Jpeg vs Raw which is better and why?
Jpeg vs Raw let’s first take a look at their differences.
JPEG and RAW are basically just tow different formats for storing your image on your memory card so let’s look at the exact differences between the two so we can better understand why this is so important….
- Smaller file sizes.
- They can be printed immediately from your camera.
- They have been edited in camera for you.
- They appear sharper and more colourful immediately.
- Saves space on your storage device and Memory cards.
- It deletes some details it thinks you won’t want.
- Often times it edits the photo incorrectly.
- Loss of dynamic range.
- Less details for large prints.
- Retains all the hidden details in your photographs.
- Gives you more control over the final results.
- Gives you greater dynamic range to recover shadow detail.
- Better for large prints.
- Photographs have to be edited.
- Larger file sizes.
- More storage space needed for them.
- Images appear to be less sharp and dull.
The main difference between Jpeg vs Raw photographs is that Jpeg is a method of compression, so it makes the file size of each photograph smaller on your memory card by getting rid of any unused data (“unused data” is the key point here) now some of you will think that’s a huge advantage in the Jpeg vs Raw debate for the Jpeg file format but it is also one of the serious issues with Jpeg photographs. I will explain why in more detail in a few minutes.
Secondly… with a jpeg photograph your photograph is also edited for you by your camera.
Further down the page you can see what your camera actually does and how it edits a photograph for you without you even knowing it.
So, yes your camera captures the raw photograph edits it and compresses it for you, more often than not it doesn’t do a very good job of editing the image though.
If there is a large contrast in your image ie… a lot of highlights (bright areas) and shadows (dark areas) your camera can’t actually see the difference between these two extremes.
To understand why this is an issue we need to look at what happens with a Raw photograph.
Raw photographs on the other hand are completely untouched files carrying all that raw data from your cameras sensor or the “pure light” that your camera saw while it was taking the photograph.
Some of you will say ah so this “truly shows what the scene is like” and yes you are partially correct as it only shows what the scene was like to your camera and that’s the critical point here.
Our digital cameras see light completely differently to the way the human eye does.
The point behind taking a photograph is to capture the scene as we saw it at the time not how an electronic sensor interprets that light and sees it.
Getting back to Raw files, the issue with Raw photographs is two fold.
Firstly, it is a larger file size due to the amount of data in the image. So it takes up a lot more space on your memory card.
Secondly, it is untouched by your camera and completely unedited so the image looks nothing like it was when you were actually standing there taking the photograph.
You can clearly see this in the images below. So we need to edit the photograph to get it back to the way it was when we saw it.
Now some people go way too far on this and it looks very unrealistic but then again it’s their right to edit their photographs as they want too. I personally see editing as a way to bring the image more or less back to the way you saw it when you were standing there.
Now please remember your camera automatically edits Jpeg photographs when you shoot in Jpeg so the whole debate about Raw vs Edited Photographs doesn’t make a lot of sense really.
Every digital image taken today on a camera is edited unless you shoot in Raw but then you have to edit it afterwards.
So why would you then take Raw Photographs?
When you think Raw photographs have larger file sizes and then the photographs need to be edited it looks like there are two serious immediate disadvantages for shooting in Raw and that’s about right.
So the whole debate Jpeg vs Raw debate is over right? Well it’s not yet and here is why…
The real point of shooting in Raw vs Jpeg for photographers is to keep all that sumptuous detail. Yes, it’s all really down to the detail… In a jpeg file most of that glorious shadow detail is deemed unnecessary and just deleted by your camera to make the file size smaller and it’s then lost forever as it’s deemed to be a waste of space.
In a raw file on the other hand all that detail is still there and you can edit the Raw photograph to bring out all those beautiful shadow details. This process while it might be more time consuming gives you a result that’s a lot closer to the way it was when you originally stood there and captured the scene.
So why does all this happen?
It all comes down to how incredibly special the human eye is and how we can look at a scene and see such a huge variation in light that’s called Dynamic range.
Your camera can only see about a third of that variation in light through a jpeg image. In a raw file after it is processed you can bring it back to roughly about two thirds of the dynamic range of the human eye.
While this is still not perfect it is an lot better than only one third of the range. So this is the principle reason why we edit photographs and capture them in RAW. Which brings us to….
How do you edit a raw file?
You can use programs like Luminar AI, Luminar Neo, ON1 Photo Raw 2022, Lightroom and photoshop (you can click on the program name to read my reviews of those software applications and get a discount code on them also) to edit your Raw photographs, the beauty of it all is you can also get a free trial with them so you have nothing to lose, just download the software (no credit card details needed).
