JPEG vs. Raw

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When you capture a digital photograph, the image is saved to your memory card. Usually this is saved as either a JPEG or a RAW file. Today we’re going to look at what these files are, and how to choose the right one for you.


A jpeg file is the most common in photography. It’s the default option on almost every camera.

JPEG files are compressed in the camera. This means that some information is lost as the file is being saved. However, it also means that the files are more manageable in terms of their size. They can be printed to a decent size, and don’t always need to be edited.

Some cameras give the option for different size of JPEG, usually low, medium and high. The lower the quality, the more compressed and therefore smaller the file is.

Why would you want a very small file? Well, some cameras have the ability to send images via wifi. Sending a small file is much faster than a large one. If you were photographing for an online publication for example, they may need images to add to their story as they happen. Small files are ideal for this as they send quickly, and will only ever be seen online.

When to use a JPEG

JPEG files are perfect if you’re only using the images online. They’re also the best option if you don’t want to edit every image, or if space on your memory card is restricted. They can be printed to a relatively good size, but won’t go to the size of your wall.

RAW Files

Raw files are mostly used by professional photographers, or photographers who enjoy editing their work. The file extension for a RAW file will change depending on your camera (Canon is CR2. Nikon is NEF. Sony is SRF. etc.)

RAW files are almost completely unprocessed in camera. This means that all the information the camera picked up is in your final file. They are big files and will take us a lot of space on your memory cards (my 64GB memory card can hold just less than 2000 RAW files. My 8GB memory card can hold roughly the same amount of JPEGS). They can be printed to almost any size you could wish for, but they do need to be edited.

When editing a RAW file the world is your oyster. Because so much detail has been captured, you can make slight adjustments to improve each image. However, you will need to edit each image for sharpness in some form. To print, share, or do almost anything with a RAW file when you’re done editing, it will need to be converted to a JPEG or TIFF. Not every program can open RAW images and they can’t be printed in this format.

When to use a RAW file

Raw files work well if you’re looking for the perfect image, and are willing to take the time to edit every one. They’re the best option for printing as there’s no detail loss, but they do take up a lot of space in both memory cards and on storage afterwards.

What I use

Normally I don’t go into my personal preferences, but I thought it may be helpful here.

For professional work, I always shoot in RAW. I edit every image before I send them to customers, and I like to have complete control over the final result. This also means I can offer prints and products in a very large size.

For my personal photographs, I always use JPEG. When I’m on holiday or enjoying a day out, the last thing I want to do is run out of space on a memory card. I also know that I’m not likely to print any of the images larger that 10×12, so a large JPEG will be fine. While I enjoy editing and may make a few tweaks, I don’t want to have to edit every holiday photograph of various cocktails or the tipsy evenings that follow!