JPEG vs RAW – Let’s Settle it With a Single Example:

PinExt JPEG vs RAW   Lets Settle it With a Single Example:

by Gavin Seim. Updated 06/23/12: It’s been a common debate, though much less so as pro’s learn that RAW is a no brainier. I deal with both the JPEG and RAW side quite often because the tools I make on Seim Effects. I’ve seen the value of RAW and once you do there’s no going back. Some photographers that still use JPEG, use a reason like… “I nail my exposure, so there’s no reason for me to use RAW”. I think when this happens it’s one of two things.

  • Showmanship. For some, I think showing everyone how spot on your exposure comes out is a great way to show off when making a presentation. OK I get that, we all like to show our proficiency, but I’d rather not toss away quality on my clients images to get expert points on the minds of my peers.
  • The most common reason however. I think some still have a mental block about RAW and don’t want to address it. I remember being in that spot years back. Somehow the larger files size and RAW data seems daunting. In reality it was not big deal at all. I know because I went thru it. If you’re in this camp just move beyond it and you’ll be glad you did.

This idea is simple and that’s why this article will be short. JPEG tosses out information that you might need later in order to make a smaller file. It keeps that the camera “thinks” it needs. RAW keeps it all. And with today’s direct RAW editing and localized adjustments using software like Lightroom, the power of using RAW data has become crystal clear. Let’s skip the banter however and settle this. I could make up a bunch of examples for you, but this one photo proves my reasoning, so I’ll keep this short.


1: Here is an outdoor wedding scene from a 5D MK2 unedited other than being cropped. Yes it’s a bit under exposed, but had it been correctly exposed I would have lost even more detail in the sky area. Now at a glace, this photo seems like no matter what we do it will be pretty bland. Lets look.

Orig File 600x350 JPEG vs RAW   Lets Settle it With a Single Example:

2: Next is the RAW version edited only in LR using presets, brushes, color channels etc. I worked the RAW file to get the most dynamic range possible and there was much more there than initially expected. A pretty amazing comeback. In fact I feel there’s actually too much information and it feels a bit over processed. But my goal here is simply to how you how much information is in there. Not to say this is exactly how I would edit it.

RAW LR Edit 600x350 JPEG vs RAW   Lets Settle it With a Single Example:

3: Finally I took a JPEG version of the original file and got as close as I could to the RAW version using many similar LR settings. Here is the result. Not half bad if you didn’t see the RAW version, but not even close if you did. The information (especially on the right) was just not in there. Even if I turned to down the exposure more to reveal greater detail in the sky, all I got was more gray. There’s just nothing in that part of the image. JPEG threw out all that information.

JPEG LR Edit 600x350 JPEG vs RAW   Lets Settle it With a Single Example:

Bottom Line: We have a lot more to work with in RAW files. Yes, the files are larger and when my mom is taking snapshots of the grandkids I would have no problem with her using JPEG. I even use it occasionally, though knowing how much better RAW is I generally shoot RAW even for snapshots. When I’m doing professional work for art pieces or clients however, it no contest. While it may not matter that as much on some images, the ones that take advantage of that RAW data more than make up for the extra storage needs and processor used. This article was about a single example and that’s what I gave. That said there’s other advantages besides dynamic range. I feel I get better white balancing, better noise reduction, effects look better, and of course there’s less file degradation when I save out final images which makes for better prints.

I’m sure there are some exceptions, but for most I really see no excuse for working in JPEG. Don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware that some well known and amazing photographers still use JPEG. It’s does not mean they’re bad photographers. It just means they’ve not yet discovered how powerful RAW is, or knowing it, are not that concerned about getting the most possible information from their files. All that said, I’m open to feedback in the comments… Gav

PPS 468x60 JPEG vs RAW   Lets Settle it With a Single Example:

  • Elliott

    I think that is amazing. If that much more information is available by shooting RAW. Why in the world would anyone sacrifice it by just shooting JPEG? At the very least do both! Makes good sense to me Gavin. RAW is definitely the way to go. Thanks for these examples.

