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Photography Basics: RAW vs JPEG ( It Does Make All the Difference!)

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If you are passionate about photography you would understand the “RAW vs JPEG” dilemma. It’s a perennial debate that every photographer has to face some day. While some prefer shooting RAW, there are others who are comfortable with JPEG. That latest DSLR model that you bought recently would be of no use if you don’t understand when you should shoot RAW and when you need to use JPEG.

You have flipped all the pages of the booklet that comes along with the new camera and gone through the details linked to the three important elements that help you take amazing photos, namely shutter speed, aperture, and ISO but you are still left wondering on how to deal with it. While you may like the JPEG for some time, one day when you find the RAW setting in your camera, you would be confused as to which offers the best quality.

To avoid that, you need to learn that basics of both RAW and JPEG formats, along with their pros and cons, and other technical terms related to them.

What is a RAW File

What is a RAW File
RAW files for the higher dynamic range

RAW is not exactly image by definition, but is rather a format that needs a special, easily available software to view. This is essentially in proprietary format and generates 8 bits per colour with red, blue, and green in 12 bits per X. Y location.

Advantages of RAW Format

  • RAW images are of larger size, 12-bits and hence, contain maximum data with around 4096 shades each of red, blue, and green. That’s about 68 billion colours.
  • RAW files consist of higher dynamic range that can be used later to retrieve the images or parts of images that are over or under exposed.
  • RAW files can be modified as while these images are generated, the entire camera settings are simply added into the files. While the image remains unchanged, you can make any modifications post-processing using programs like Photoshop or Lightroom.
  • Helps you convert in any colour space during post-processing due to the number colours saved in RAW files.
  • RAW files make use of lossless compression as compared to JPEG that use “lossy” compression. This helps avoid any artefacts to appear on the compressed images.
  • The fact that there is no sharpening of image occurs inside the camera settings, makes it easier for you to use enhanced sharpening algorithms for your PC images.

Disadvantages of RAW format

  • It takes more time to shoot RAW in comparison to JPEG as the RAW files need to be processed. RAW files are usually up to 3 times larger than JPEG and so, have more uncompressed data.
  • Given that RAW files are larger than JPEG files, it slows down the camera automatically.
  • RAW files are usually captured in proprietary format which means that there’s no official information on how to convert the RAW files.

What is JPEG

What is JPEG
JPG or JPEG: Click and Post!

JPEG is an accepted format that can be read by any image software available in the market. It may also be an open source format. It generates precisely 8-bits per colour that is, 12-bits per location.

It is one of the most popular image formats in use these days because it is competent enough to display abundance of colours in an extremely compressed file. Lossy is the compression method used in JPEG which means that specific data is withdrawn from the image. The compression levels may vary on JPEG images that affect the size and quality of the image.

Advantages of JPEG format

  • JPEG images do not need processing as the images are completely processed in the camera with all specification taken care of such as, while balance, sharpening, tone curve, colour saturation, and colour space.
  • JPEG images do not use much of your storage as the image is fairly small compared to RAW images.
  • The smaller size of the images also makes it easier for the JPEG files to be written faster. This helps in increasing the number of pictures that can accommodate in the in the camera buffer (temporary).
  • JPEG image format is used by most of the latest devices and software programs.
  • You can have different size options and compression levels for saving JPEG images in the digital cameras, providing you the option to choose over the size and quality of the image.
  • The smaller images also helps backup faster and more efficiently.

Disadvantages of JPEG format

  • Lossy is a compression algorithm in JPEG formats that removes some of the details from your clicks. This leads to display of “artefacts” in the images, especially in the files that are highly compressed and makes it prominent in vision.
  • It puts a limit on the possibility of 16 million colours as the images are smaller that is, only of 8-bit. This leads to images without many of the colours that your camera could record.
  • The range used by JPEG format is less dynamic compared to RAW files that results in images where cannot retrieve the ones that are over or under exposed along with the shadow areas.
  • The fact that JPEG images are completely processed within the camera makes it almost impossible to reverse any setting errors that might occur inside the camera.

