RAW vs JPEG.  Are there compelling reasons shoot RAW vs JPEG?

Some of you might ask if it is really worth the trouble to shoot RAW vs JPEG.  Apparently, if you shoot RAW you get many advantages over Jpeg.  What are the real advantages of RAW and does these really matters to you?


I read multiples articles on the topic.  This goes a step further in explaining the delta between RAW vs JPEG.  It is written taking into account the end result. A picture on a screen or printed and hanging on your wall.

[bctt tweet=”Why should you chose #raw over jpg. Or really… Should you?”]

Before moving forward here are some facts regarding the JPEG container:

  • Most cheap LCD computer display only 262,144 colors;
  • An IPS LCD monitor usually display only 900,000 colors;
  • The sRGB color space (which is the color profile used for all images on the Internet) has 909,800 potential values;
  • Some professional monitors (in the 1,000$+ range), can display more than the sRGB color space;
  • Most professional printing laboratory will print within the sRGB color space, meaning a maximum of 909,800 value;
  • Some paper/printer combination will generate only 400,000 different colors;
  • The human eye can discriminate approximately 10,000,000 colors;

So why would we need more than the current JPEG format?  JPEG support 16,777,216 colors (2^8)* (2^8)* (2^8).

When we put these facts forward, it is clear that the JPEG container is large enough to display and print any pictures we might create.  It is 40% wider than what the human eye can discriminate and 16 times greater than what the Internet, display monitors and printers are usually able to reproduce.

So why shoot RAW vs JPEG?

Let’s talk for a minute about the RAW file format.

RAW, like JPEG is a container.  The container has specifications and limits.  Since RAW is a proprietary format, specifications change from manufacturer to manufacturer and from a camera model to another one.  JPEG is highly standardized and all JPEG image share the same specifications.  As such, all of them display equally well.

Particularities of the RAW containers are:

  • Sensors include different red, green and blue sensitive photosites.  Most sensors uses the Bayer filter patterns which include 1 red, 2 green and 1 blue pixel in a group of 4 pixels;
  • Luminance values are typically 12 or 14.  Most DSLRs available today have 14 bits of luminance value as opposed to 8 bits for JPEG.
  • A small JPEG version of the RAW file is embedded into the container in order to facilitate previewing of the image on the Camera LCD;
  • Additional parameters, as it pertains to the interpretation of the RAW data, for JPEG conversion is also included.

Multiples parameters of your cameras are used in the conversion from RAW to JPEG.  Should you shoot RAW, theses parameters will be recorded as parameters in the containers and will be used for the creation of the JPEG preview that is embedded in the RAW file.

Should you shoot in JPEG, the Camera will first extract the RAW data from the sensor, use the parameters you have selected to convert the RAW file to JPEG and then discard the RAW data.

The parameters that affect RAW to JPEG conversions, on a Canon 5D Mark III, are:

  • White Balance;
  • Sharpness;
  • Contrast;
  • Saturation;
  • Color Tone;
  • Filter Effect;
  • Toning Effect;
  • Auto Lighting Optimizer;
  • Color Space;
  • Noise Reduction;
  • Chromatic Aberration Correction;
  • Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction.

Why is this important to know?  When you take a picture in JPEG, these parameters are used to create the JPEG from the RAW data.  Should you change your mind, you will have to tweak the JPEG file to achieving the desired result.  A JPEG file is not very forgiving.  This means that the end result might not be optimal.

Debate Raw vs jpeg.Moreover, the RAW container luminance channel supports 16,384 values instead of 256 in JPEG.  It is often possible, starting with a RAW file, to restore all the nuances that were part of the original scene you have seen.  Or, should you be inclined to do so, to create a different interpretation of the same scene through various software techniques and tools.

The question “RAW vs JPEG” is then simpler to address.

Should you be “take it or leave it” when you look back at your picture, Shoot JPEG and try your best to understand picture style on your camera to use the most appropriate one every time.  You should use:

  • Auto White Balance;
  • sRGB Color Space;
  • Noise Reduction on;
  • Chromatic Aberration Correction on;
  • And Peripheral lens illumination on.

On the other side if you are never happy with your pictures and always looking to add a little bit of oomph! Shoot RAW, because RAW is for Latitude while JPEG is for simplicity.

This is particularly true for printing.  A JPEG file that is enlarged to 20 x 24 inches will show a lot of details.  Enlarging a picture will enlarge problems created by manipulating JPEG limited luminance.

Moreover, the additional luminance in RAW often help salvage improperly exposed pictures.  It also gives more latitude when the dynamic range is extreme.  Recent RAW capable cameras can record from 11 to 13 bits of luminance in the 14 bit raw container.

Do you love lots of Megapixels?

The same could be said from megapixels recorded by cameras.  RAW file is to color what Megapixels is resolution.  Each pixel in a RAW container can have 4 billion different values.  (2^14)* (2^14)* (2^14) = 4 398 046 511 104 while JPEG are limited to a little over 16 million.  If you love lots of Megapixels, shoot RAW, each of these pixels will have the highest possible luminance resolution.

So tell me, do you shoot RAW or Cooked?  Do you go to the grocery stores or the restaurant?  This is the same as RAW vs JPEG.