  • Darby A. Gray

    No question about it – it’s pure thermodynamics and information theory. Unusable or unavailable energy or information is a form of entropy, a lost opportunity.

    Information discarded is unavailable for use, for any purpose. In a digital photograhic image, every single digital bit of information that can be correlated to the original scene is useful, PROVIDING one has the necessary computational tools to process the information stored in the bits into as perfectly complete a reconstruction of the original image as possible. What one does with the image after full reconstruction might be called art by some, garbage by others, but without the full reconstruction, who knows what it is, really?

    How do you think NASA is able to reconstruct those incredibly beautiful planetary images transmitted millions of miles through radiation-filled space? Answer: Using streams of billions of highly correlated electronic pulses representing digitally encoded sensor information, broadcast from low-wattage transmitters on their space vehicles.

    Do they use jpeg? Only after full image reconstruction, to allow them to place far lower quality, but economically more accessible images on the Internet, so ordinary humanity can get the barest hint of what their tax money is purchasing. If you’ve got the data, and you’ve got the tools, why throw away a million tiny diamonds to get a cheaper look at the larger grains of sand? USE ALL THE DATA YOU HAVE, FOLKS – that’s what the technology was intended to do!

  • James Murphy

    I can only give an opinion in regards to a total switch to Raw and neglecting jpeg. Sadly as I learn more about presets, raw, jpeg, and photography in general, I find it not as easy as some professionals or advanced amateurs make it. The learning curve is longer than I anticipated. I started with jpegs and have migrated to using both jpeg and raw in my photography. Perhaps someday, I will switch completely to RAW. Unfortunately, my camera does not take the larger memory sticks; thus, jpegs work better for family etc. Maybe when I migrate to a more professional camera, and understand photoshop, bridge and lightroom more efficiently, I will switch to RAW itself. At this moment, I am not prepared to go completely RAW. I would hope you will continue to develop with jpeg presets and raw presets….instead of abandoning the jpeg presets and live behind those still learning or not possessing the more refined photographic equipment or skills. It is just a thought. Be I felt it was important enough to state a position from the less educated or equipped. Technology is wonderful, however, it becomes useless if the general population does not understand it. The youth have a great advantage being literally borne to the techno world. The Elders did not have the advantage. Please continue doing both.

  • Darby A. Gray

    Right on, James! Mea Culpa!

    Sorry if I overstated my case. In fairness, however, that big “PROVIDED” in my post was intended to allow for your very valid point.

    We average (and even some far above average) users ain’t NASA, but we aspire to do the very best we can. As Redd Foxx often said, “You can’t appreciate the Beaujolais if you ain’t had to drink the Ripple!”. I’m still trying to master the jpeg presets myself, and learn a little about the fine “tweaking” tools as I go! The tools work the same in both file types, it’s just that the visual results can be a little more powerful with RAW files.

    I should add that a lot of the benefits of the RAW format disappear if one hasn’t accurately calibrated his editing software to match his monitors and color printers – to me this is a much more critical issue for the average digital photography buff, and I for one would welcome some assistance in that department.

    For myself, the ultimate goal is to produce images that communicate what I thought I saw when I took the pictures, and to experiment a little on the side to discover what I might have missed!

  • Desiree

    I’m one of those that has not switched to RAW (blush with shame). I really don’t know what’s holding me back. OK – today I’ll switch, take a tonne of photos and see where I’m at at the end of the day. Needless to say, I needed to read your article, as I have a wedding coming up in June.

  • Charlie Miller

    I’ve been shooting RAW for about 2 years now and with the development of fabulous post processing tools like Lightroom, I just don’t see any reason now to shoot RAW, especially in situations that present challenges to optimal exposure. That being said, I try not to use RAW and Lightroom as an excuse not to get the exposure as good as possible in camera. Still, when shooting wedding receptions, I sometimes find myself switching back to JPEG just for the simple fact that I know I’ll be able to get a good exposure and would rather conserve HD space.

