Things you need to know about JPEG and RAW formats

Humans perceive most information visually. We process thousands of images in our lifetime. Their number has dramatically increased with the gaining popularity of Internet technologies. Image files on the web and our personal devices exist in various formats.

Each format is optimized for a particular purpose. Some pictures serve the needs of online users. The others get printed and turn into material objects, such as clothes, books, etc. The variety of formats helps us make images look exactly how they are meant to. Selecting the best-fitting image format is a prerequisite for a first-class customer experience, be it online or offline.

For non-graphic designers, this article will shed light on some basics of image formatting. For professionals from the industry, it might bring several insights into never-ending debates about the most comfortable and flexible image formats. So, if you’ve ever thought about becoming a photo editor (that, by the way, is often done remotely and gives you much freedom and flexibility), it could be a robust introduction to the topic. We’ve put together a brief guide on the pros and cons of RAW and JPEG formats. When should you use them, and what purposes do they serve?

What is JPEG?

Saving the picture on your device, you will most likely discover that its format is JPEG. It is the first and the most common format photographers use to store digital images. Its popularity can be traced back to the time of early Internet times when small sizes of photos were a thing. To download and transfer image files faster, users had to sacrifice the quality of the picture.

Why is JPEG still popular? The time of the slow Internet is long gone. Yet, this format is still popular due to pretty much the same reasons. People have started producing way more visual content and actively using mobile devices. The latter can’t process visuals as effectively as computers do. The abundance of images requires some compression. For example, photographers, bloggers, and publishers from various media prefer JPEG because it ensures quick loading and better access to content.

Therefore, JPEG files are compatible with all possible types of software, applications, and browsers. Yet, while being a space-saver, this format seriously limits the quality of images. As a result, posterization occurs, i.e. loss of smooth color transition. If you want people to comprehend the whole abundance of color and shades, you need an alternative.

What is RAW?

“Baby, don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me, no more”, – that is exactly what your fresh stunning photo of the wild nature or a monumental building would have said if they had been able to speak. Indeed, saving pictures in this format doesn’t hurt their quality at all. Jokes aside, a RAW file is a viable solution if you want to leave your image uncompressed and unprocessed. Nothing gets lost because the RAW format can store and biggest amount of details. Professional photographers usually edit such high-quality images using various Photoshop modifications. They usually improve white and color balances, exposure, and other settings. However, the picture ultimately gets resized and compressed because otherwise, it will take an eternity to download it.

RAW files keep all the details of the photo. It adds much work while editing. Yet, you present the fullest picture to the audience. The secret behind such high-quality images is the number of colors RAW files can contain, millions more than are available for JPEG images. Also, you don’t lose this quality and diversity of colors when compressing the image. Specialists easily modify contrast, color, brightness, and gamma correction in RAW files.

However, large sizes of pictures require additional storage space. Not every software can read the RAW files. Converting process takes more time than usual. Before sharing the files, one has to compress them. Without the necessary software, it, again, may take much time. Judging by the characteristics, the RAW format is a better fit for professionals who value freedom and flexibility while processing images.

Here is a point when we need to introduce another feature of this format. Don’t forget that each manufacturer has its own RAW format, and in addition, RAW has its own modification for each camera model. Therefore, to work with the RAW format, it is better to use programs from the manufacturer of the photo camera. To be able to process images in different programs, it is recommended to convert them to the most common formats, such as JPG. Again, we see that working with RAW format requires more.


Having acquainted with RAW and JPEG formats, we conclude that they can both be of great service, however, for different purposes. Professionals, as well as amateurs, benefit from the unprecedented quality of RAW files and the adaptability of the JPEG ones.

Nowadays, more devices (including smartphones) can record raw photos. This feature makes the RAW format more available. Yet, due to the lack of literature and the necessity to process such pictures every time, many photographers still prefer good old JPEG alternatives. Shooting in RAW format is not enough. You have to get exposure correct and possess some sophisticated editing instruments and artsy filters.

The size is another pain point. If one doesn’t have enough storage space, working with huge files might put you in trouble and slow down your personal device. Another problem is timing. On one hand, if you’re a professional photographer who produces several brilliant rare pictures, shooting RAW is your choice because it helps expose all the beauty and complexity of the picture.

On the other hand, if you must take dozens of photos every day (for example, working as a sports photographer and filming people in motion), JPEG is undoubtedly better. Thus, the whole debate over the formats is rather a discussion which one can be a one-size-fits-all solution. The answer is simple: none. Their use strongly depends on the ultimate purpose of shooting, your professional background, and technical support. Therefore, you have to answer this question yourself. Don’t hesitate to experiment!

Author: Glenn Corvera