Raw vs. JPG Camera Files

If you’re shooting images in JPG, you are actually creating digitally enhanced or manipulated images, well at least the camera is.

RAW is essentially the data from the digital camera sensor. To get the largest tonal range, that is the range from shadows to highlights, camera sensors are optimized to create a flat, low contrast image. Unprocessed RAW images look flat and the colors are often muted. In order to make it look ‘right’ you have to use software to process your image (or “digital darkroom” the image as my friend Boris calls it).  

For the JPG image format, the camera software takes the RAW data and enhances the contrast, the color saturation and vibrancy, and removes some of the sensor noise. You can usually choose different enhancements or manipulations such as Vivid (pops colors) or Low, for lowering the contrast. JPG files are compressed and are smaller so you can get more images on a card as compared to RAW files, which tend to be very large and use up memory cards faster.

So which one? Many people say that it’s about quality, but when you look at most images and what you’re going to use them for, it’s hard to tell the difference.

But, it’s actually more than just quality verses files size. RAW images are like a film negative. They haven’t been manipulated or processed. If you’re taking snapshots, it probably won’t matter so use the easier JPG. But if you take photos with a final picture in mind, or want to do more serious digital darkrooming to create an image that specifically expresses what you want, then using the RAW format will give the greatest control and latitude in the final artistic processing.

The biggest hurdle when considering RAW digital darkrooming is that you have to learn to use more advanced software such as Adobe Photoshop or Elements. Elements is a great and powerful program for around $100 (and all most will need) but will require some reading and maybe a few classes. But the rewards are better images that you control.

SM Boris Robinson
Vero Beach Photographer

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