  • JAHogan

    RAW is superior in every way to JPEG except in one area that hasn’t been mentioned: time. For your kind of work, I can’t see not using RAW. As a journalist and sports photographer, I don’t have time for much post-processing, if any. Generally the picture is need NOW, if not earlier.

    Otherwise, I’d shoot RAW every time.

  • Ian Hamilton

    When I converted to digital after years of medium-format wedding work I used JPEG because it was the quickest way to get to grips with the change in technology. However, I soon realised the benefits of using RAW and now wouldn’t shoot a wedding any other way. I agree that it’s more time consuming, but with Lightroom it’s easy to work on images and then export JPEGs for client viewing.

    On the subject of exposure, I try to get the exposure right from the outset, but that’s not always possible when you’re working, and that’s where RAW can really help.

    To those that have held back I’d say – give it a go, don’t be intimidated. You’ve invested a lot in your equipment, so it makes sense to get the best possible quality.

  • Tom Sparks

    Gavin, great article. I’ve been shooting RAW since 2008. My camera lets me shoot in DNG which I consider to be RAW, just as much as a PEF (I shoot Pentax) would be. I thought your poll was a little confusing because for me, I shoot RAW as DNG so therefore, I do not convert to DNG.


  • Everett

    C’mon man…seriously??

    First of all, sorry but not impressed and I’m sure I’ve read this all before on about 20 other websites and forums about photography. Nothing’s been settled, I still shoot jpeg.

    If I want the effect like the RAW example you’ve provided I’ll just do bracket exposure and do an HDR. Not sure about you, but my wedding clients don’t expect every single shot to be stretched and pulled into the most dynamic representation of the scene possible. There is still something to be said about simple composition, without oversaturating the colors beyond what’s ever possible in reality.

    To your point, yes, great for the artistic shots. But seriously, are you really going to work on EVERY SINGLE PHOTO that you take at a wedding in this manner??? I highly doubt it.

    JPEG for me..when I want to go artistic: HDR.

  • Everett

    Here’s the point:

    You’re going to have a lot more photos that DON’T require dynamic/HDR-like enhancement than those that DO. In this cases, JPEG is MORE than fine. Are you really going to sit there and tell me that you can justify shooting those photos in RAW?? I don’t think so. You’re wasting your space Gavin and everyone else that agrees with you, you too.

    • Gavin Seim

      You’ve missed the point Everett. This was an example to show how much was in the file, not something saying we always need to do it that way. The bottom line is simple. I don’t want to throw away information in my photos. It’s not just dynamic range, it’s quality. I want every bit I can have and RAW gives me that. I’ve seen your work and you have some great images, but many of them have blown highlights that could have been recovered had you shot RAW.

      For those not willing to invest the money for a bit more storage, in order to have the best file quality possible, I guess JPEG is the way to go. It does not mean JPEG shooters are bad photographers. It’s just means they’ve not yet understood the value of a better file. Nearly everyone comes over in the end. So when you’re ready, we’ll be waiting for you ;)

  • Kerry Garrison

    I don’t entirely agree either Gavin. I don’t see raw vs jpeg as a definitive argument. Its like Canon vs Nikon or Windows vs Mac. Raw or JPEG are just tools. For the portraits and ceremony I will shoot RAW to make sure I can do whatever artistic edits I want to. For the reception, which are shots that will never be used larger than a 4×6 or a small piece on an album page and taken in fixed, unchanging light, I will drop down to JPEG. For me its about not taking chances on important shots and making sure I am covered in the filler shots.

    I do not go through and create the most dynamic range images possible for every single shot, that’s not really the point. RAW gives you the latitude to do more with the images later. Every time you open and save a JPEG it gets worse and worse, not so with RAW, I can edit it 100,000,000 times with no loss in quality. That is a HUGE benefit of RAW that you didn’t even mention.

    You could have used a graduated neutral density filter and exposed the scene properly in-camera. You choose to do it in post, others prefer to do it in-camera, or at least that’s the apparent message in this article.

