Should I Save RAW or JPEG?

Some cameras have the option to save the image as a RAW file and/or JPEG file. The RAW file is not an image, it is a file that contains the complete information of the captured image. A JPEG is a compressed image that the camera creates based on the current camera settings. There are usually more editing options (greater control) that can be utilized with the RAW file than with a JPEG file. Color balance is one item that is more easily adjusted in a RAW editor. If your camera supports RAW, it probably came with a RAW editor, or at least a link to the manufacturer's website to download one. The newly updated commercial image editors on the market are starting to support RAW file editing for various camera manufacturers. Each Camera manufacturer's RAW file is different, so you would need to make sure a commercial editor will support your camera's RAW format. Since the manufacturer's RAW data format is proprietary, all editing options that may be available in the manufacturer's editor may not be available in a commercial editor.

Many people only save RAW, many save only JPEG. There is no right or wrong. The choice is yours, as to what editing ability/method works best for you. I myself prefer to edit the RAW files. However, I do save both RAW and JPEG (in the same directory), as disk space is cheap, and I don't take a thousand shots a day. I peruse the JPEGs in Windows Explorer and decide which image I want to edit using the RAW editor. I currently do not have a Windows module that will display RAW files in Windows Explorer. Many people only save RAW and covert the image to a JPEG (or TIFF) after they have completed an edit. They view the RAW files in either the RAW editor or a cataloger that will support that format.

RAW files are usually much larger than JPEGs since they contain all the image information. JPEGs are compressed and usually much smaller. JPEGs are an industry standard image file and are more transportable, and easily displayed in browsers and documents. Most cameras have a limit on how many shots can be taken consecutively (Burst Mode) because of the internal buffer size and the save speed. The burst mode number can be increased by saving one format or the other (My camera is 4 for RAW+JPEG; 9 for RAW only; and over 100 for JPEG only.) This may also be a consideration for which to keep depending on your needs or desires.

Keep in mind that when only saving as JPEG, the extent of JPEG compression has a direct affect on image quality. High compression yields smaller file sizes but it will also reduce the image quality more than low compression. Any higher quality that would be available from the RAW data will be lost if the RAW is not saved. There are benefits and detriments for saving each format. You just have to decide which will work best for how you want to work on them and any storage limitations you may have.

Please note that when you are viewing an image in a RAW editor, you are not viewing a RAW file per se, nor a JPEG, but a display image that is interpreted and created by the editor from the RAW data contained in the file.

Gringotts Bank, Universal Studios, Florida

Inside Gringotts Bank at Harry Potter World, Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida.

(White balance adjusted with a RAW editor.)

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All images © Bill Harbison - All rights reserved