As a photo editor, a regular topic that pops up in debates is RAW vs JPEG – what is the best format for taking photos?

RAW vs JPEG is a regular debate in photography. Some photographers say shoot in RAW, while others advocate shooting in JPEG. Having an understanding of file formats and their differences, is essential for photographers. This will help you to make the right choices for your particular photography style and needs.

There is no easy answer to this debate. It depends on what you want to do with your photography and your photos.

To help you understand which format is best for your photography. Below is a quick description.

JPEG Images, what are they?

JPEG is a format that uses lossy compression for storing and displaying digital images. Due to its high compression efficiency, it is the by far the most popular and most used image format.

Most displays and software having built-in capabilities to read and display JPEG images. Different levels of quality can be applied to compress JPEG images, which impacts the quality and size of the image.

Lower quality conversion results in higher compression rates, smaller files and compression artefacts. Images saved with a higher quality setting will reduce the artefacts, but increase size.

RAW Images what are they?

A RAW image (also known as a “digital negative”) is the image file that contains unprocessed data from your digital camera’s sensor. A RAW image needs to be processed in software before it is ready to be viewed.

Unlike JPEG files that can be easily opened by most image-viewing / editing programs, RAW is a proprietary format that is tied to a specific camera model.

Processing RAW images can yield greater dynamic range (with better highlight and shadow recovery options), richer colours and more detail when compared to a JPEG.

Here is an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the two formats:

Advantages of JPEG’s

  1. They are already processed. JPEG images are fully processed in camera. Settings such as the white balance, colour saturation, tone, sharpening and colour space are already applied to the image. There is no need to spend any time on processing/editing the image, it is ready to use.
  1. JPEG images are much smaller in size than RAW images and thus take up a lot less computer hard drive space.
  1. JPEG’s are compatible with most systems. Most modern devices and software support JPEG images. Making the format compatible and practical.
  1. Digital cameras and photo editing software have different compression levels for saving JPEG images. Giving you the flexibility and choice over image quality vs size.

Disadvantages of JPEG’s

  •  The “lossy” image compression algorithm means that you will lose some data from your photographs. This loss of detail, especially in highly compressed files, might result in degraded images, as well as visible “artefacts” around subjects are visible to the naked eye.
  • The JPEG image format is limited to 8-bits, which puts a limit on possible colours. Banding is more likely to occur, you can notice this for example in a sky. Instead of changing from a gradual light blue to darker, there will be steps (banding).
    RAW vs JPEG - which is better?
  • In this JPEG image, it is impossible to bring down the highlights in the sky or brighten the shadows around the bridge.
  • JPEG images contain far less data, this limits their dynamic range and recovery potential.
  • If you have to overexposed or underexposed an image. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to recover the highlights or the shadows.
  • When cameras process JPEG images. Any camera setting that can damage the resulting image will be irreversible. For example, if you apply too much sharpening to your images, you will not be able to “unsharpen” them later.

Advantages of RAW Format

  • Compared to an 8-bit JPEG image that can only contain up to 16.8 million colours. 16-bit RAW images, contain 65,536 tonal values per colour channel. Resulting in 281 trillion colours.
  • A RAW image contains wider dynamic range and colour gamut compared to a JPEG image. What this means is, when an image or parts of an image are under or over exposed. a RAW image provides far better recovery potential compared to JPEG.
    RAW vs JPEG - what is the best format for taking photos
  • Using the RAW image, I could reduce the highlights in the sky and make bring the blues back. The underexposed bridge was corrected in less than a minute.
  • When a RAW image is generated, all camera settings, are added into the file, along with the RAW data from the image sensor. White balance, brightness, contrast, and other adjustments are possible when post processing (editing) the image. So you can make changes to the image later in editing applications like Lightroom and Photoshop.
  • RAW images are lossless. Unlike JPEG, RAW images utilise lossless compression. Meaning they do not have image-compression artefacts.
  • No image-sharpening is performed on RAW images. This means that you can use better and more complex sharpening algorithms for your photos.

Disadvantages of RAW format

  •  RAW files need post-processing and conversion to a format like JPEG before they can be viewed. This adds time to your editing workflow.
  • RAW images take up much more storage space than JPEG images. Your memory cards can store fewer images. You will also need more storage space on your computer, and other storage devices to keep all the RAW images you photograph.
  • Not all image-viewers and editors can open all the RAW files. If you have a brand new camera that just got released. You might need to wait for software companies to catch up and update their software so that your RAW files can be opened and worked on.
  • A workaround is to download the Adobe DNG Converter,  which convert your RAW files to DNG so that you can edit them.
  •  You may have to convert RAW files to a compatible format like JPEG or TIFF before you can give them to your friends and clients. As they might not have the proper tools to view them.

When taking photos should you use RAW or JPEG?  Why I chose RAW

Slide to view

Title: Compare RAW vs JPEG


Move the image slider left to right. This way you can clearly see the advantages that RAW have over JPEG images. For me RAW is by far the best format to take and preserve photos.

I remember my first time scrolling through my camera options, wondering about what RAW does and why I should consider using it.

JPEG was for me the one I would go for – it’s the default image format for most point-and-shoot cameras, so I knew how to use it.

When I came across the RAW image format, I wanted to know if this format is better suited for professional photography, and whether I should switch?

I changed my camera settings to RAW and took a picture. The first thing I noticed, was how few images my memory card could store. The number of images dropped down from thousands to less than 300 photos. When I took the memory card and inserted it into my computer, I could not open the photos. My first thought was that my memory card had been corrupted. It was about then I changed my camera settings back to JPEG.

Has this happened to you? I would suggest not giving up shooting RAW, because you might regret this later.

If you are or want to be a professional photographer, I am convinced it is better to shoot RAW.  There are quite a few savvy clients these days that will not accept only JPEG files. They want an archive copy of the RAW for future editing.

Saving your photography reputation by shooting RAW.

I also guarantee that by shooting RAW, you will at one point or the other, save your reputation. There is actually an amazing ability to recover information from RAW photos. Like many other photographers. I have managed to take a badly exposed image or mess up my white balance on a photograph, such as a wedding photograph. How do you explain to a wedding photography client that all their precious photos are completely overexposed. If I had shot  in JPEG, I would not be able to do much to save the image.

 Thanks to RAW and its recovery potential. Exposure and white balance errors are relatively easy to correct (as long as exposure errors are not too extreme). RAW can make a huge difference in such situations. Especially when photographing one off, special moments that cannot be reproduced ever again.

Hard drive storage and memory cards are cheap nowadays, so the file size should no longer be a problem. Since I already spend a considerable amount of time taking pictures. I do not mind spending a little more time and effort working on them in the digital darkroom. 

Now with bulk photo editing applications like Adobe Lightroom. I can apply an image correction to one photo, copy that edit and bulk apply it to the rest of the batch in a short space of time.

So, what is the best format for taking photos? For me RAW. I would only shoot in JPEG, if using a smartphone or a budget camera. Or if all I wanted to have was a memory of the moment, to upload it onto social media to share with friends.

I hope you have found this article useful. Follow my blog for regular photo editing and photography news, tips and advice.