    • Gavin Seim

      Thanks for the comment Kerry. Though I don see it like MAC/PC at all. Those both produce the same result when we work with an image. RAW and JPEG do not. I’d prefer not to take chances at all. The moment I make an image in JPEG I’ve thrown out info that I light use later. As to the other reasons to shoot RAW, I didn’t say they weren’t relevant and I totally agree they exist. I was picking a single example as the post says and I used the one that was most visual so that people that were on the fence could see. I don’t care what the image style of the photographer, having more information will always pay off eventually. If someone has already decided they won’t shoot RAW because their not willing to spring for more storage, then I can’t change their mind anyways.

  • Andrea

    I just started using purely RAW shooting. I think I was scared of it, and now I’m not sure why… I pull them into LR and then work them up. They are much better.

  • Everett

    “You’ve missed the point Everett. This was an example to show how much was in the file, not something saying we always need to do it that way.”
    If I missed the point, then you didn’t communicate it clearly. Here’s the main theme I took from your article:
    “If you”re shooting your session in JPEG, I really see no excuse for it.”

    I inferred from this quote that you shoot in RAW all the time. Am I wrong? Do you ever shoot in JPEG? You said your Mom does “Sure the files are larger and when my mom is taking snapshots of the grandkids I would have no problem with her using JPEG.”…but do you? I can only assume you don’t. I’m not trying to be a jerk, I just want you to clarify your point if I’m off base.

    “Don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware that some well known and amazing photographers still use JPEG. It’s does not mean their bad at their job. It just means they’ve not yet dicsovered how powerful RAW is.”
    How do you know this?? This is completely unfounded. Have you actually interviewed amazing photographers and confirmed with them that they have not yet discovered how powerful RAW is?? This is very presumptuous on your part.

    “It does not mean JPEG shooters are bad photographers. It’s just means they’ve not yet understood the value of a better file.
    Again, very presumptious.

    I think your opinion that photographers who primarily, or solely, shoot JPEG are clueless to how powerful RAW is is WAAYYY off base.. I absolutely understand that RAW provides more data then a JPEG. Of course it does, most advanced to pro photographers realize this. As I stated, and like Kerry, I would only use RAW or switch to HDR for more artistic shots, and JPEG for the rest of the time. It’s super-easy to do so on my Nikon…I’m sure it is on Canon too. On my Nikon I have it in my custom/quick menu and can change it less than 2 seconds. If I had a duplicate catalog of RAW files of all my weddings, and compared that to my current catalog of mostly JPEGs, there would literally be 1000s gigs difference. In the long run it definitely makes a difference. Your website is for enthusiast photographers as well as pros – some of definitely are just that: enthusiast photographers. So it’s not that we’re not all “willing to invest” in more storage…but some of us simply aren’t making tons of money shooting weddings and just can’t afford it. I think it’s clear that this issue will never be NEVER as black and white as you hope.

    I dig your site Gavin, and your podcast (sometimes). But I’m just convinced that this issue is so cut and dry. That’s all I’ll say.

    • Gavin Seim

      Everett I did not say I never use JPEG. I think I was pretty clearly referring to pro jobs we do. I did slightly update the post to make it a bit more clear however. I still use mostly RAW even for quick snapshots however. I expected that some would think I was too fanatical about it. I still don’t think I am however. I can’t think of a side by side comparison where JPEG would beat RAW in terms of quality.

      My thoughts here are not unfounded. David Ziser is a great example. A renowned photographer that’s been in the business for a LONG time, yet just switched about a year ago. He was thrilled with it and as far as I know he still is. Photographers who switch quickly learn that it’s simply better and to shoot JPEG is to toss away valuable information. RAW is a no brainier for most pro’s. I say most because there can be some exceptions. I believe journalists often have to shoot JPEG and maybe in some cases RAW might be more practical, but if your going for most possible quality it’s no contest.

