When it comes to your camera there are lots of technical terms to get to grips with before you can even start to produce good photographs. Digital photography might seem like a lot less fuss these days, but it’s just as technical as it was in the days of film. Instead of film, we use memory cards and instead of a darkroom, we use Photoshop and Lightroom. They ultimately have the same jobs, they just do them in a different way.

In the same way as a film photographer would need to know which types of film to use for a specific need, a digital photographer has to choose which format to shoot on their memory card.

RAW or JPEG? That’s the big question.

Here are our top 5 key differences that you should think about when deciding which format is the best to use for your photography:

  1. RAW files cannot be read/viewed without a compatible software, i.e. Adobe Camera RAW, Adobe Lightroom, Capture One, etc., whereas, JPEG is a standard format which can be read/viewed on any computer/device without the use of a particular software.

ClickTip: First and foremost, if you don’t have a program that can read a RAW file, just use Jpeg (or you won’t even be able to view your images, let alone edit them — Don’t run before you can walk, it’s okay to take baby steps!)

  1. RAW files are much larger than their JPEG counterparts. This is because RAW files stay uncompressed until you make any manual changes and convert the file. A Jpeg, however, will automatically squash the data in the image to make it a smaller file.

ClickTip: Because a JPEG is already immediately compressed, remember this means you will automatically lose some of the detail right off the bat, compared to a RAW.

  1. A Jpeg image is much more ‘ready-to-use’ straight out of camera than a RAW image. Jpeg’s have a higher contrast and are sharper, straight out of camera than a RAW file, which is less contrasty and will require manual sharpening in post-processing.
  2. A RAW file will always require some post-processing, and due to its large format, will allow non-destructive edits to be made to the image. A Jpeg file, however, although able to be manipulated in post-processing, will lose data every time an edit is made.

Take some time and play with both. You will find that depending on what you are shooting Jpeg works just as well as RAW and saves you time on the back end. However, you get much more creative freedom with RAW images.