Elizabeth Halford Photography {the blog} » photography in plain English

RAW vs JPG

This week, my question came from Gillian B. and it was an excellent one!

Q. My question – what are the benefits of shooting raw?  What are the differences between Jpeg and RAW?

A. Great great question, Gillian!

In your camera, instead of film, there is a sensor. It is where the data is gathered when your lens opens and lets in light. That data is then written onto your memory card (so in a way, you could say that your memory card is also like the film). When the data shoots at lightening speed from your sensor to your memory card, it can either go straight on as a RAW file or you can allow the camera to decide how to interpret that information and compress it into a smaller piece of memory on your card as a JPEG. When you allow your camera to make that decision, you are taking away some of the editing possibilities like adjusting the white balance and changing the colours.

Remember, what the sensor gathers isn’t a picture, per se, it’s merely gathering information. If you allow that information to stay in it’s pure form in RAW, you can go in later and decide that you actually want the sky a different shade or intensity of blue and you want to adjust the shadows or highlights, or you want to change the white balance (colour temperature) to make the light in your back garden look more golden in the summer or cooler in the winter.

Here is an example of a RAW vs a JPG when I try to adjust the different colours and levels. The RAW allowed me to do what I wanted which the JPG turns out looking HORRIBLE because in the process of the camera compressing the image and turning it into a JPEG, lots of important data gets lost.

Thanks for your question, Gillian! And don’t y’all forget to keep sending me your questions. Leave them in the comments below, email them, tweet them or leave them on my wall.

PS. I just found an amazing explanation of this in great, plain english detail {here}.

  • Gillian Buick

    Thanks. It now makes a bit more sense.

  • Simone

    Ditto, its does make more sense, but the dilemma, say you are happy with the RAW file, can you save it to JPEG to save space or do you leave it as is.

    The problem with RAW; I’ve read that it takes up more space on your card, you also need a program that can accept RAW images as well, luckily for me, I have Adobe Photoshop, which I’m clueless about as well. I really wish, I could take a “digital” photography course.
    I’m going to test myself, I will take a few photos in RAW and give it a test run. Elizabeth, I know its doesn’t seem like you ever run out of ideas of what to shoot, but for me the winter has meant, no shots, I’m desperately looking forward to the Spring. My child is all grown up, but my 1st grandchild will be walking this spring and I can’t wait for more photo ops.

  • elizabethhalford

    @Simone: Oh there’s always something to photograph! Do you browse Flickr? Flickr is the most inspirational place for photography. Get involved in groups, find photographers you love and add them as a contact to keep up with their updated photo streams. Stuck inside on a winter’s day? Go to Flickr and search ‘household objects’ and get inspiration for photographing your pots and pans.

    As for your ? about RAW, yes after you import it into your computer and do what you want with them, you can convert them to jpeg. I keep both though and I have an external hard drive with hundreds of gigs of memory to keep all that backlogged incase I ever get the bug to go back and dig through old stuff to play with.

    Do you have Lightroom? I could start doing tutorials about using LR & PS in general (not just for applying textures or fixing blemishes, etc) if that’s something people would want to follow.

  • Simone

    @Elizabeth: Thanks for the recommendations, yes, Flickr has been my inspiration and the Digital-Photography-School, which introduced me to your work. :-). At the start of the new year, I join Project 365 and I committed until Day 13, but I haven’t shot anything since, due to family issue, work, not carry my camera with me, I know the project is personal choice and flickr is large so no one is watching to make sure I finish, so I do plane to get back in it, even if I do 165 days out 365, I will be pleased.

    You are definitely a huge inspirations, which I why I can’t wait til the spring to get some outdoor shots of my granddaughter.
    My project for this weekend is to play around with shooting and editing RAW. In life, I’ve learned that you only learn by doing, I can sit here and read your posts everyday and admire your work, but the only way, I will get better is to actually DO and try things myself.

    Always a pleasure and I know you will get tired of me saying this, but I thank you for this website and I the freebie you introduced today, she’s funny. I like her posts.

  • Simone

    sorry for the typos, at work, had to rush it.

  • elizabethhalford

    @Simone: You’re not alone. My 365 lasted for about 4 days :) Even though I shoot nearly everyday, there’s something about an assignment that makes me want to rebel. It’s the teenager in me. *sigh*

  • elizabethhalford

    @everyone: I just added a PS to the bottom of the post with an excellent link. Check ^ there

  • Cathy

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Do you need to have a fancy digital camera in order to set the RAW or JPEG settings, or can it be done on any digital camera?

    Thanks,
    Mom

  • elizabethhalford

    @mom: Hi Mom (everyone, meet my Mom. Mom, everyone!) All modern DSLRs (the type with changeable lenses) have RAW option. Some point-and-shoot compact cameras do, too! You just have to check the specs before you buy.

  • http://www.pilatesbodystudio.net Heidi Garcia

    that was a GREAT explanation on that topic!

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  • tom

    Why would you apply the same edits done to a RAW to a JPEG? Of course it the JPEG will look bad.

    Makes no sense.

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  • elizabethhalford

    You’re right, it looks bad. I was illustrating that point :)

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  • prameet

    that is a great illustration…..although I have to say I am not sure…I havent worked on raw…but am not sure i *dislike* the JPEG version…its a different effect…and may work well with a different subject / context….besides, I guess we could edit JPEG versions differently to achieve the effect?

    shooting RAW is a PAIN…carrying around JPEGS is much more convenient, I guess….but then again, I am an amateur :)

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  • http://objecticfkaro49.wordpress.comm karophoto

    une bonne explication merveilleusement bien illustrée!! i love our job :)

  • Joe

    Sorry, but your explanation is simplistic and wrong.
    You compare apples to orangutans.

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  • Dan

    Hello Elizabeth,

    I have been doing photography for about 3 years now. I started off shooting in JPEG when I got my first DSLR (entry level). I have moved on to full frame with shooting 5d3 with L lenses. I have been booked all year round doing portraits, weddings (over 20 weddings last year), etc. But I still seem to be in the closet in terms of shooting JPEG. I have shot RAW but my RAW is HORRIBLE. My work looks way much better when I shoot in JPEG. I am much more comfortable shooting JPEG. I have been wanting to make the switch. JPEG is simply not ‘pro.’ But I can’t seem to switch since my RAW ends up looking much worse than my JPEG. What can I do?

    -Dan