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The RAW vs. JPEG Debate

So you’ve got a camera capable of shooting in RAW format and you’ve seen (or heard) loads of discussion on what RAW is, whether you should shoot RAW or JPEG, which is better etc etc.


However, it is a bit of a minefield so lets look at what each format is, what the advantages and disadvantages are of each format and then why you might choose one over the other.




  • Not an image file.  It will require special software to view, though this software is easy to get


  • Typically a proprietary format (with the exception of Adobe’s DNG


  • At least 8 bits per colour - red, green, and blue (12-bits per X,Y location), though most DSLRs record 12-bit color (36-bits per location)


  • Usually uncompressed (so in theory an 8 megapixel camera will produce a 8 MB Raw file)


  • The complete set of data from the camera’s sensor in it’s entirety


  • Higher in dynamic range than any other file type


  • Lower in contrast than an out-of-camera JPEG so can look “flat” or “washed out”


  • Not as sharp as an out-of-camera JPEG


  • Not suitable for printing directly from the camera without some sort of processing


  • Read only.  You can’t save over it or alter the contents of the file but you CAN make adjustments and they are stored either as a sidecar .XMP file or in the database structure of the RAW file.  “Lossless”


  • Sometimes admissible in court as evidence (because they are theoretically unalterable)

A RAW file is...