10 Reasons Why You Should Be Shooting RAW

Reasons to Choose RAW
Simply Better! (Source)

1.    Shooting in RAW helps record all the data from the camera sensor generating superior quality files.
2.    It offers shooting in higher levels of brightness leading to smooth transition of tones. RAW records up to 16, 384 levels of brightness in comparison of 256 levels of brightness by JPEG.
3.    Shooting in RAW results in additional data in the file that makes it much easier to rectify the image without a radical cut down in quality.
4.    RAW format automatically captures the white balance and does not give you any other option. However, you can adjust the white balance due to additional information in the file.
5.    It offers sharpening and noise algorithms through a program called Lightroom which is much stronger than the ones available in the camera.
6.    While making modifications to your RAW file, the original data is never really affected.
7.    It captures finer levels of colours and tones helping to generate better prints for your files.
8.    Choose any colour space with RAW while you are exporting the files.
9.    Using programs like Lightroom and Aperture that are workflow focused makes it easier to generate large batches of images.
10.  Because you have additional information in a RAW file, you can easily correct over or underexposed images.

RAW vs. JPEG: A Technical Explanation

The processor of the digital camera generates digital information from analogue light, which is the ones and the zeroes, and then records it. Camera sensors contain small units that are called as pixels, viz., and the 13-megapixel specification that we read on the camera contains 13 million pixels.

On pressing the shutter, the light hits the sensor and each of the pixels determines the light intensity by estimating the number of photons hitting the sensor. The voltage in every single pixel is changed by the charge of the photons after which the camera records the voltage values. So, that’s when the RAW files are created which is a compilation of the recorded voltage numbers gathered from 13 million pixels.

Colour filters are used in front of each pixel that helps in measuring the intensity of individual colours such as, red, blue, or green.

JPEG Conversion

JPEG Conversion
Lets Break it Down! (Source)

While shooting in JPEG mode, the camera captures the RAW information and processes it through the image processor. This image processing is relatively complicated as it first tries to count the light intensity value for two missing colours for individual pixels depending on the neighbouring pixels of different other colours.

The image processor then applies sharpening, contrast, and saturation. It fixes the white balance and the colour space according to the camera settings that has been already selected by the photographer before capturing the shot. This is followed by JPEG compression and the image file getting saved in the memory chip.

Different JPEGs from Identical RAWs

Wondering what it means?

It’s simple.

If you use the same sensors for two different camera models and capture the identical RAW data, however, uses separate algorithms to that helps translate colour information, it would generate different results. In the JPEG images, you may notice more pleasant colours or more accurate skin tones compared to other photos.

This is because every brand uses different methods to translate the missing colour information.

While shooting RAW, the voltage data of every pixel is captured in a file and stored in the memory chip of the camera. The rest of the process such as, application of white balance, contrast, and saturation along with translation of colour is carried out manually via RAW programs like Capture One, Lightroom, RAW image, etc.

Non - destructive RAW Processing

When we process a RAW file through Lightroom and start shifting the colour balance bar, we are actually not changing the file. We are rather changing only the data interpretation. As we are unable to see RAW information directly, we can see a preview generated by Lightroom, which is a JPEG version of the interpretation, while the RAW data remains intact.

In short, while shooting JPEG, it’s based on the processor of the camera to interpret the RAW data and generate the final image. This entire process depends on the calculations, algorithms, and averages. On the contrary, while shooting RAW, there is complete control on the photo development process as several variations of the same RAW file can be created. However, it’s a time consuming affair and takes higher levels of experience and expertise.

Difference Between RAW and JPEG

RAW vs JPEG Difference
Makes a World of a Difference! (Source)

RAW format, in photography, is the raw data captured by the camera sensor which is unprocessed and unprepared. It’s like an uncooked food that’s ready to be cooked. It will not look attractive; however, has great probability of converting it into something that you want.

JPEG, on the contrary, is ready food, that is, final product that’s already processed in your desired settings. RAW images, on the other hand, can be converted into great images after you have applied a number of edits unless you are happy with the result. You can then store it in JPEG format that looks amazing, but there’s no way that you can go back!

Summing Up

So if you are new to photography and want to transform this passion into a prospective career in future, it’s better to shoot in RAW format. However, if it’s just for fun, JPEG is the right bet.

No matter what format you choose, the important thing is to keep clicking!

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