Photo format?: Which one to use?

RAW or JPEG? … Which one do I choose?

The Basics of Photo Format:

A quick and easy way to decide whether to shoot in jpeg or raw….

Shooting in JPEG will save you time. It’s because when you shoot in JPEG mode, your camera applies all the little tweaks such as sharpening, contrast, and color saturation to create a fully processed, good-looking final image.

The thing that I always remember the most is that if you don’t use or really understand Photoshop, then you’ll probably get better-looking images by shooting in JPEG and letting the camera do some of the work for you. Shooting in RAW strips away all the sharpening, vibrance, and contrast. Raw images require dedicated software to process the images.

Generally, a RAW file will be between two and five times larger than a JPEG file. RAW files are bigger because they contain a much greater amount of image data. A JPEG image is essentially all of that data compressed down into a smaller file size that’s easier to share and takes up less space on a memory card.


Selecting a File Format:

The specific reality behind which file format is the optimal format to use will likely be determined by publication considerations. Print publications will often use a 600 DPI resolution or greater and the specifics of the publication format will be logically dependent upon that particular publication specifically.

In the case of print publication, it is thus typical that a .RAW file format (specific to the make and model of camera) will inherently become the best possible format to use. Online publications (on the other hand) typically resolve relative to the common and standard 96 DPI resolution of most monitors and online accessible formats.

Though digital publications including games and similar publication formats (including modern mobile visual resolutions) can often be considerably higher than 96 DPI (thus providing again, that .RAW format might be more optimal), most digital and online publications will be fine with a fairly compressed, smaller size file (thus providing that .JPG is a more optimal resolution).


The Reasons Behind Selecting a File Format:

Once an image has been designated by a photographer and ‘captured’ onto the sensor device behind the lens, a .RAW format will save basically every pixel of information it can. At 4k HD, a .RAW file format photo can tend to be a hundred MB (megabytes) or more, providing that utility of that photo ends up being rather cumbersome in terms of online publication. Furthermore, .RAW file formats are not typically usable  by most digital software.

Ultimately, the best options (aside from print uses) for very good picture quality in terms of digital (but not online) publication will tend to be either .BMP or .PNG (where BMP is approximately equivalent to .RAW from a camera, but computer common or standard as .BMP tends to encode pixel by pixel). PNG (on the other hand) is a fair compromise between lesser compression (thus smaller file size) and better publishable quality.

Below are provided a .BMP encoding of a .NRW (Nikon .RAW file format) photo and a .PNG of the same photo. The .BMP format file is 1,180 KB (kilobytes) and the .PNG format file is 662 KB. Because of the nature of online publication standards, there is little noticeable difference (if any) in terms of the final output quality of either format. If the photo was being used in a game or software application, the .BMP would tend to be better quality than the .PNG (which tends to be used in document publications of a digital nature). If you’re going to be using either a .BMP or .PNG file format, then your camera’s specific .RAW setting is the best option.

.BMP file – 1,1180 KB


.PNG file – 662 KB


Using .JPEG photo format:

For online publications, the combination of increased compression (resulting in a smaller file size) and specific ability to maintain sufficient photo quality is usually a primary consideration in said cases. When selecting a .JPEG photo format it is important to remember that a file can always become more compressed, but trying to undo compression is logistically ineffective. Below are provided 3 different .JPG photos; 1. a 100% quality jpeg, 2. An 80% quality jpeg and 3. A 50% quality jpeg with smoothing. Although online publication renders the 100% quality jpeg very little different from a .PNG or .BMP, it becomes easy to notice the difference at 50% quality with optical smoothing.

100% quality JPEG – 549 KB


80% quality JPEG – 81 KB


50% quality JPEG – 40 KB