JPG vs RAW – Difference And Purpose

Esta entrada también está disponible en: Deutsch Español Bosanski

Visualizing the difference between the JPG format and the RAW format of your camera can be similar to deciding whether to buy a mix to make a cake or to buy the ingredients separately and make it from scratch. If you know how to make cakes, either both can be super good, but it will depend on what you want to achieve, the time you have to cook them and the devices you have.

The cake mix looks like the JPG format. It has a certain number of ingredients that do not have to be altered, because the formula is already prepared and you just have to put everything together and put it in the oven.

Making the cake from scratch, on the other hand, requires more time, more work, more ingredients. That cake with more processes is similar to what happens with the RAW format . Both cakes can be incredible, and both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s see what those differences are and which format may be more convenient for you.

Table of Contents

  1. JPG and RAW. What are they?
  2. Dynamic range. Editing and digital development possibilities
  3. Color and sharpness. More information, more colors
  4. Metadata. Photo birth certificate
  5. Final comparison. Who will win?
  6. Summary and tips

To begin, let’s quickly define what these letters are that we repeat so much.

JPG or JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group , which is the name of the expert committee that created this standard for file and image compression and encoding.

RAW format For its part, it was taken from the term used in analog photography to refer to “camera brutes”, which we also know as negatives. It means crude in English, and It is so called because the file that is generated is not compressed, but contains all the information of the image as it was captured by the camera sensor .

The difference between the JPG and RAW formats on your camera is like making a cake. You can either buy the pre-made cake mix or purchase the ingredients separately and make it from scratch.

Let’s go back to the cake example. The JPG method compresses images to a format that has been made universal. It is the one you use every day when you share an image of your puppy on WhatsApp, for example. This image has all the default ingredients, like the cake mix. The RAW format, on the other hand, offers you a raw image, which, better said, you can cook to your liking.

Let’s see how they differ so you can better choose when to use them.

This value measures the difference in brightness between the brightest and darkest areas of the photo. That is the amount of information the camera can capture from highlights and shadows .

The JPG format collects a smaller amount of information than the RAW format. Look at the difference in these examples:

You surely noticed that RAW looks much darker, and you are correct. What happens is that RAW has much more shadow information than JPG . The landscape in JPG was previously compressed by the camera, while the one that was saved in RAW format remains in a raw state, it has to be cooked.

This kitchen of raw information from RAW is carried out in a process called “digital development” . Again referring to analog photography, with the difference that this development does not need a dark room, but a program like Lightroom or Photoshop. In them, you can modify the different values of the dynamic range, depending, as you can imagine, on the format.

The thing is like this: the more information collected in the photo, there are more editing possibilities to obtain a more precise result.

Let’s see how those same photos look, after a basic edit:

For this example I edited the RAW first and copied the values in the JPG, so you can see how subtle the changes in the first compared to the result of the second. This does not mean that a JPG image cannot be edited or developed for optimal results, it just means that RAW has a better chance of doing it in detail.

Because it is an image that contains much more information, RAW photography is richer in color and sharpness possibilities .

To be able to appreciate this without headaches, let’s take a theoretical parenthesis . A color image is usually represented by a bit depth usually between 8 and 24. The number of bits defines the amount of information that each pixel has (which is the little “light bulb” that makes digital imaging possible). What does this mean? Simple: the amount of possible color tones that are captured in the photograph depends on the number of bits.

With this in mind, the difference in color that each format picks up can be expressed in numbers, and it’s huge!

In an 8-bit JPG image, there are approximately 16.8 million colors.

Sounds like a lot to you?

Well, in a 14-bit RAW image there are approximately 4.4 trillion colors.

Imagine how many editing possibilities can emerge from that outrage of colors. I’ll give you a moment to figure it out.

The difference between the JPG and RAW formats on your camera is like making a cake. You can either buy the pre-made cake mix or purchase the ingredients separately and make it from scratch.

Returning to what concerns us, the sharpness of the photo, of course it also has more possibilities for detailed adjustment in the RAW format. If you take a JPG photo with a sharpness that is not what you originally wanted, it will be more difficult to edit in a subtle way to obtain the expected result. It is hard but not impossible!

One last aspect I want to mention is the metadata. This information, available in RAW format, is important if you want photos with details that confirm that the image is yours.

The metadata includes the information of the camera with which you took the photo, the lens, the aperture, the ISO and if you have GPS it includes the location. In short, all the information that can help you, for example, to prove that a photo is yours and not someone else’s.

It is true that so far it may seem that the RAW format is better than the JPG format, but that is not entirely true. Both have, of course, their pros and cons, their ups and its downs . In the words of the magician Merlin, The sword in the Stone , this is “what gives the world flavor.”

Let’s review the ups and downs of both, in a simple comparative table, so that you can see it more clearly . You can save it and have it handy, in case you forget:

By setting the camera earlier, the photo requires less editing.The photo always requires editing or digital development.
Smaller file size = faster on camera and memory card.Larger file size = slower camera speed requires memory cards with high speed.
Smaller file size = less possibility of editing.Larger file size = more detail editing possibilities.
Full compatibility with software, editing programs and for social networks.Reduced compatibility, sometimes programs have to be updated to be able to open the RAW files of certain very new cameras.

Who wins? That just depends on you. The one that is most useful to you wins, depending on the situation and what you want to achieve. Remember that both cakes can be delicious!

Recapping. Both formats are useful and have their advantages. Each one offers you different possibilities, what changes is what you want to do. Still not sure when to use one or the other? I’ll tell you how I do it.

When do I use JPG?

  • When I go on a trip and I don’t want to carry so many memory cards or I can’t download the photos to an external hard drive.
  • When the conditions of the set can be more controlled, so that configuring the camera before the result is closer to what I am looking for.
  • When doing bursts that require more speed from the memory card and camera.

When do I use RAW?

  • When I want to prioritize the post production of the photo.
  • When I am working with images and I know I will have the time to dedicate development and editing work to them.
  • When I want to make sure the photo file contains the metadata.
  • When I have enough memory and hard drive space to store them.

I hope this post is useful for you. Remember that the most important difference is in what you want to achieve from the photo you will take.

Leave a Comment