Sunday, February 10, 2013



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When it comes to photography, most people would recognize JPEG as the standard photo format. That is quite true, since most photos are shot and uploaded in JPEG.

Everyone is familiar with JPEG, but what is RAW? You've heard some professionals like to shoot in RAW. All DSLRs and some high end compact cameras have the option to shoot in RAW, but what are the advantages and disadvantages of shooting in either formats?

Uncompressed fileCompressed file
Higher dynamic rangeLower dynamic range
Larger file size (3 to 5x of JPEG) Smaller file size
Ability to set white balance to any value after photo takenWhite balance fixed at the point of photo taken
Unprocessed by cameraProcessed by camera
Lower contrast, higher noise, not as sharpHigher contrast, lower noise, sharper image
Non destructive editingDestructive editing
Requires special software to view or editCan be easily view and editing using common tools

So what is the better format to use? Well, it all depends on your application.

Shooting in RAW

RAW files are uncompressed files that are not processed by your camera. Your camera saves all the information you need for editing later on, and doesn't process the pictures at all. However, this comes at a cost; Memory space. The larger RAW files means you can't store as much photos in a card compared to a JPEG, and when shooting in continuous burst mode on your camera, the buffer will overload faster on RAW than on JPEG, so you get lesser continuous burst on RAW.

Because the camera doesn't do the editing for you, it means that you have to do the editing yourself, on the computer. The lack of editing on RAW files makes it look less sharp, have lower contrast, and higher noise. Good news is, that these can be easily edited using specialized softwares, such as Adobe Photoshop. RAW editing gives you much greater control over your image, such as the highlights and shadows, white balance, noise performance, and image sharpness. What's more, the editing is non-destructive, because the settings that you made are saved as a XMP file under the same file as your photo, so no changes are made on the RAW image. (Do note that deleting this XMP file also deletes your editing that you've made on the photo!)

Shooting in JPEG

JPEG files on the other hand is a compressed file, processed by your camera at the point when the photo is taken. Even though it's compressed, you won't be able to tell the difference even when you zoom right in. Most people choose to shoot in JPEG because of the convenience of viewing on other device. They also trust that the camera has selected the most appropriate settings for the photo. But these are also the people who don't do much editing (or not at all) to their photos. That is perfectly fine. If one doesn't require photo editing, then shooting in RAW is much more of a hassle.

This is one of the major downside of shooting in JPEG. If you get your exposure wrong, you are most likely going to lose some details in order to get it back in the right exposure.


In the first example, we are going to examine the noise performance of JPEG vs RAW. You may wish to click on the picture to get a larger view so as the better examine the differences.

 JPEG, 200% zoom, unedited

RAW, 200% zoom, with full noise reduction

RAW, 200% zoom, without noise reduction

As seen in the pictures above, RAW is noticeably more noisy and less sharp than JPEG when straight out of the camera. However, I think RAW fares better with full noise reduction on Adobe Photoshop.

In the next example, we are going to examine the ability to retain details after a major correction in exposure.

Original exposure

Adjusted to right exposure using JPEG

Adjusted to right exposure using RAW

100% crop of JPEG edit

100% crop of RAW edit

While both photos doesn't look too different as a whole, zooming in, we can see that the JPEG edit suffers from rather serious color distortion, and lacks the details which the RAW edit has retained.

RAW compatibility

If you try to open up RAW without any RAW viewing/editing software, you are most likely to hit an error. And if you just like to browse RAW photos as conveinent as JPEG photos, you may wish to try "Windows Live Photo Gallery" here:
of course, you will need the Camera Code Pack for RAW here:


There is no better format, it all depends on the situation and the needs of the photographer. I personally shoot RAW most of the time because I'm very critical on my images and rely on major editing, but if you're just a leisure shooter, then JPEG may be the better way to go!