      It won’t kill me if people disagree however. Though since you’re so addiment, I would ask one question. Have you totally switched to RAW workflow, and then back to JPEG because you liked it better? If not you really don’t have the experience to be saying RAW is not needed, because you’ve not experienced how good it actually is. You need to actually switch and get a RAW workflow down before you know. Perhaps you already have, but theres few that get a RAW workflow nailed down, then go back to JPEG.

  • Mark Bohland

    Gavin, This is from someone born when you still “dialed” a phone and whose first computer had no hard drive (just big floppy disks):

    I’ve been photographing digitally since a 256 MB card was BIG, and “know” in my head the benefits of RAW capture. However I wouldn’t know what to do with a RAW file if I had one. I just downloaded Lightroom yesterday (and your Projectics Proofing Presets) specifically as away to better conduct my in-home portrait sales sessions.

    In just a few hours I’ve discovered how QUICKLY images can be processed and improved.

    Back to RAW – My hesitation has been the learning curve for “processing/developing” RAW files So here’s my question. Can RAW files be processed /developed in Lightroom, now that I have it, or do I need something else too? If Lightroom will do it, where is a good place to start – meaning a simple tutoria telling me how to open and work on theml, and yes I also have your power workflow presets, if that makes a difference. Thanks for your help.

    Maranatha Photography

    • Gavin Seim

      Hey Mark. Sounds like you’ve been at this stuff for a long time. That’s cool. In answer to your question, yes. LR will work perfectly with the RAW files. That’s part of the beauty of it. LR handles them just like anything else, but you have more to work with and LR can produce even better results. Just import the RAW files as you would any file and off you go. If you have questions you’re welcome to shoot em an email… Gav

  • Mark Bohland

    Thanks – Just did a test shot & it’s beginning to make sense.
    One stumbling block:
    I hear so much about being able to make “local” adjustments in Lightroom , but can’t seem to find the equivalent of a Photoshop lasso or marquee tool in LR. Hmmmm…. ?

    • Gavin Seim

      Bear in mind LR does not replace PS. It’s still there for some things. The local adjustments in LR are done with the brush tool and it’s neighbors. (K key or on top of the Develop module). If you need to do serious selection and cleanup however you still use PS. LR just saves a tone of time on the 90% that does not need that. Sounds like a LR workshop would really help you out.

  • Mark Bohland

    Thanks – Than makes sense. Mark

  • Dewan Demmer

    I was looking at some jpg raw comparison and came accross this one. Now I am pretty comfortable with my choice to use JPEG and RAW as my everyday, yet with so many expounding the glory of RAW I like to check now and then to see if I missed something, so far I dont think so.
    Now a lot of people will go on how RAW has every bit of information that the camera took in, so absolutely nothing has been discarded, which is great if you plan on doing something anything with all that extra data, on the whole 99% will not appreciate that extra data.
    Besides most RAW software will do light, colour and white balance manipulation anyway.
    Now RAW is useful for those moments I either need to correct a mistake in picture like overexposure or generally mangled, but generally I the RAW files go untouched.
    There are a number of well known and brilliant photographers around the world who use JPEG not because they do not know the power of RAW but rather because they understand the ability to use the combination of camera and JPEG properly.

    Simply put : Post Processing is the tool to enable us to bring out the picture we meant to take, if you need RAW to do that , then you need RAW.

  • Sam

    There’s a big IF though: RAW is great (I shoot RAW + JPEG) but in twenty years time, will the RAWs produced by a 20 year-old-camera still be readable in the latest and greatest Adobe software? Unfortunately, probably not, while JPEGs and DNGs will probably be readable and able to be recovered, compared to proprietary NEFs and all the seperate RAW types from every single manufacturer. Food for thought.

    • Gavin Seim

      That could be Sam. But to avoid that one can just use DNG. It’s a RAW format as well.

  • Mario

    Honestly I’ve been shooting Jpeg for a long time. And I strongly considering going raw. Many photogs I’ve come across that shoot raw unfortunately do so because they screw up their exposures (not saygin thats the reason everyone that shoots raw does it lol). I think my biggest reasons for not having switched over the years was file size and additional post processing. You however make a gerat case for shooting Raw.

