I get asked a lot about the difference between shooting JPEG and RAW files, so here's a brief overview.
All digital cameras shoot images as a standard JPEG with all DSLR cameras (and some top-end compacts) offering RAW capture as an alternative. So which is best and what are the differences?
Firstly lets deal with the JPEG format. JPEG is a universal 'industry standard' image file format recognised by all camera and computer manufacturers. This makes the transferring, copying and archiving of JPEG image files convenient and easy with no fancy software required.
When shooting in JPEG mode however be aware that the image data (created by your camera) is compressed to allow more images to be saved to the memory card as well as increase the camera processing speed. When shooting high resolution JPEG's the compression is not overly noticeable nor is it anything to worry about for most enthusiasts.
RAW files (often referred to as a digital negative) are however a different beast altogether. RAW images created in-camera are 100% uncompressed files with no loss of image data and no image processing applied. RAW files therefore are significantly larger than JPEG files which although means significantly less images per memory card, the large files gives you much more control in the post processing of the image via software such as Adobe Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom etc (for example changing white balance settings, levels, curves, noise reduction, saturation, contrast etc.) You also have to consider the storage issues of shooting in RAW as archiving on a computer will quickly eat in the space on your hardrive.
Tip: Unlike JPEG files there is no standard RAW format so check you have the software available to open and view the images before shooting in this mode.
Tip: Many cameras offering simultaneous shooting of JPEG and RAW files meaning that for every shot taken the camera creates a JPEG version and a RAW version.
Tip: If you have shot in RAW you can easily create lower resolution JPEG versions.
Tip: If shooting in JPEG mode check to see what size images your camera is creating, it's best to shoot in the highest possible.
If you are still undecided about shooting in JPEG or RAW then consider the following. If you don't like spending much time at the computer and are generally happy with the images created with your camera then JPEG is more than suitable.
If you are interested in getting the absolute best from your images then RAW will give you much better resolution and more options when it comes to tweaking, cropping and manipulating your images.