The Difference Between RAW and JPG - A Visual Guide

RAW Image Edited in Darktable
Ever since I have been getting more into photography I have always been looking for what I need to do to improve my skills. I am not aspiring to become a professional photographer, but I believe that I can make simple changes to the way I take pictures that will improve the overall quality of my photos.

One of the improvements I made a while ago was shooting everything in the camera's RAW format. I have noticed that there are some pretty big drawbacks to shooting in RAW. Namely, it takes much more memory, it takes longer to edit, and the camera takes longer to process and save the images to my SD card. With all these drawbacks, I decided to do an experiment to convince myself that shooting in RAW is worth the extra effort.

Yesterday I went on a hike and took some pictures of the stream we were hiking along. I took all my pictures in both RAW and JPG.

To begin this experiment, I opened both my JPG and RAW photos in Picasa and exported them both to JPG as seen below:

This is the original JPG image

This is the RAW image exported in Picasa
You should already be able to tell that the JPG image is a bit brighter than the RAW image. The JPG seems a bit overexposed; there seems to be a slight loss of light information. Already the RAW image looks a bit better (and this is before making any edits to the photo).

The next step I took was editing the photo in my favorite RAW editor, Darktable. I made the changes until I was satisfied then saved the changes I made so that I could apply the same changes to the JPG image.

RAW Image Edited in Darktable

JPG image edited in Darktable using the same settings that were made to the RAW image
Obviously the difference is quite significant. The JPG image seems to be desaturated and flat. The colors don't show up too well and the lightness of the water seems off.

To give the JPG more credit though, using the exact same settings is not exactly fair. The JPG and RAW images ARE different and should be treated as such. Because of this, I went back to Darktable and specifically edited just the JPG to see if I could make the changes to get it to look like the edited RAW image. Here is what I came up with:

JPG edited in Darktable to mimic the results of the RAW image
Well; I think I was certainly able to make this JPG image look better than the one above, but if you compare it to the edited RAW image you can still tell that it is inferior. The lighting in the water still has much less information all looks too desaturated and overexposed. If you look at the log at the left, you will notice that there is more detail in the RAW image than the JPG. Overall, the color in the edited RAW image looks just a bit better.

Even though shooting in RAW takes more time and resources (hard drive space), I would say it is definitely worth it if you want better quality in your photos.

About McKay Christensen

After having lived in Oregon, Alaska, and China for the past 10 years doing landscape design and English teaching, I have returned to my home state of Utah and currently work for a growing tech company.

In my free time I enjoy working on my website where I post tutorials and reviews (and anything else I think is geeky) and I also like to write songs for my Super English Kid Youtube channel.

My favorite things to do include anything with my wife and son. Hiking, camping, and photography (or anything else outdoors). Playing Ultimate Frisbee or Ping Pong. Listening to 60s, 70s, or 80s, music. 

Feel free to contact me using my contact page. I would love to hear from any of you!


  1. Thanks Sergei for catching that. Don't know why I keep calling it Darkroom. I went ahead and changed it to Darktable.


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