Understanding the Image: RAW vs JPEG

Understanding the Image: RAW vs JPEG

During the last lesson, we talked about the different sizes of the sensors available on the market today. As you may know, sensors are very critical in the camera and you can even say that without it photography is impossible. The different sizes of the sensor will determine how much light it can take and read and what the ratio of the photo will be produced.

Furthermore, learning about the sensor size chart is one thing that a lot of people take for granted thinking that it will be of no use to them. But, we also learned that the sensor sizes greatly determine the equipment you will use or will be using in the future and with that, I congratulate you for being part of an elite group of photographers who actually know about their camera.

I know that camera talk can be quite exhausting so after three lessons about cameras, we’ll distance ourselves from your one-eyed best friend and put our attention to your image. As promised, today we will be engaging in a rather unique discussion about file formats.

Setting Up Your Canvas

Most people come into photography without knowing that there are actually more than one file formats that they can choose from. This is something that people shouldn’t be ashamed of, after all, we are here to learn more and hone our skills, right?

Majority of beginners would not really pay attention to what file format will they be shooting on. However, after some time they will find out how much these file formats can affect their images ultimately wishing if they could go back in time to learn about it earlier.

Photography is filled metaphors, from its mechanisms to the use of its elements. In this case, you can think of your file formats as your different types of canvases. The photographer embeds their images on a file in the same way a painter paints a canvas. Furthermore, the file format that you will be using also affects the quality of your image in the same way a painter’s art will look different in different types of canvas.

With that said, the importance of knowing your file formats is undoubtedly important as this knowledge will greatly affect the outcome of your work. Furthermore, knowing their implications to your camera, such as how much space a specific kind of file format can take up, are big factors in some decisions you must make as a photographer.

For years the photography community has been divided into two specific subgroups; those who shoot in RAW and in JPEG. RAW and JPEG, you can say, are the top 2 file formats to shoot on and that is something that everybody agrees on. However, which one is the best option and which one is the second is an argument for the ages.

Learning about these two formats isn’t just so so that you can belong to the debate but also because this is a necessary knowledge that you will be using a whole load of times along the way.


First and foremost, to bust one of the biggest photography myths known to man, let me just start by saying that RAW does not stand for anything and that these three letters do not stand for anything. RAW actually stands for the word itself and this is due to its nature as uncompressed and lossless data.

Much like your raw steak, a RAW image is an untouched version of what your sensors picked up and without any minor adjustments. Due to the RAW file being, well, raw, it leaves you with a big space to “cook” it. RAW images have a lower contrast and they are not that sharp which means that they need more post-processing.

Despite allowing you to have more control of your images’ post-camera look, RAW files come with a big price - particularly causing you around 20MB of your card per image. RAW files are often used by portrait photographers and those photographers who need quality more than quantity.


The other file format we will be talking about for this lesson is the JPEG file. This one is the more widely known file format as RAW files are often unreadable by default PCs. JPEG images are much more compressed than RAW files which means that they also occupy less space. JPEG images will usually just take up about four times lesser than your RAW image.

Due to its compression, you can say that JPEG data are more compacted together and more upload-ready than RAW images. JPEG files have higher contrast and are much sharper than RAW files but do not offer the same room for editing than the uncompressed RAW file.

If your RAW file is you uncooked steak, your JPEG can be compared to a half-cooked marinated steak that leaves you lesser room to control its taste. The reason for this is that JPEG files have lesser data to offer and you can say that its pixels are much more set already as compared to RAW files.

To end it all...

The debate concerning which one of these two file formats is the ultimate “canvas” is a debate that will go on for years. Each of these two file formats has their own strengths and weaknesses and as photographers, the best we can really do is to pick which one will suit the situation more.

Just to recap, RAW file format gives you an uncompressed, lossless, blander, and larger images which are great for a greater ability to tweak the images to your liking. This is the file format that most professional photographers use as they have trained their eyes already to see through the specific corrections that their RAW images would be needing.

On the other hand, JPEG files are more compressed, sharper, but smaller sized images. Projects which require more images than stunning ones give justice to this file format. JPEG images are more ready-to-print right out of the camera than the RAW format.

That’s it for our discussion on the RAW vs JPEG debate. With this knowledge, you should be able to add more skill to your belt, apart from learning to expose better or use the depth of field, and put a little upgrade on your adaptability as a photographer. Be sure to remember these in a field and to choose wisely before heading out for a spin.

This is not the end of our discussion on file formats as the next topic will bring us closer to one of the file formats. You now know what a RAW image is so it’s just right to tackle how powerful it is in the field, right? Don’t miss this one and don’t forget to spread the word to your fellow photographers as well!

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