Jpeg or raw: the one question that can turn a fellow photographer into an enemy with the wrong answer. Both sides have reasons to back up their choice. Once you make the choice, it’s not likely you’re going to change camps. So what are the points photographers use to justify their positions on this heated topic? Take a look to see for yourself.

High School Senior

The Jpeg Camp
– Raw takes too much space
Jpeg files are significantly smaller than raw files – frequently up to 4 times smaller. Shooting jpeg allows you to fit more pictures on a compact flash card and also more images on a hard drive. Professional photographers can eat through some disk space pretty quickly, so saving space in the end means money saved from storing the images on both the primary drive for the pictures as well as the backup drive.

– Get the exposure and white balance right the first time
Many jpeg shooters claim they can get the exposure right in the camera, and thus the need for shooting raw is unnecessary. Getting the right exposure requires quite a bit of practice and also careful checking as you’re shooting, so it’s definitely a learned skill.

– Faster image processing
Getting the images off the camera card and onto the computer is quicker with jpeg. Also, working with smaller files in image editing programs requires less memory and reading from the hard drive, so the time to process the images will be quicker.

– Readily usable files
Not too many programs know what to do with a raw file. You don’t see people posting to their Facebook profiles with a raw. The raw must be converted to be usable. Jpegs are usuable as files right off the compact flash.

– Raw is for lazy photographers
Jpeg shooters often see raw shooters as lazy and not wanting to take the time to do things right the first time. Shooting in raw to them is like turning the camera into beginner mode to make shooting easier. Like riding a bike with training wheels.

The Raw Camp
– Jpeg loses information
The blacks and whites of an image in jpeg mode are limited to what the jpeg can store for the upper and lower values for those pixels, but raw contains extra information in case you’re wanting to pull extra detail out of the dark or light parts of an image. The same goes for white balance settings.

– Raw gives freedom to shoot on the go
Raw shooters often feel like jpeg slows down their shooting. Raw shooters would rather focus on getting the shot than playing with camera settings. They feel that their time shooting should be used to get more shots, and the images can be adjusted later in post processing to have perfect white balance and exposure.

– Shooting raw makes you a professional
To a raw shooter, shooting in jpeg makes you an amateur. Only professional cameras have raw capability, so that’s a suggestion that you should be using raw as a professional. Plus, if you have the option of getting more information, why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?

Does this cover it all? Any other arguments from either side?

29 Responses to “Jpeg Or Raw – Which Is Better?”

  1. What do YOU shoot in? :)

    I started out with JPEG when I got my DSLR almost a year ago but switched to RAW a few months later. I’m still considering if I want to go back to JPEG or stay with RAW. If only I could change the megapixel size of my RAW images from 12MP to maybe 8MP then they would be smaller in size and I never really need a bigger image than 8MP anyway.

    • TJ says:

      We’ve tried both, but have stuck with jpeg. I know we’re in the minority, and lots of our favorite photographers shoot raw.

      If I remember right from when we were looking into raw, aren’t there options to shoot in different raw sizes? I’m thinking they were something like S1 and S2?

      • On my Nikon D5000 I don’t see a way of changing the RAW size. But if it can be done on other cameras, then maybe there’s a way – or maybe I’ll just have to upgrade camera :)

        • TJ says:

          There’s always a good reason to upgrade =) It does sound weird though that you’re upgrading so you can step down to a smaller raw file.

          • Haha, yeah that’s a weird reason for upgrading. But what I also miss in my D5000 is auto-focus while recording video in live-mode and a plug for external microphone and a few other things as well. Would also be nice to a depth of field preview button.

            But I’m not too happy about upgrading DSLR at this time now that we’re seeing more and more interesting cameras without the mirror. I’d like to know a little bit more about what the future will bring and mean to DSLR cameras – and if whatever cameras might come, will still be compatible with my current lenses.

  2. Julius says:

    I always wandered whether I should use Raw or JPEG. I have an SLR camera but the thing is that I am not such a professional photographer. I just do it as a hobby from time to time. And in that case I think JPEG is good enough. Don’t you think?

    • TJ says:

      I think that as an ameteur, you’re not going to notice much difference at all between raw and jpeg. In fact, if you don’t edit every single picture that comes out of your camera, you’ll probably find it annoying that you have to convert your raw images to jpeg in order to use them online.

