What is the difference between RAW and JPEG files?

The RAW shooting feature was reserved for expensive professional DSLR cameras. Many mirrorless cameras (non-SLR), compact cameras, and even smartphones can now take raw photos, but the literature describing their properties may be lacking. This can lead people to stick with JPEG to avoid confusion, or shoot without knowing how to get the most out of the RAW format. Let’s use a visual example to discover the difference between raw and compressed image files. It also gives reasons why he should (or shouldn’t) consider using the RAW format for his photos.

What are JPEG and Raw Formats?

You’ve probably already seen some JPEG (aka JPG) files today on this website alone. If someone emails or texts you a photo, it is most likely in his JPEG format (you can tell by the name of the photo followed by the format name, for example “BabyFoto.jpg ”). It is the most popular compressed image format and has become a common standard for nearly every photo-enabled program and web browser on the planet. Capturing a JPEG image with your camera allows you to import the photo to your computer, paste it into a presentation, or post it on social media without worrying about incompatibilities or taking up too much storage space. Convenient.

However, the strengths of his JPEG as a compression format are also its weaknesses. There is a lot of light and color data captured by the camera’s image sensor, but it needs to be “thrown away” during the file compression process. Therefore, a raw format was created to put all the raw data into the hands of the photographer.

“Raw data is just that. The camera shoots all raw data, shapes it into a real image and he saves it as a JPEG,” says Ken, veteran photographer and camera reviewer. says Rockwell.

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Many people experienced RAW photography for the first time with the Nikon D1 camera released in 1999.
“It was the world’s first practical DSLR,” says Rockwell. “The previous one was a quirky scientific experiment.”

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With this camera, Nikon introduced his NEF RAW format, which is still used today. Most other camera makers have their own file types, but Adobe also developed Digital Negative (DNG) to create a standardized RAW format. Most other raw data types he can convert to DNG with minimal data loss.

To unlock the full potential of your RAW photos, you should use software such as Adobe Lightroom to process, edit, and compress your RAW photos. You can then import and share them like any other photo. RawTherapee is also available as a free photo editing solution. Fine-tune exposure, white balance, and color data using RAW files from your software of choice, without sacrificing basic image quality. You can really see the difference between Raw and JPEG in this edit.

Comparison of Raw and JPEG: Details

To show how the two formats hold up, I shot the same image in both JPEG and Raw at several different exposure values. Let’s start with an image that my Nikon exposure meter considers “properly” exposed.

Almost the same image without processing The raw has more vibrant colors and looks a little lighter.This difference indicates additional data hidden in the file. If you zoom in, you can also see the optical imperfections called color fringes on the edges of the Polaroid. This is automatically removed by the camera during his JPEG processing. However, this can be easily fixed in Lightroom. Now let’s see what happens when the image is about 2 stops underexposed.

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Underexposed image

The original photo looks pretty dark, but you can still see the details. The raw file after processing looks very similar to a correctly exposed image. JPEG can also pull a surprising amount of data out of shadows, but colors look very washed out and fiddling with the saturation control doesn’t really bring them back to natural tones. So what happens to extremely underexposed images?

Extremely underexposed image

If there are 5 or more stops below, the picture will look almost black. With the exposure slider maxed out and chroma noise reduction added, the raw copy isn’t pretty, but you get an accurate idea of ​​what the shot is about. JPEG doesn’t look like a usable image because only the brightest highlights are visible. When it comes to shadow details, no data exist. Ugly color artifacts are also present throughout the frame
A similar effect can be seen in overexposed images.

Overexposed image

digital sensor isn’t very good at preserving highlight detail, but Nikon Raw can handle the level of overexposure just fine, making the image look more natural. The JPEG’s modified highlights instead have an ugly burn-in look, and the image shifts to a sickly green tint throughout.

jpeg green

One of the most useful features of the raw process is the ability to adjust white balance without affecting the underlying color values. Even if you set the color temperature by mistake when shooting, you can correct it without error by printing this white balance value into the JPEG image. Some corrections can be made, but the drastic shift in the photo results in a blue cast that never completely disappears in the highlights. and may contain unwanted color variations. All of these flaws are amplified when trying to edit JPEG files. Also keep in mind that each camera’s RAW format reacts differently to processing.

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“Each manufacturer’s raw data is very different. Even camera models can be very different,” he says Rockwell. “We found that the Leica M9 DNG had a lot of highlights to recover from, but the M240 fell far short.

Should You Shoot Raw?

Small sensors like point-and-shoot cameras and smartphones generally have less flexible RAW to work with. If you’re confident in your ability to get the right exposure and don’t want to do any creative editing, the RAW format doesn’t offer much advantage. As you can see in the example images, slight JPEG corrections are possible without significant degradation.

Raw’s big drawback is file size. A raw photo with this extra data can have a file size 2 to 6 times larger than its JPEG counterpart. Compressed formats allow more images to fit in the same space. Many professional news and sports shooters make a conscious decision to use JPEG as they may need to generate thousands of images per day. They are more interested in realistic color reproduction than sophisticated filters.

“Saving raw data for later processing (“Shooting Raw”) just made no sense to me as an active shooter. This means that all the processing is done later in software instead of free in the camera hardware in real time,” says Rockwell. Huge data management slowdowns get in the way of daily professional shooting. Raw is good if you shoot less than 100 frames a day, but I shoot more.”

However, changes The advantage of RAW files is obvious when you need to shoot in difficult or often unfavorable lighting conditions, especially with large image sensors.

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