Good question! Now, I am by no means an expert on the technical aspects of photography, but I discovered very quickly the obvious superiority of RAW over JPG (or JPEG, which is the same thing, just more letters 😉 ), when I bought my very first DSLR. It can be a little confusing at first, especially before you become comfortable with using Photoshop or some other editing software.
So, what is the actual main difference between the JPG format and the RAW (for Nikon users: “NEF”)? In the camera they might look the same, but RAW files are, compared to JPGs, uncompressed and because of this, contain loads more information about your photo than a JPG does. Now, JPGs can be handy if you for some reason need a faster transfer from the camera to your computer, or need smaller file sizes. This “extra” information about the file, goes a long way when you go to edit a photo. The difference between the two formats can be staggering, and in my opinion there is nothing about a straight forward JPG that beats a RAW file. Sometimes I’ve had an issue with, for example, running out of space on my memory card while I am in the middle of taking photos, which is NOT fun! 😛 This happened on a trip to Istanbul a few years ago, and I had to go buy an extra card eventually, but I did have to cut my file size down before I was able to do that. At first I switched to photographing in JPG instead of RAW, because this would give an extra couple of hundred photos! But, I quickly realized this was not a good idea, because I was running the risk of really not being able to use my photos when I got back home. So I cut the file size in RAW down instead, by going from my camera’s 21 mega-pixel, down to 10. Most cameras will let you do this, and is a much better idea than scrapping RAW all together! 😀
Obviously, the easiest way to understand this difference between the two formats is to see it in an actual photograph, so here you go (all the photos were reduced in size to 2250×1500 px):
First, the SOOC (“straigh-out-of-camera) RAW file, a photo I took outside the other day. It really was more of an “accidental” photo, where I took the photo without checking my settings…which is why it’s totally dark and almost impossible to see any detail! Is that water? A tree branch maybe??
If this had been a JPG file, it most likely would have ended up looking something like this; very noisy & very little details (sure, at least you can make it now right 😛 ):
But when the RAW file is brought into Photoshop, this is instead the result:
Still not a fantastic photo (lol), but definitely better than the first one, don’t you think? Lots more information meant I was able to bring out the details and colours without totally wrecking the photo! And imagine if this was an actual, important photo instead of this awesome photo of a tree branch in water. Like your best friends wedding. Or a customer photo. Yeah. So. always photograph in RAW!