Most modern day cameras shoot in JPG or RAW – when and why should you use one over the other?


I own a few DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras which all shoot varying qualities of JPG and they all shoot RAW. For the most part I use RAW, as do most professional photographers. The reason for this is that with RAW, as the name suggests, you are getting all the raw data from the camera. That is that the camera has done no processing on the file, so much so that only very specific software can view it.  You can not, for example, at this moment in time post a RAW file to be viewed as an image on the internet. One of the main reasons for this is the pure size. A RAW file can be in the region of twenty megabytes or more whereas the resultant JPG will be as small as nine megabytes or even smaller dependent on the resolution of the image.

So why do we shoot RAW?

Photographers shoot RAW to maintain and capture all the information the camera produces when the image is taken. This information can then be edited by the photographer or retouched to their liking or brief. This gives the artist more creative control over the image and, with a larger file size, more manipulation can take place before any noticeable degradation to the image takes place.

If RAW is so good why would any photographer ever shoot JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)?

There may be a couple of reasons a photographer may choose JPG over RAW. Speed and size instantly come to mind. If you are a press photographer, for example, you may need to get the image sent to an editor to catch the deadline of the press rolling. Also, size may come into play if you are running out of room but need to capture many images. You may switch to JPG as it may be more important to capture an image at any cost than run out of space.

There is one other potential problem with RAW and that is longevity. Different cameras create different RAW file standards. These files are not common across all brands and software life JPG. As time passes by some forms of RAW may become obsolete and will no longer be supported by software. There is a third and possibly a fourth option DNG or TIFF.

DNG (Digital NeGative) Like JPG this is recognised across all brands and software and is a recognised standard file format. Like RAW’s DNG’s retain all the data produced by the camera.

TIFF (Tag Image File Format). Images including photographs and rasterised images can be stored as a TIFF. It is known as a lossless saving solution (even though, like JPG, you can compress a TIFF).  But it is different to a RAW file in that it can also retain any information the user has provided with in the file. RAW can only achieve this with a sidecar file produced by a program such as Lightroom or photoshop. Like RAW’s, TIFF’s can be very large in size.