What is the difference between RAW and .jpg?

We often hear about shooting in RAW versus .jpg, what is the RAW format and why is it better than .jpg? Once you have a RAW file how do you get it back into .jpg format to share it online? Why do RAW files look drab compared to the image displayed on the back of your camera? All good questions, let’s talk about it!

What is RAW and why is it better than .jpg?

When you set up your camera, there are generally two choices for file format, and the most common of those are RAW and .jpg.  HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format) is also becoming more common and widely supported in many image editing programs, but most cameras at this point shoot in either RAW or .jpg. Think of the differences between these two file formats like a cake. The RAW is the ingredients of the cake that need to be put together to make a final image, and .jpg is more like a pre-made cake you get from the bakery. You can make some limited changes to the cake you get from the bakery, but it is basically going to be like the cake you bought, where the RAW file has more options available to fine tune the final product to your liking. In RAW you have to take the file to the final step and with the .jpg you are relying on the brain in your camera to finalize the image for you, including sharpening, white balance and embedded color profile.

RAW files are generally much larger but offer a lot more flexibility in editing. My general workflow is to use .jpg for sports shots, and .jpg for everything else. With RAW files you have full control over everything, and I prefer that rather than trusting my camera to determine what I was looking for. As a side note, many cameras offer the option to shoot RAW + .jpg so you can have the best of both worlds.

How do I get a RAW file back to .jpg?

You generally don’t want to upload a RAW file to the internet, you need to use a piece of software like photoshop, GIMP or the camera-specific software that came with your camera when you bought it. Learning the process of bringing an image to final is an art all in itself and there are many resources available including Scott Kelby which can get you on the right track and get you editing your images and even help you to develop your own style and look for your images.

Why do RAW files look so drab?

When you take an image, the camera embeds a .jpg preview in the file, so often the RAW file can look a bit boring or drab because it hasn’t been “finished”. This is where the editing software comes in.

There you have it, the differences between RAW and .jog can be a bit confusing especially when you are just starting out. I highly recommend that you find a good source for learning the basics of editing to get you on the right path, so there will be less to unlearn later on.

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