  3. James says:

    I shoot RAW, and it’s a clear and easy decision for me – but I think it depends on how you process your images.

    I’ve accidentally shot ISO 3200 in broad daylight and ended up with a GREAT image – captured a moment frozen in time that I could never reshoot – but the exposure was blown completely. Because I shot RAW, I was able to save the image. I would not have been able to save it hat it been taken in JPG.

    If you’re going to use high capacity image processing tools – and I’m thinking of Lightroom or Aperture – then not shooting in RAW means you don’t get to use them to their full potential. With these tools, RAW makes sense. Without them – not so much. If you’re happy to work with what you get out of the camera, the smaller file size might make the most sense. For me, however, I just don’t have the skills to get it right every time I push the shutter release, so having the RAW file allows me to rescue more images when I process them.

    • TJ says:

      I would definitely agree that for images that are not shot with the correct exposure raw is a lifesaver. You’re right that you wouldn’t be able to recover that image without raw. I think jpeg shooters wouldn’t deny that at all, but would possibly argue that your exposure should have been dead on to start off with. Different mindset completely.

      Thanks for adding the point about not using the tools to their greatest potential if you don’t shoot in raw. Do you feel like you would not be getting your full value out of the software if you didn’t use all the functionality that was built in? For me, I don’t think that’s as big of a deal. For example, I have Photoshop, but I only use a small fraction of the functionality available to me, and I use the tools as I find that I need them. What do you think?

  4. James & TJ, I never thought about not using Aperture to its fullest if shooting in JPEG, but then again, I do shoot in RAW :)

    This post has got me thinking, even again this morning, if there was a way I could et the best of both worlds. I know that Aperture some how supports importing of both JPEG and RAW versions (of the same image), so maybe I can use that for something. Have the RAW as a backup for troublesome pictures or even save the RAW for images that I would consider more than just a snapshot – and then JPEG for all the “nice picture”-snapshots that’s just nice to have around and look at it in the future.

    If only there was a way I could get smaller RAW filesizes, 10mb per image does take up disk space rather quickly and if I have to split my Aperture library onto multiple drives, then a major downside would no longer be able to search for specific images (GPS, EXIF, keywords etc). since I’d have to first search one library, then open another and search that one, and so on.

    • TJ says:

      Some people do shoot raw + jpeg. I’m wondering if in their workflow they usually just work with the jpegs unless they see something they’d rather have in raw, then they’d pull the raw from from the card. I never really thought about that, but I guess it would make sense. If you left the raw on the compact flash, and didn’t touch it unless you needed it, you’d be able to save disk space AND have the ability to use raw if you didn’t expose correctly.

      • In that case, you’d just need a workflow that makes sure to also keep a copy of your RAW file (and have it in your backup routine as well), otherwise it could become risky business.

        … or maybe I’m just a bit paranoid about backing up :)

        • TJ says:

          I guess it would all depend on your priorities for saving disk space vs being safe. I think if I were to shoot raw + jpeg, I’d just keep the raw files on hand until I got the images out of Lightroom and didn’t see a problem. Then I’d trash the raw’s. I’m not sure how most photographers who shoot in that mode would do it though.

          • Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea to trash a RAW file if it had been used once already. There’s no guarantee that you won’t ever need to re-process an image in the future, is there?

            As for backup, with online backup services such as CrashPlan, disk space is not an issue. You get unlimited for a very good price and CrashPlan was the best online solution I’ve found so far for my need (backing up Aperture on Mac).

            Of course I also have a local backup on an encrypted USB disk.

          • TJ says:

            Oh, I get what you’re saying now. Sorry, I didn’t catch that you were talking about a raw file that you needed to use. I’d agree with you on that one. If I had to go back to a raw file, I’d definitely be saving it to a hard drive.

            I’ll have to look into CrashPlan. Our of curiosity, do you know how much that service runs?

  5. If you want to use CrashPlan Central (their online storage) it’s 1 year for $54, unlimited space. CrashPlan itself is free if you want to backup to a friend or another computer/drive. It’s of course encrypted and you can select your own encryption key so *nobody* can access your data – not even yourself if you forget your key, so don’t forget it :)

    I’m based in Europe so I’m not geting perfect upload speeds, but I still have 100GB uploaded to them and backed up, so it’s not impossible. They’re looking to have a data center in Ireland soon though.

