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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Distinction Between RAW and JPEG File Types

First what is RAW and JPEG? RAW and JPEG are the abbreviated names for the types of digital files your camera stores on your memory card. If you're familiar with computers you know that files are saved in different formats so it can be used universally in a certain program. The format you shoot in is important because it essentially decides the quality, usability, and visual look of your images. So what are the differences?

In short, JPEG is a compressed and processed file. When you shoot in JPEG, your camera only saves a portion of the "information" or quality it can capture to save room for more images (Note: the amount of compression of quality is dependent on the type of JPEG you tell your camera to shoot in). Furthermore, between the time you click the shutter and your image is saved to your memory card, in JPEG the image is "developed" or changed to some extent. The images saturation, contrast, and sharpness is often modified for fast processing. This is often problematic because such a change cannot be undone after the fact.

RAW on the other hand is untouched and stands in its full file. As the name suggests, the camera file is raw, meaning nothing is done to the image itself. This doesn't mean the image can't be altered in the future, but rather in the second of the shot no part of the image is changed.  Another distinction between RAW and JPEG, is that in RAW all the information that can be possibly recorded is saved. This causes slower image processing and less room for further pictures (RAW can take up to 4x as much space as a JPEG file).

Now we will the compare the pros and cons of each format: 

Pros-  1. Each image takes less space so there is more memory on your camera or computer
           2. Images are easier to view and alter on post-processing programs
           3. Images are easier to share and can be used more universally
Cons- 1. Some of your images information and quality is lost due to compression
           2. Images are changed to a certain extent when saved to a memory card and such changes can't be undone. This gives you less control over the final result of your image.

Pros-  1. No information or quality is lost when take the picture
           2. Gives you more power in the outcome/look of your final photograph
Cons- 1. Can't be instantly used or shared because of developing time
           2. Continuous shooting is slightly slower (not good for action photography)
           3. Uncompressed files take up to 4x as much space, meaning you need a good memory card and computer
           4. Requires certain programs to use and process (if you have Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, Adobe Photoshop, or Nikon Capture, you're fine).

So which will work for me and what do you recommend? 
The choice between JPEG and RAW is dependent on what kind of photography you do. For casual shooters or action photographers I recommend the highest quality of JPEG.  For serious amateurs or professionals, RAW is crucial because it offers the highest of quality images. In most cameras there is a JPEG+RAW option that offers the best of both worlds (that's what I shoot in), but unfortunately takes up even more space.

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Chase Guttman is a talented and passionate, award-winning photographer having shot everything from landscapes to wildlife to portraits and events all around the world. Chase Guttman is also an affordable NYC assignment photographer, ready to fulfill your photographic wishes with his distinct style and attention to detail. He also runs this popular photography tips and guide blog, with weekly insights into photography that helps everyone from amateurs to pros better their photographic skill. Visit us at our website:

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