What is the difference between raw and jpeg?

What is the difference between a RAW and JPEG file?

Simply put RAW files are “ALL” the information from the camera sensor saved into a large file. Shooting “JPG files only ” is using that RAW data in camera to process a JPG photo then throwing away all the other information the camera collected from the RAW file keeping only the JPG.

So simply put a JPG file is a compressed and “developed/edited” version of a RAW file.

RAW files by their nature store RAW information that needs to be “interpreted” before it can be viewed, most camera manufactures give software companies information on how best to Open these RAW files but they don’t always do a good job showing the photos in a presentable way or even how they looked in camera.

You can think of RAW files as “Digital Negative Files” and JPG as a printed/developed photo.

Adobe Lightroom as example does a great job showing Canon and Nikon RAW files almost matching the in camera profile, however does a Bad job at showing Sony RAW files. This can lead to people to assuming one camera vs another has a different quality but in reality its just how the software is reading the file and it might need some help being told how to read the RAW file through extra corrections. (There is a difference in RAW files but you need to process them to start comparing them)

The most common thing I see pop up when people start their journey into photography is that moment of being told to shoot RAW files and not JPG files. But in that I also noticed that the explanations given are usually good enough they are not the full picture and so I wanted to attempt to share my experience and how I educate others on the topic.

Image showing a camera and the RAW file as a CUBE and each JPG as a 2d rectangle, showing the RAW has much more information than the JPG.
Just illustrating that the RAW file directly from camera has much more data/information that the final JPG images created, this is just an illustration as a use as a guide only.

Basic reasons to shoot RAW files:

  • White Balance can be adjusted later
  • Get the best Dynamic Range out of the Camera

The unspoken and simplest answer for why to shoot RAW files:

  • Delay the editing process and have FULL control of the JPG creation rather than relying on the profiles/presents/software in the camera.
  • From a single raw file if you keep it you can generate as many varieties of JPG files as you like at the best possible quality and most flexibility your camera and sensor provides.

A few Fun facts to help set the scene and put a RAW file in perspective:

  • Some cameras like the Panasonic S1R has a RAW editor built into the camera so you can generate your own JPG files in the camera.
  • Photoshop can’t Open a RAW file without first using the Camera RAW filter/editor
  • Lightroom Classic is essentially a spawn of the Camera RAW filter into its own separate program. (simple explanation)

Hopefully now you are starting to see a pattern, here is some other questions I had:

Why isn’t there a single RAW standard in all cameras?

Well there actually is an attempt at that and it was the Adobe DNG standard that was introduced to attempt this, it has had limited success mainly in mobile camera brands adopting this standard. One of the amazing parts of the DNG standard is the ability to store extra information removing the need for Side Car Files.

What are side car files?

When a file is saved on a computer its data is stored in what is called a container, and some of those formats don’t leave room for things like GPS, keywords, but might have basic data like copywrite, camera maker etc date only. A side car file is a way to over come that by storing the extra information in a file next to the original. This can be frustrating or add complexity to data management workflows.

Shouldn’t I try to shoot all in camera? Am I more professional shooting a perfect JPG file?

No, This is like asking a professional film photographer if they should shoot polaroids only. Shooting a raw file can be akin to shooting a FILM negative and processing it in the Darkroom vs a RAW file in lightroom. There are some amazing skills being lost to time that film developers did to make some of the most iconic photos.  I’ll link to some examples.

What if I still want to shoot JPG only? Or I don’t’ have a laptop when I travel?

A lot of phones (Because they shoot raw/dng) Also have software that lets your edit these files, (Lightroom CC and Snapseed) so you can often transfer the RAWs from your camera to the phone and edit, however to answer the questions, the best way to do this if you wanted a simple workflow would be to learn how to create your own profiles in your camera, often cameras let you setup your own profile to control sharpness, contrast, white balance etc in camera to control how the JPG files look.

Be more technical what is in a RAW file and JPG file, whats the technical the difference between a RAW and JPEG file?

  • RAW File : A RAW file is information taken from a Camera Sensor an stored in a complex matrix of data values, it needs to converted from this matrix to an format that is viewable in standard RGB values to be displayed, if you want to know more I’ll link to the wikipedia article, If you want to learn more about RAW files head over to Wikipedia for a more in depth understanding.
  • JPG FILE : A JPG file is a compressed picture file, it using algorithms to remove duplicate information and patterns of data to reduce the size of the picture, it’s a very popular format that is supported almost everywhere.


Making RAW file editing a part of your workflow makes the most sense because it gives you the most control on how your files look. It should be the standard way you work unless you have a very good reason or are just taking photos for memories/reference later.

My new slogan: If your not sure, shoot RAW.  – Rob Mulally 12 Aug 2019

Feedback welcome!

If you find this perspective useful please let me know on Instagram (LINK) or here, especially if you have some corrections to make, like everyone I’m doing my best to learn and share correct information and often that is buried deep on the internet under miss information and I don’t want to add to that.


I’ll be launching a course soon if your interested in learning about it start by taking my self assessment quiz and sign up for the mailing list to be notified when its released.

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