  • CBarker

    JPEG vs RAW – Let’s Settle it With a Single Example:

    I think it’s fair to say that you havent? I have just switched back from a 100% RAW workflow to 80% JPEG.
    The reason for this is I could not tell the differance between the two in 80% of my shots. Sure there are times when I know I’am not going to get the shot I need from a JPEG and I have to shoot RAW but I don’t enjoy post processing and I don’t earn anything extra from doing it.

    • Gavin Seim

      You’re one of the few C. Almost every professional I know is using RAW these days. It’s been pretty well settled. Not that it makes you a bad photographer if you use JPEG, but RAW post production is about the same speed and offers more quality. I hate the idea of getting a great image and then not having as much quality is possible when you go to refine it. You are quite literally throwing away information when you use JPEG.

      If you know that JPEG is not sufficient for some images, I can’t figure why you would risk making an image in JPEG that could turn out to need what the RAW could offer. There is no contest in the dynamic range and information in a RAW file over a JPEG and I want the best I can get. The moment you make a JPEG you’re already on a second generation file. The quality juts go down from there. But if it works for you I guess that’s fine.

      Best… G

  • CBarker

    I think I should have said nearly all my work is done in a studio and my clients require JPEG’s for uploading onto there sites. If like you I was shooting weddings I would use RAW files but my point is many people stoped using JPEG (me included) because they believed they needed the extra data you get from it when in fact a lot of the time they dont.
    I am the first to admit I dont enjoy post processing and when i know my clients would not even notice the differance it is a no brainer to shoot JPEG.
    I do not mean to be confrontational my point is only that there is still a place for JPEG’s in photography and it is not as cut and dried as you say.

  • A Turner

    An interesting article and debate. From comparisons I’ve done using RAW and JPeg I’m not convinced there is a great difference, especially in the modern day camera (I use an EOS 550d). I think the critical thing is to get your shot right in situ, then you’re left with fewer post-processing issues anyway.

    • Gavin Seim

      I’ll have to disagree Turner. By using JPEG you bring about artifacts and file issues easier and no throw away dynamic range. It’s not a question of getting it right in camera. I teach that vehemently. But I guarantee you are throwing away useful information in most situations by using JPEG. I’ve studies file quality a lot. This is on old article. These days I rarely find someone who uses JPEG because there’s few good reasons to do so. If you want quality why intentionally throw it away. RAW is king.


  • A Turner

    But as I said, I hardly note any difference in quality at 100%. What artifacts and file issues am I bringing out in JPEG? In the examples you give above, I would have used ND filtration to tone down the sky, not rely on post editing. The second, edited picture is, to me, completely overcooked and unnatural looking. My point is to get the exposure, WB etc. right with the camera. I fully understand you lose data with JPEG, but , as others above have alluded to, is that data really meaningful, significant or discernible. To me, no.

    • Gavin Seim

      It’s all a question of how much information you want. Ansel noted that even 1/3 stop exposure accuracy can make a difference in a print. On the same note, I know from experience that having every ounce of information can make a difference in a print. I make mostly wall size pieces and what’s in the certainly RAW matters. regardless of how well you made it in the camera. With JPEG you have a lower quality file right form the start even if you don’t edit it at all.

      The image is the example is absolutely overcooked. In fact I even mention that it is overdone for the sake of showing how much information was in the file. The point is that why would any professional throw away information that would make their prints better? If you’re not deserning the relevance quality difference, I would have to ask whether you’re doing much in the area of quality prints. I can’t speak to that as I don’t know you, but RAW is really a no brainer for anyone looking to get maximum quality. Of course that’s just my opinion.

      Best… Gav

  • Ron

    When it comes down to it, there isn’t some massive difference between RAW and JPG,
    unless you’re just incessantly nit-picky about the slightest differences in image quality.
    99% of people aren’t going to worry themselves with those differences.

    JPGs do a damn fine job, and you’re just wasting your energy going through the process and hard disk space trying to fuck around with RAW files.
    Just use JPGs, seriously.