The beauty of the highlighted software above is it’s a once off payment and there are no monthly rental charges.
So lets have a look at a raw file…
The below photograph was shot in RAW and the exposure was set to expose the sun reasonably correctly. As you can see the main bulk of the photograph is under exposed so it’s very dark apart from the sun. This photograph has a huge dynamic range and even when standing there looking at the scene it was difficult taking it all in with the human eye without squinting.
The below shot is the Jpeg photograph captured in camera, most cameras have the facility to capture both raw and jpeg at the same time. The jpeg file appearing to do a better job.
So the jpeg looks a lot better than the raw file, you can see more of the foreground and the sheep are clearly visible also. This is all down to the fact that your camera has edited the Raw file it captured for you and converted it to a edited Jpeg file then.
The Jpeg photograph still isn’t right though as you can see the grass is still very dark and lacking texture. Before we do anymore with the Jpeg version let’s try editing the Raw photograph and see if we can recover a bit more detail in it?
Below is the edited raw file and wow look at that for a transformation. It’s hard to believe they are the same photograph.
I have a video further down the page showing the simple editing process involved.
I have the Raw photograph and the edited Raw photograph side by side below just so you can see the transformation in the photograph and the sheer power of capturing a photograph in Raw. Now a slight point to note here is that the camera I used for this particular shat was a Nikon D850 which has an incredible Dynamic range so not every came out there can do this.
The edited Raw photograph result is almost exactly what it looked like when I was standing there. That’s the power of capturing photographs in the Raw format. Yes they are larger file sizes and they involve more work as you have to edit them but just look at the results you can get from them.
So how did I edit the Raw photograph to get it to look like that?
In this instance I used Lightroom to edit the photograph, I simple brought the highlights down (the brighter parts of the scene) and I brought the shadows up (the darker parts of the scene) then I brought up the exposure a bit to brighten the overall picture and your done. Again it’s all shown in the video below.
Editing the Jpeg Photograph.
So let’s try editing the jpeg file now in exactly the same way and see how that goes. It was a lot brighter to start with so you would think it would be very easy to get similar results…
The below photograph is the best result I could get from the Jpeg file and again you can see this in the video further down this post.
Now you might think I adjusted the colour in the grass but I didn’t and that those dark patches are also still there.
No matter what you do the dark parts they will never come back because those details have been stripped out of the photograph when it was converted to a Jpeg image. All I did in editing the jpeg file was drop the highlights and bring up the shadow details and the overall exposure which was exactly the same way I edited the raw file.
If you are enjoying this blog post then when you’re finished please feel free to check out the rest of my Photography tips and tricks in the menu above 🙂
So why did the colours change?
Remember I mentioned before that a jpeg file is a compressed file and that your camera strips out any information it deems to be useless… well the texture in the dark patches of the grass and the variation of tones and colour in the grass were deemed to be useless and have been deleted when I bumped up the shadows and exposure that’s what I got.
All these bits of information were deleted because your camera decided they were useless and this is exactly why most professional photographers only ever shoot in Raw. It gives you a lot more room to play around with the exposure so you can recreate the scene that was before you.
That photograph would be impossible to capture in a single image without using a graduated filter in Jpeg.
But as you can see it’s entirely possible to capture it in Raw.
A certain amount of this depends on your camera and its dynamic range, I was using the Nikon D850 for this photograph and as you can see it has an amazing dynamic range.
I have the editing of the jpeg file shown below in the screenshots where you can see the shadow details being changed and the effect it had on the image.
The above shot has the exposure bumped up a little and the highlights brought down also but the shadows are still as captured.
The above shot has the shadows brought up to +50, this was as hard as you could push the shadow details before it all started to look unreal.
The above photograph has the shadows brought up to +100 and as you can see it looks terrible now.
My video of the raw file being edited is directly below. See this file being transformed with 4 simple steps.
Have a look at my photography tips and tricks section in the menu where I cover everything from…
I hope this very simple explanation helps you understand the Jpeg vs Raw debate and don’t forget to checkout my Photography tips and tricks page here.
Lastly, can I just say if you are shooting away from the sun and lets say it is an overcast day, the fact that there is not as much dynamic range in your image means that you can easily capture every bit of detail you will need in a jpeg file. So you don’t always need this extended dynamic range.
If you are printing extremely large file sizes there is also an added advantage of shooting in raw, that’s a whole other debate or blog post though.
See you out there,
Kieran Hayes, Kieran Hayes Photography landscape photography Ireland. raw vs jpeg