When You Should Shoot Photos In JPEG And When You Should Use RAW

All DSLRs, and even many point-and-shoots nowadays, can shoot in RAW format, meaning you can save your images as a completely unprocessed file that offers the potential for a higher-quality photo. The downside is that RAW files take up a lot of space and require extra work to process in post. So when should you use this format or when should you stick to space-saving JPEGs? SLR Lounge performed several tests to come to a (mostly) definitive conclusion.

Photo by SLR Lounge.

As you can see from the image comparison above, the JPEG is naturally a nicer-looking image. This is because the camera makes a few processing choices for you, such as heightened contrast and level adjustments. While this works well in the example, it might not be your ideal look in every situation — especially when your lighting isn't ideal. RAW doesn't do the work for you, but it gives you the room to adjust in post. This means more time, but ultimately it also means the opportunity to get the best quality out of your images. These are the basic upsides and downsides for shooting RAW and shooting JPEG, but what situations call for which formats? Here's what SLR Lounge discovered in their tests.

When to Shoot JPEG

  • When you need to display images immediately
  • Shooting for lower-quality uses, like the web
  • You have a restricted amount of space on your memory card(s)
  • Rapid-succession shooting

When to Shoot RAW

  • Professional shooting, journalistic shooting
  • When you need additional range and tonal detail

While RAW is ultimately better, most of the time your situations won't call for it and JPEG files will be sufficient. Of course, if you enjoy taking the time to process your photos individually, you may as well shoot in RAW. A lot of the time, it comes down to a personal decision. If you can't make up your mind and want to figure out what works best, use the JPEG+RAW setting on your camera (assuming it has this — most do these days) to capture both and see what you realistically use. So long as you have a memory card with a large enough capacity (or enough backup cards), you can get away with capturing both on a regular basis.

Personally, I opt for JPEG in the majority of circumstances, even when shooting with my good camera, as most of the photos I take are for the web or for my own personal use. I'd even use JPEG more often when photographing an event professionally because it was faster. Ultimately good lighting and composition are going to make your photos better than a few changes you can make in post. That said, for portraits and other instances where you can take your time, RAW is kind of a no-brainer. For me, it ultimately comes down to a decision about time. How about you?

For a great visual comparison of all the differences between the two formats, as capture by a Canon 5D Mark II with a 50mm f/1.4 lens, check out the full post over at SLR Lounge.

RAW vs JPEG (JPG) - The Visual Guide [SLR Lounge via DIY Photography]


Comments

    Your raw seems to be missing the metadata it stores that would otherwise make it look almost exactly like the jpg.
    Your assertions are correct, but it's hardly fair to strip a bunch of data and not explain a) that you did, b) how being able to do so is useful. Although I guess the article does the latter.
    Jpg has camera colour profile and e-filter data destructively overlayed and saved to a format with less colour depth and destructive compression
    Raw simply stores the camera colour profile and e-filter metadata inside the raw, but separate from the raw pixel data... is uncompressed and uses 10+bits for colour depth compared to the relatively puny 8bit jpg format.
    ...But you already knew that and just wrote the article this way to goad people into posting. Didn't you? ;]

    With Lightroom being as cheap and easy as it is to apply fairly general settings to multiple images quickly, I personally can't see the downside to using RAW files. I can't think of any circumstances where I've taken a photo and not tweaked it a little in PP.

    Great post, nicely balanced arguments for each option rather than all the single answers i've seen elsewhere.

    Horses for courses. For me, a RAW file is the closest thing to a digital negative I can get out of my DSLR. I have never regretted shooting in only RAW, but I have regretted shooting only in Jpeg.

    Ditto @ Heisenburg.
    With memory this cheap there is no excuse for not using RAW.
    Regret having used RAW - Never, including editing time.
    Regret having used JPEG, enough to warrant me not using it any more.

    On a recent trip to the South Island My girlfriend shot in RAW while I shot in JPEG. She was able to take about 300 photos on a 16GB card, and had to actively manage the number of shots for the week we spent on our travels (you can't buy an SD card at Mt Cook or Milford Sound). I was free to be snap happy, and took over 1,600 photos, and still had plenty of space left on my card.

