Are RAW Files Sharper Than JPEG?

If you’re a photographer, you may have heard the advice to always shoot RAW. But what happens when you take the shot and realize your picture didn’t come out as sharp as you expected? Are RAW files sharper than JPEG, or is it the other way around?

As a general rule, JPEG files appear sharper than RAW files because of the camera’s processing system. However, once a photo is uploaded into an image editing software like Adobe Lightroom, higher levels of detail and sharpness can be achieved with RAW files.

Things aren’t always as they appear on our camera’s screen. Keep reading to learn more about the sharpness of JPEG and RAW files and how to figure out which file format you should use.

Are RAW Files Sharper Than JPEG?

When comparing pictures on the screen of your camera, it might seem like JPEG files come out sharper than RAW images. However, this isn’t exactly the case.

JPEG images appear sharper at first because of the way the camera processes the photo. Compared to RAW images, JPEG files have quite a bit of contrast and brightness added to the image. This is because JPEGs have a “what you see is what you get” approach. Basically, this file type is designed to be used straight out of the camera.

While this may be great for some, it limits the amount of control you have during the editing process. In fact, when uploaded into an editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, RAW files can achieve higher sharpness than JPEG files. This is because RAW files are not meant to be used as is.

With RAW files, the manufacturer assumes you will be processing the photo and applying edits. Therefore, there is a large amount of information contained within the file.

What Is the Difference Between RAW and JPEG?

To understand why the sharpness may appear different between the two file types, it’s important to have a deeper understanding of the files themselves and how they work.

The main difference between these two file types is how much information they hold. For the most part, a RAW file carries all of the information that your camera recorded when it took the photo. A JPEG, on the other hand, is a compressed file that only holds the most important bits of information.

When a photo is captured as a JPEG, only a select amount of information is saved. This is what makes all the difference in the editing process. Since a RAW file has all of the information from the moment of capture, more detailed edits can be made, thus resulting in a sharper image.

Does RAW Have Better Quality Than JPEG?

The quality of the image boils down to what you plan to do with it. Remember, your camera manufacturer assumes that JPEGs will be used as is or with light editing, and RAW files will be developed with some sort of software.

For the most part, a JPEG image has better quality straight out of the camera. However, RAW files have the potential to be edited into the highest quality image possible.

This once again has to do with the amount of data stored within the files. RAW files have a wider color range than JPEG files. They can also record a higher level of brightness. For example, a JPEG can record up to a brightness of 300, while RAW can reach levels of up to 16,000.

Why Do My RAW Photos Look Blurry?

If your RAW files seem blurry or have less sharpness than they should, there are a number of reasons why this could be happening.

Some reasons include:

  • Your editing application doesn’t understand how to read RAW files
  • There was too much movement when the shot was taken
  • The image was out of focus
  • Dull colors and low contrast give the appearance of blurriness

Remember that RAW images are not meant to be used as is. However, they shouldn’t be blurry if the photo was taken properly. Make sure to check equipment settings and open the photo in an editing program to get a better look.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing whether to shoot in RAW or JPEG, it really boils down to what you plan on doing with the photo in post production. While JPEG files appear sharper at first, you won’t have nearly as much editing capability as you would with a RAW file.

On the contrary, RAW files seem dull and undersaturated straight out of the camera. However, with a bit of editing, you can achieve a high-quality photo that beats what you could get with a JPEG.