    • Gavin Seim

      Thankfully this rarely comes up anymore. 99% of photographer now know to use RAW. That tiny difference you mention is actually a very significant one if you’re a professional.


  • E R Bogan

    Personally I have been shooting RAW for 4 years and would not go back. RAW to me is a digital negative. If jpeg meets your needs go for it. The cost of my 2TB drives was negligible compared to my camera, lens and other photo gear. And I can easily batch process RAW files to jpeg files if I am not going to process them in any other way.

    This debate will never be settled. It is the same as the arguments I get from some photographers that I should shoot manually all the time and only use prime lenses.

    Photography to me is an “ART” form. You need to understand and learn the different equipment, tools and processes and figure out what works for your artistic vision.

    PS I thought it was an interesting article on the merits of RAW files.

  • Glenn E

    I am considering switching over to RAW shooting so I was reading some articles on the pros vs cons when I came across this one. After looking at the pix I think I will switch over. I feel the same way when I decided to switched from strap pedals to clip on pedals on my mountain bike. After switching I wondered what took me so long, I hope I feel the same way, I think I will.

  • http://facebook Vaughn Bresheare

    Good One! as Steve Martin would say…simple and to the point. I’m a real newbie and even I have come to the same conclusion in just one short week. It’s not rocket science MORE is better and it helps to have the right post edit s/w to manage the RAW files.

    My learning curve is steep but you’ve just made it one step easier. THANK YOU!

  • Catherine

    I am sorry but you are completely wrong about RAW. I am a serious Photo-Journalist, I go to War torn areas and take pictures. I have never used RAW. I only use JPEG. These pictures are not even good. I see no difference at all in the two pictures. You are insulting me and my work by saying JPEG is not as good as RAW, How can I possibly use Raw when I am covering War?? You can have the best camera in the world and still take bad pictures. Its about having a good eye, and if you get that shot then you don’t need hardly editing. Amateur photographers like yourself you take pictures of weddings have got it all wrong! Its the person behind the camera that’s the most important.

    • Gavin Seim


      Clearly the tools does not make the photographer. I agree there. But knowing what effects your quality still matters and where you take your photos has nothing to do with it. While I understand there are places where JPEG can be applicable, it is not open for debate that RAW is better in quality. This is simple fact.

      Your statements suggest you don’t really understand how digital files work. I realize you’re trying to belittle me, but I know my experience level on all these things and it speaks for itself so I won’t take that on. I was an amateur when I was twelve but that was a long time ago.

      I won’t suggest you’re a bad photographer because you don’t understand file formats – But I do suggest you do some homework and gain a better understanding if the differences. If JPEG serves your needs that’s OK, but know that you are throwing information away that could be valuable later.

      You are correct that what happens behind the camera is the most critical. In my films and workshops I teach zones and proper exposure along with understanding digital quality so I readily relate to both. The photos in this article were now posted to illustrate what makes a great photo (see my PHOTOGRAPHICS film for that) they were posted to illustrate that there is far more usable information in the RAW.

      I make prints for walls and quality is critical. I use Zones now and my exposures are usually spot on these days. But there is no way I would use a JPEG. The quality is so many areas is just lacking.

      Take care… Gav

  • Monica Cole

    I know I am a little late to this party but, thanks for this post! It is clear and makes a good case for RAW. Kerry Garrison commented above…”Every time you open and save a JPEG it gets worse and worse, not so with RAW, I can edit it 100,000,000 times with no loss in quality. That is a HUGE benefit of RAW that you didn’t even mention.” I am still confused about this issue and have read varying reports about what truly gets lost when you work with jpegs. One reported that nothing is lost if you just open and close the jpeg. The loss occurs after you work on it and then resave. Also, you would certainly loose jpeg information if you save the file in a smaller size for internet posts on a place like Facebook. Can anyone clarify how significant jpeg loss is and if it is truly an issue?

    • Gavin Seim

      You are correct. As I talk about in other places, I stay with that RAW as long as possible to pull max quality from it.

