You may wonder if converting your RAW camera files to JPEG files causes a loss in quality. Here we will provide you with information regarding the differences in quality between Camera RAW files and JPEG files.
Does converting RAW to JPEG lose quality? The first time you generate a JPEG file from a RAW file, you may not notice a major difference in the quality of the image. However, the more times you save the generated JPEG image, the more you will notice a drop off in the quality of the produced image.
For best results, avoid saving a JPEG image multiple times. You may also wonder about the compatibility of RAW files with graphics editing software. Here we will also go over the most common graphics editing programs that can handle RAW files. We will also go over which camera models are compatible with specific photo editing plug-ins or applications.
Table of Contents
What Resolution Are RAW Files?
The instruction manuals on your camera may give you the optional camera setting for RAW files. If you happen to have captured images in this format, you’ve probably had trouble uploading your captured images to your computer.
RAW only records luminance values at the pixel level, making it essentially a grayscale file, or a black and white image. You cannot see a RAW file as an image. Rather, it could be developed into an image.
Converting RAW files into usable images requires a bit of processing. Still, capturing RAW files in your camera can be beneficial because they:
- Record and display everything your camera sensor was able to capture.
- RAW files save metadata.
- Offer a much wider array of colors.
- Allow for more color corrections.
- Have a greater dynamic range than JPEG files (the difference between the darkest and lightest tones within an image).
JPEG images can be susceptible to either overexposure or underexposure. There may also be shadows obscuring the image. Shooting with RAW files can help you overcome issues related to poor lighting or shadows within your image.
You cannot re-process JPEG files in the same way that you can process RAW files.
Saving JPEG Files Causes a Loss in Quality Over Time
One experienced photographer ran his own experiment, where he processed a JPEG file from camera RAW and looked to see if he noticed a reduction in quality. He noted that the more you save a JPEG file, the more you lose in the quality of the generated image.
For the purpose of his experiment, he generated a 1280 pixel JPEG file from a RAW file in Photoshop. He noticed that the more and more he saved the original JPEG file, the worse off it got. He even noticed a pretty sizable drop in the quality of the photo by the time he had saved the JPEG file ten times over.
Each time the JPEG file was saved, it would become more and more compressed until it was nearly compressed beyond recognition.
His recommendation is:
- Avoid saving a file a second time in JPEG format.
- If you wish to generate a JPEG file from a RAW file, then you should keep the original JPEG file on your computer for editing.
- Rather than overwriting this original JPEG image, you should keep saving the originally generated JPEG image as a new file in order to treat it as a digital negative each time.
This can be a better approach than capturing images in JPEG from the start. According to the University of Georgia, initially capturing images in JPEG format causes data to be permanently changed.
In order to keep the file smaller, cameras processing JPEG files cut out some metadata that would have been included in the RAW file. This metadata is deleted within the camera and can never be recovered in the same way that you would be able to recover it if you were shooting in-camera RAW format.
Processing RAW Files
According to Adobe, most camera manufacturers that save image data do so in a proprietary camera format.
This means that when you are making decisions on which graphics editor and which camera to buy, you will need to make sure that the graphics editor is set up to process images from your particular camera.
Otherwise, you will run into the problem of not being able to process your camera raw files until you find a compatible graphics editing program.
This is one of the disadvantages of shooting in Camera RAW format. Although RAW format gives the opportunity to process everything that your camera lens has recorded, you need to find software compatible with your camera.
When shooting JPEG images, you need not worry about this, since the camera does the work for you, although you will miss out on many of the color adaptations you may want to make, particularly if you are looking to produce highly detailed images.
Adobe Camera Raw
You can batch process RAW files using Adobe Camera Raw, a tool that lets you import and edit camera raw files.
Adobe Camera Raw is a free Photoshop plug-in for windows made by Adobe. It can be used in conjunction with several graphics editing applications, which you will have to pay for.
Graphics editing applications that are compatible with Adobe Camera Raw include:
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020
- Adobe Lightroom
- Adobe Lightroom Classic
- Adobe After Effects
- Adobe Bridge
When you download RAW files from your camera, they will have filename extensions such as NEF, CR2, and CRW, among others.
You will need to make sure that your camera is listed as one of the supporting cameras for the Adobe Photoshop Elements graphics editing software. Otherwise, you will be unable to process your camera raw files.
Does Graphics Editing Software Help Me Work With RAW files?
- Set the proper:
- White balance
- Tonal range
- Color saturation
The Photoshop Elements graphics editor is a non-destructive program; it does not save any changes you make to the original RAW file. The Adobe Lightroom is another graphics editing program commonly used to process RAW files into JPEG files.
Exposure X5 is another graphics editing software program that you can purchase. This program also can read RAW files and allows you to edit them non-destructively.
However, if you are using Exposure X5 as a Photoshop or Lightroom plug-in, then RAW file support does not apply, and you will do all the RAW file editing via either the Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom plug-in.
Check out this list of supported cameras for The Exposure X5 program. The list, much like the list of supported camera models for the Adobe Photoshop Elements program, is quite extensive.
Editing RAW Files Has Become Easier Over Time
This photographer notes that it has become much easier over time to edit RAW files than it used to be. It should be noted that RAW files take up more space in your card or hard drive. This is because JPEG images are compressed while RAW files are not.