  6. Barry H says:

    This is a good post, and you explain the pros and cons well but I think that for most people this just won’t be an issue. Personally I cant tell the difference between a high quality JPEG and any other format. I think it is a bit like hi-fi enthusiasts who think that they can hear the difference when they use a more expensive power cable. That said, I am as far form being a professional photographer as it is possible to get (I’m pretty bad) – which is why I am reading photography blogs looking for tips!

    • TJ says:

      I think you’re right about it being hard to tell the difference in most circumstances. The argument as I understand it centers around shooting a less than perfect exposure and white balance. Then the raw file allows the image to be corrected. I’m glad you stopped by and hope you enjoyed the blog!

  7. Aaron says:

    It’s a good argument but I will continue to shoot in high quality JPEG, no compression until camera’s start supporting PNG, then of course will switch to the PNG format. I’ve found no use for RAW, even when you are going to be using the photo on a billboard — It’s just overkill.

    • TJ says:

      Is there talk of cameras switching to support png? Have you shot for billboards before? That would be something to be proud of!

    • James says:

      Aaron – why would you store your image in a lossless format like PNG but not use RAW?

      The reason why RAW is better than JPG is that it stores more data than JPG can. Gradient colors are more smooth, especially near white or near black. The JPG compression eliminates color subtleties in these areas. I recognize that many people don’t notice the difference, but if you’re going to go to a larger file format like PNG, why not just keep the RAW image and have all the data associated with your image, instead of just most of it?

  8. John Rocha says:


    Thanks for the recent comment.

    I always shoot RAW but this is so much a horses for courses area.

    I can make a couple of points.

    I recently met two professional jpeg shooters.

    One was on the beach here in Bulgaria where he went out with the paragliding boats.

    He had to shoot lots of pictures of the folks up in the sky and taking off and deliver them quickly.

    He told me his main problems were exposure in the very harsh sunlight and noise.

    The second one was a bit the same. I was in tethered balloon in Rome and another photographer needed to deliver pictures immediately when everyone was on the ground again.

    There’s a general point also – technology is changing.

    jpegs like mp3 music files were developed when storage was expensive and the internet was slow.

    This is changing. But I still can’t upload RAW files to an online backup service – online speeds are slow.

    Ok so why do I shoot RAW

    I’m hoping my pictures will last. I’m still selling film shots I took 20 or 30 years ago. I don’t want to throw away information.

    A lot of my pictures are previsualized for editing afterwords, merging photos, combining them and so on. This will degrade a jpeg. It’s the old make or take a photo.

    I’d rather make the jpeg myself in my computer than let the camera decide – it has less processing power and may not provide the look I want.

    RAW files really do provide more information. It’s possible to do pseudo HDR with a RAW file and this is important if your subject is moving and you can’t bracket.

    RAW can be a pain with software problems – still Canon give good software and you can think of DNG

    I prefer photographers as friends rather than enemies


    • TJ says:

      For the jpeg shooters that you mentioned, I could definitely see exposure in sunlight being a problem. I’m guessing they probably shoot aperture priority, which sometimes does a good job and sometimes is under or over. I’m guessing the noise element comes in on the lowlight parts of the pictures? I could see where RAW would really shine in a situation where there’s a lot of contrast in the darks and lights because the RAW would have the extra data to make your darks lighter and your brights darker.

      As far as uploading RAW for backup purposes, I’d bet that within a few years you’ll have the ability to have an internet connection with a really fast upload. At our house, Charter recently added an option for 3 Meg upload, and some areas have a 5 meg upload option. That would mean that uploading RAW would definitely be an option.

      I definitely prefer photographers as friends too. Jpeg or RAW, Canon or Nikon – differening and valid opinions from good professionals on both sides.

  9. Over the last few years i have really started to see the benefits of shooting RAW. While i used to shoot JPG the more research i did and the more trials i did the more i see the benefits from a post production front. While many people cant see the difference i think if they try it out they will feel the difference from and editing front.

  10. [...] more distinct as photographers make their choices. It’s not quite to the level of the jpeg vs raw debate, but it’s getting [...]

  11. Kelly says:

    Well,for me i prefer to JPEG;-)