Jpeg vs Raw which is better and why?
So what is the big issue with Jpeg vs Raw, why does it matter and what are raw photographs?
In this post I explain the differences between Jpeg vs Raw with the aid of photographs and a video (it’s further down on the page) showing how different these two photography file formats really are. So if you have 5 mins please read on as I explain the exact differences.
JPEG vs RAW the main differences and why they are so different. JPEG files are smaller and are pre edited by your camera, RAW files are larger and unedited so you need more storage space to store them and you also have to edit them afterwards. Let’s look at it in a lot more detail below…
Whenever we discuss RAW files there is a very dirty word called “editing” (there I said it) that also pops up. Before you go running for the hills just stick around for another two minutes and let me explain why Jpeg vs Raw and editing are interlinked.
Let’s have a look at the technical differences between the two first in the panel below and then we can talk about why one is better than the other and have a look at photography examples and my video on Jpeg vs Raw photographs also.
|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
|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.
|Negatives||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
|Photographs have to be edited,
Larger file sizes,
More storage space needed for them,
Images appear to be less sharp and dull.
Jpeg vs Raw file formats explained in more detail…
Let’s look at both file formats in a small bit more detail to help us understand the huge differences between them.
The main difference between Jpeg vs Raw photographs is that Jpeg is a method of compression, so it makes the file size 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 this in more detail in a few minutes.
To understand why this is an issue we need to see 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.
So why would you then take Raw Photographs?
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.
How do you edit a raw file?
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