dull. You must post-process the image to bring out the best in it. This requires the right kind of software and knowledge of how to tweak the image to get it looking good.

Don’t worry, once you make a start processing your RAW files the process becomes addictive. You can find great enjoyment in working on your RAW files to make your photos look the way you want them too.

Post-processing RAW files is the whole other half of photography. With digital cameras, taking the photo is only part of the fun. Post-processing your phots can become highly addictive and time-consuming.

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Setting Your Camera To Save JPG Files

Jpg files are compressed by the camera as it saves them, so the file sizes are considerably smaller.

The camera will also tweak the image before saving it. Color balance, sharpening, contrast and other aspects of a jpg image are altered by the camera. Exactly what is processed varies from camera to camera and your settings.

You have control over the way your camera saves jpg images. You can set the dimensions and file size. You can also set the filters and the amount of effect they have on your photos.

Some people prefer very sharp and highly saturated images. Others prefer a softer look. These and others are possible to create when you choose the right in-camera settings. Each make and model of camera handles this differently. You’ll need to read your manual or search online for specific details of how to alter these settings on your camera.

When your camera saves jpg files it processed them more quickly than when it saves RAW files. It’s rare for your camera to pause to let the buffer empty when it’s saving jpegs.

Photos saved as jpegs get compressed. The camera discards some of the data to make the files sized smaller. This means when you come to post-process a jpg image there’s less to work with. You can do a certain amount with a jpg file when you’re post-processing, but not nearly as much as you can do with a RAW file.

Pushing the limits and over-processing jpg files leads them to break down and lose quality.

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What Image File Setting Should I Use?

When people ask me what file format they should use, I ask them if they have time - to learn how to process their RAW files and spend time manipulating each photo they want to keep?

When you’re just starting out it can be less complicated to choose to save jpg files. They cannot be manipulated so much, but generally look pretty good straight out of the camera compared to RAW files.

You can choose to save both file formats but this may slow your camera processing and will fill your cards up more quickly because two files are saved for each picture you take.

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Photography Challenge: 1.03

Lens - Standard

Exposure Mode - aperture priority

Focus Mode – Any

Location – Outdoors

Time – Any time of day


Choose a favorite subject and a sunny location if you can. Strong light and dark shadows will help you in this exercise.

Set your camera to save both RAW and jpg files and make a series of photos. Make another series somewhere in the shade.

Compare the two file types on your computer and see the differences. You will not see any difference on your camera monitor because it will only display a jpg image. The RAW photos will look flat and dull. To make them look lifelike you will need to work on them with some post-processing software like Lightroom or Luminar.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Photography Focus

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