Many eons ago, ok maybe just about 15 years ago, most people were still taking pictures with a camera that used film. We had two types of film, one was negative film and the other was slide film. Both needed to be developed using wet chemicals, but the slide film, once dried, was mounted in a holder and ready for viewing. The negative film, once developed, needed to go through another process using an enlarger and a light source to get the picture on paper for viewing. When I think of the easiest way to explain the difference between a digital RAW file and a JPEG file, I tend to think of the two types of film.
A JPEG is equivalent to slide film. With slide film you developed the film once and then it was ready to be viewed by holding it up to a light or placing it in a slide projector. A JPEG file is actually processed by your camera settings so that you can take the card out and go straight to the store for prints or share them online. JPEGs need no additional processing.
A RAW file is much like negative film where there will need to be additional processing done after you take the card from the camera. The digital camera does not process a RAW file within itself like a JPEG. The contrast, white balance, and saturation settings in the camera do not affect how the RAW file looks. You have to use some type of processing software to make those adjustments.
1. A JPEG file is compressed and only a fraction of the size of the uncompressed RAW file.
2. A JPEG file is readable by most photo-viewing programs while RAW files are only viewable by special programs for editing.
3. A JPEG file is already processed by your camera and will generally have higher contrast than a RAW file.
4. A JPEG file is suitable for immediate printing while a RAW file needs further editing and post-processing before printing.
5. Most snap-shooters use JPEG files while photo enthusiasts and professional photographers prefer the RAW file.
So which file format is better? It will all depend on what you are taking pictures of, how the pictures will be used, and how much time you want to spend processing pictures afterwards.
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