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Every photographer asked himself one day if he should record his photos in RAW format or in JPEG format? Some choose JPEG for its ease of use. Others prefer the RAW for its flexibility and the possibilities it offers for post-processing.

As often in photography, there is no ready-made answer, each format having its advantages and disadvantages. Each will define the most appropriate solution according to their needs, the time they have, their philosophy …

I suggest you review the main strengths and weaknesses of each of these formats to help you make the right choice.

1- RAW Format:

A RAW file is a file from the camera’s sensor. It has not undergone any modification or compression by the case. It is commonly considered the equivalent of the negative in digital photography.

Advantages:

  • The RAW format offers more possibilities for post-processing: it allows you to modify the exposure, saturation, sharpness, contrast curve … with less loss of quality than on a JPEG file.
  • White balance can be adjusted in software, without any loss of quality.
  • RAW has a wider dynamic range (the maximum gap between the darkest and the brightest areas of a photo). The images have more details in the dark parts and in the light parts.

Disadvantages:

  • The RAW file is heavier than a JPEG file: the memory card is filled faster, it takes longer to download images to the computer, the camera’s buffer is saturated faster in burst mode …
  • A RAW file is not directly exploitable, it requires processing on the computer.
  • You need to have specific software for processing and converting the file into a universal image format (JPEG, TIFF, etc.).

2- JPEG Format:

When shooting in JPEG, the camera will automatically apply a set of processes (saturation, contrast curve, sharpness …) to the raw image before saving it to the memory card.

Advantages:

  • Since the file has already been processed by the camera, the image can be used right away.
  • JPEG files are compressed files, so they are lighter than RAW files. You can save more photos to your memory card, upload your photos to your computer faster, and take more shots in burst mode before the camera’s buffer is full …
  • The JPEG format is a universal format, recognized by the vast majority of computer applications.

Disadvantages:

  • The image has already undergone a series of treatments, the additional retouches lead to a loss of quality (especially if you want to modify the exposure)
  • A change in the white balance results in a loss of image quality.
  • The dynamic range is smaller than on a RAW image.

RAW or JPEG, which format to choose?

You will use the JPEG format instead if:

  • you do not want to retouch your photos or minor retouching.
  • you need to broadcast your photos quickly. Sports photographers and more generally photo reporters prefer the JPEG format because they must quickly transmit their pictures to their editors.
  • you photograph very mobile subjects (animals, sportsmen …). You can take more pictures with the burst mode of your camera.

If, on the other hand, image quality is the first of your concerns, you will opt for the RAW format instead. Landscape, fashion and architecture photographers will certainly prefer the immense possibilities offered by RAW in post-processing.

At the moment, many cameras can record simultaneously in both formats. If you are still undecided, this can be a good compromise. You will only have to retouch the photos that really need it. But in this case, you will need a large memory card.

And you, what choice did you make?

What are the reasons that make you shoot in JPEG rather than RAW or vice versa? What is your preferred format? Feel free to share your experience by leaving a comment below.

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