      Opening a file absolutely does NOT change the quality. Unless you save over, no data is altered. This is not a vinyl record that degrades with each use.

      When it gets degraded is when it get’s saved, or worse, re-saved. For example a file that is just editing and then saved lasted longer than one that was saved over the top of the old using Save As.

      So yes JPEG loss is an issue when you get multiple generations of a JPEG file. Edit, export, save, edit, export etc.

      Here’s an old article I did that looks at degradation. We’re about due for a new one, but you’ll get the idea…


  • Monica Cole

    Basically, how much information is truly lost when editing full file jpegs? Also, isn’t an editied full file jpeg just as good for wall use as an edited full file RAW?

    • Gavin Seim

      Absolutely not. When you have a JPEG it has already thrown our much of the data. With RAW you can process and pull out the data you need before ever leaving the RAW file behind (in Lightroom, Aperture etc). You can then to edit in 16bit TIFF, retaining vastly more data after the RAW edit than a JPEG. Using a JPEG is just starting with a low quality file and getting worse the more process generations to go thru.

      That’s not to say a JPEG cannot be managed and look good in print. Just that there is far more to work with in the raw.


  • W Sanders

    You have picked for an example a scene that JPEGs do worst: Shooting into the sun, lots of sky, huge dynamic range. I shoot in RAW+JPEG mode, on Panasonic micro 4/3’s. Sometimes, in low light, or when there is no big area of highlights to blow out, the JPEGs actually look better. But the raw’s usually look better for landscapes. SD cards are cheap now, so it’s a tossup. I just save both and use whichever looks better.

    • Gavin Seim

      JPEG NEVER looks better if you edit you file properly. It’s just different out of camera with no edits applied.

      These example images are old as is this article, but I most certainly used examples that showed the difference. That’s the real world and you will run into wide range situations all the time.

      To use JPEG unless you have a specific reason to do so is simply throwing away quality. RAW+JPEG is fine, but has little use for me since I would never use a JPEG for a seriously image when I could use a RAW instead.

      RAW is really a no brainier for serious image making.


  • Willy

    An interesting article about the differences of JPEG and RAW.
    Your statement “This is not a vinyl record that degrades with each use” is absolutely wrong.
    I have vinyl records that are 40 years and older and they play fine and offer the same amount of informations than new. I doubt that a CD can offer that.
    There is no wear on a vinyl record. Maybe there is some dirt and dust in the grooves but that can be cleaned.
    I´m a vinyl fan and I know to handle my LP´s.

    • Gavin Seim

      Interesting point. Whether vinyl degrades in “perfect” conditions and with a “perfect player” I’m not expert enough to say. But in the real world it does. The needle, the handling and the playing of the vinyl make is lose quality over time. I have lots of 45’s and I can tell which ones are worn out.

      But it’s apples and oranges. The point was that analog can physically degrade one generation after another. A copy of a copy will lose quality. Digital does not work that way. Yes a CD can be damaged. But making a digital copy of a digital file does not produce a file any different from the original. This is not the case with analog.


  • LuckyBoy Calvin

    Images shot correctly, with a nikon, do not lose information when shot as .jpg Why? All the information is obvious to the sensor and you have little need for anything further in post. Before there were image sensors, we found ways to understand light. Nuff said, Good luck !

    • Guest

      In otherwords, you are correct in most cases. As you have satetd. I would like to clarify why your statement is correct in MOST cases. Most who attempt images in jpg format, will be at an editing loss. As you said, not all of them.

    • LuckyBoy Calvin

      As you had originally stated, most will lose information using anything other than raw format. That is true, todays photography is different and many choose to lean towards editing vs one shot wonder. I like a balance of both. Sometimes, we don’t have the answer until after the fact and we polish what we didn’t understand, in the form of photoshop, corel, lightroom etc. No worries, if you shot in raw, you will have more information because obviously, you missed the mark….. otherwise, the camera is fine with .jpg Just a letter o those who read this. If you arent sure, and you know you will need to edit to get what you want, shoot in raw it will change the rules for you~