Should you be shooting RAW or JPEG?

The answer is clear: RAW.

Your camera is capable of saving your images in two formats: as an uncompressed RAW file (images created by Nikon cameras will have the extension NEF, Canon pictures will have CR2) or as a compressed JPEG file.

Uncompressed is always better than compressed. Why? Because the JPEG compression algorithm always discards some of the information contained in the original image.

Why do many people still shoot JPEG then? There’s a simplicity about JPEGs: the files are smaller and sharing them on social media or having them printed is straightforward. Your pictures are ‘ready’ straight from the camera.

Why do many people choose not to shoot RAW? A minor argument is file size (in the days when a 1 TB harddrive is under £60 it’s no longer a powerful argument). The most widespread arguments is that RAW files need some form of processing before you can enjoy them.

Yes, that is true. But fear not! If you don’t feel like spending time with your pictures once you’ve taken them, you don’t have to. All you need to do in any software that can display your images (and the free software that came with your camera is perfectly capable of doing it) is to open and then save them as JPEGs. And you’re done.

And what you’ve gained is the possibility that in years to come you can come back to your high-quality original (your digital negative) and work with it if you want to. RAW files not only contain more information and thus more detail. Numerous settings that are burned into JPEGs (e.g.: black-and-white, white balance) and are thus set forever are metadata in a RAW file which means that you can change them without any loss of quality any time.

If you need to convince yourself, set your camera so that it’d save your images in both formats (most DSLRs can do it today). Set your ISO high: 1600, 3200 or even higher. Go out and take some pictures and then compare the two files. The difference will shock you.