RAW vs JPEG: Using Real-World Examples to Illustrate the Difference

It’s not news that RAW files have a far greater latitude than the same JPEG photographs. However, many beginners only understand this difference on a theoretical level.

In the video above, photography educator Tony Northrup goes beyond theory, detailing the differences and actually showing us how much more leniency RAW files allow for in post-production.

Northrup introduces the video by briefly detailing the difference between the two formats. From there, he dives straight into Lightroom to take a look at a number of different photographs and lighting scenarios and illustrate the weaknesses of JPEG when compare to RAW.


By playing with the exposure, highlights, shadows, white balance and more, the various examples provide a great variation in comparisons, something that’s often left out.

It’s not going to give pros any new information or show you something you don’t already intuitively understand. But there’s a big gap between understanding that there is a difference, and seeing it with your own eyes. A gap this video does a fantastic job of closing.

(via Reddit)

  • Jeffrey Friedl

    More than five years old, but I think this does a pretty good job too:

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  • mainekayak

    Um, well, yes but. I agree that RAW is better. But I only watched the first two examples and both were bogus:
    Example 1, the train, he pulled the highlight slide for the JPG and the EXPOSURE slider for the RAW file.
    Example 2, the night skyline, he sampled entirely different areas for white balance.
    I don’t doubt that the RAW files are better; I just want to see apples compared to apples. Is that asking too much?

  • Trey Mortensen

    If you keep watching, he actually does the same edits to a JPEG as he does to a RAW. He is actually very thorough in this video if you keep watching. One of the better comparisons I’ve seen. Benefits to watching the whole video I guess. (By the way, I’m actually surprised how well his JPEGs edit in some of them. I’ve never had that good a luck. Oh well)

  • Tony Northrup

    1) Well, OK, but the effect on the highlights is about the same… they both drop the highlights, which is what I was illustrating. I wasn’t following a script, just showing that highlights could be recovered in a raw file and not a jpg file.

    2) You might be over-thinking this :).

  • D.G. Brown

    I think the main concern is just that you’re not quite always doing apples to apples. Your approach does make sense — you’re approaching each file and editing it (since it doesn’t really make sense in a practical application to do exactly the same edits to raw and jpeg).

    It’s just that for technical people, I think we crave that direct apples-to-apples comparison. In this case it would be to copy the edits exactly from image to image (either by copying/syncing develop settings or manually adjusting to the same values). It’s a nice way really quantify the difference (especially for those cases where the recovery is less dramatic).

    Also, a side note, when you’re in the Develop module, you can just use the left and right keys to go between the images instead of going to the tray (might make image comparisons more smooth).

  • Glenn F

    hey Tony, have I missed something, no vids for a couple o weeks.. ? Especially the booze.,..?

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  • Scott Fishman

    Excellent video. Hey guys, let’s leave comments AFTER watching.