    I don't need or want all of my photos to look professional, so I'm happy to stick to JPEG, until I really know what I'm doing with my camera.

    Forgot to mention that I also had a 16GB card!

    @Bazuden; In that case, I really think that some foresight could have been beneficial. If you know you're not going to have a laptop/hard drive to store your photos on the trip, then buy another card if you know one card will only store 300 photos?

    LOL @ the "shoot jpeg because then you won't have to think and buy a couple of extra cards" argument. Genius.

    Why anyone would shoot jpeg unless under extreme time pressure (pro sport photography, etc) is beyond me, given the extra latitude RAW files give.

    I'm fairly sure my 550d (18MP) will take 1000ish photos on a 32 gig card. What kind of hardcore RAWs is a camera taking to only fit 300 on a 16gb?

      Ben, 300 photos shot in RAW on a 16GB SD is about right, go to amazon and buy a couple of SD cards (they're only cheap) and keep them in your bag, also buy a waterproof case for the SD's to keep them protected, thats what I do anyway and get on pretty well

      Also use smaller SD's because if your SD gets corrupt on a large SD you lose everything! It's happened to me and it isn't the best haha!

    Ben, my GF uses a 60D, which gives her somewhere between 300 and 350 RAW photos on a 16 GB card.

    @Chris, we did indeed pack a hard drive for storage, but as you probably know, not everything goes to plan, and that was left at Christchurch by mistake!

    @juice, like I said, I'm happy with JPEG until I consider myself to be a good enough photographer to give a damn about what 'extra lattitude' means.

    Not everyone who likes to take photos considers themselves to be a pro, or even wants to be. I do it cos its fun.

    Indeed, I never regret shooting RAW (RAW+JPEG basic)
    I have regretted shooting JPEG only (for continuous burst or time-lapse), or switching to JPEG only, then forgetting to switch back.

      If you've invested thousands into a good camera and lens, why not spend more on a larger memory card and on hard drives to store what your thousands of dollars of camera gear can do.

        +1. This is a good point, after dropping thousands of dollars on equipment why limit what you can do with it?

        That being said, my DSLR is about a hundred years old, and has a 'range-topping' 8MP, I'll use my One X in JPEG every time. It's all I ever need for pictures of the kids and other trivial things I photograph.

    Always shoot in RAW.

    ALWAYS.

    Also the images you have compared are misleading and stupid - the RAW will always look better than what the camera has decided was the correct exposure and White Balance - As you can do it properly in post.

    ALWAYS shoot in RAW.

      That's what this article says http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/04/100-tips-from-a-professional-photographer/ (tip number 2)

    It should be noted that RAW is not an image format, and that there are a number of different RAW formats. Even and DNG could hardly be called an image format.

    For the record, I shoot both at the same time. The JPGs are great for same day proofing, and RAWs are the workhorse file.

    My two cents.

    Terence Boylen.
    Http://tboylen.info

    My camera's JPEGs don't come out nearly as nice as that.
    I shoot in RAW+JPEG mode almost exclusively. The only time I don't is when I know the photos will come out well and when they're not very important ones.

    Baduzen: "Ben, my GF uses a 60D, which gives her somewhere between 300 and 350 RAW photos on a 16 GB card."
    60d got an 18 Mp sensor.
    My EOS 5D MKll got an 24 Mp sensor. I can take at least 250 pictures with an 8 GB card (info from display, emty card). Only 350 photos on an 16 GB card with 60D doesnt make sense.
    Youre not a pro? OK. You can still be lucky and take that shot that is ruined because you only took JPG.
    I got almost 30.000 photos from 2004 til now, all RAW. I'm happy with that, I can go back to the originals and edit them in Lightroom and get much better results because the editing posibilities are better. With JPG I couldt do that. RAW is an investment. Maybe you'll see things in your photos in 5 years time you dont see today. As you can se noone here regrets shooting in RAW.
    HPN

    Troll article obviously.

    Why have a DSLR if not using RAW..

    Shoot Film instead.. job done...simple.

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