JPEG - traditionally saved format
Pros - Ready to share, small file size, already processed
Cons - less information available for post processing
RAW - original file
Pros - Full color spectrum information saved leaving more options for post processing,
Cons - not ready to share, large file size
If you're planning on processing a photograph you want as much information to work with as possible. Most phone cameras only give the option of saving images as JPEG. This loses a lot of data. Standalone digital cameras generally give the option to save the photograph as a RAW file, similar to a traditional cameras negative.
A negative is the original information that a camera captures, just like RAW is the original information that a digital camera captures. When negatives get taken to a one hour photo processor; the developing and printing machine makes choices on how those images should be processed. Every image is given the same set of rules in processing and you are given a product that’s ready to be viewed and shared. This is how a camera creates the JPEG image. It chooses how to process the RAW information from the sensor and gives you an image that’s ready to present.
The main draws of JPEG are smaller file sizes and images ready to share on the web. This works out fine for most people. The drawback to JPEG is that it loses a lot of the color gradient information, leaving you with less to work with in post processing. This happens as it shrinks the file size down and only saves the information it deems necessary. Different camera manufactures set their processing differently, that’s one reason cell phones from different manufactures take varying pictures of the same scene, even if they use the same sensor.
RAW on the other hand doesn’t discard information, leaving larger file sizes. The biggest draw for RAW is the wide range in color spectrum that isn't tossed away in the JPEG version. This leaves more details in the brights and shadows to work with. For me there's nothing worse than having a washed out sky because of a JPEG conversion when you know the should still be detail in clouds.
Since RAW files don't ditch information collected by the sensor, the files are much larger than their JPEG conversions. This can have the affect of slowing some older cameras down as they save the file and might cause a shot to be missed. The speed of the memory card in the camera can also affect this. Newer cameras and memory cards have less issue with reduced speed.
Inside the massive amount of data a RAW file carries, is a great depth of color range, some that's even outside the range the human eye can see. What’s the point of that? With software it can be pulled into the range we can see and give more detail to pictures. With RAW we get to choose our white balance before it’s chosen for us and data is lost forever. We get to choose other factors as well while developing, plus this data is saved without affecting the original data. With JPEG you have to either save over or create an entirely new file if you process it.
For those with a camera that can handle RAW files, it is the only way you should be taking pictures if you want to edit them with the maximum capabilities. If you want to share quickly, keep your file sizes small and don’t plan to do much editing; save in JPEG.