Before you take a picture with a digital SLR the camera will offer you a choice of formats that the image file can be saved as. There are two main options to choose from, JPEG and RAW, and each has its advantages and disadvantages and is more suited to certain situations.
Right then, what exactly is JPEG?
JPEG is a very common format that's compatible with most software, including Internet Explorer and even Microsoft Word. JPEG uses a variable lossy compression, which can really crunch down the file size, allowing you to get more shots on a memory card. However, because it's lossy, some picture data is discarded, causing the image quality to suffer -although with high-quality JPEGs this is hardly noticeable.
The smaller file size also means that camera write times are much shorter, so the camera buffer is quickly cleared allowing for a greater rate of shots to be taken. This format is ideal where a fast turnover of shots is required, such as press or sports photography. It's also good when full resolution pictures are not needed, such as web use.
Ok, so what is RAW then?
RAW files contain the information exactly as it comes off the camera. All the data is intact, which means a smoother tonality and wider range of colours is available than with a JPEG file. RAWS offer the ultimate quality. However, RAW files need to be converted into a standard file format (such as TIFF or JPEG), using a dedicated RAW converter package, in order to extract the best possible image and become compatible with other imaging packages.
Every model and make of camera produces it's own type of RAW file, so finding a compatible converter can be a problem, particularly with new cameras. This format is best for situations where the ultimate quality and flexibility is needed but speed is not so critical, such as portrait, landscape and still-life photography.
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Gary Bunn is the Editor of Your-Digital-Photography.com , the Complete Digital Photography Resource Site, with News, Reviews, Tips, Tricks and Tutorials for the Photo Enthusiast!