This post is part of our Learning Lightroom series
If you’ve set up your camera to shoot in JPEG format, your camera will apply various settings to your images such as white balance, contrast, saturation, and sharpness when it saves it. If you are shooting in RAW format, however, any such settings are discarded when you bring the image into Lightroom. Shooting in RAW format tells your camera that you don’t want the camera to apply these adjustments as you will apply them later yourself. RAW format is more flexible and offers more opportunity to recover image detail in overexposed or underexposed images than JPEG format.
There are a couple of instances where Lightroom handles JPEG files differently than RAW files. One of this is White Balance. Lightroom allows you to apply a variety of White Balance settings to your RAW images: Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash. In JPEG format, however, the White Balance options are limited to: As Shot, Auto or Custom. Thus, when shooting in JPEG format, you want to make sure your White Balance settings are correct, as your options in post-processing are limited.
Another area where you may notice a difference is under the Profile options in the Camera Calibration panel. In JPEG images, the profile settings are applied in the camera and become part of the JPEG file. In RAW files, the profile settings are discarded, allowing you to apply them later on in Lightroom (or in another post-process application).
Many people confuse RAW processing with the RAW file format. RAW processing is the engine that Lightroom and Camera Raw (available in applications such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, After Effects, and Bridge) use to process an image. When using the Raw engine in Lightroom, any adjustments you make to an image are saved to the Lightroom catalog, not to the image itself, and even though you are using the RAW engine, you can modify other image types such as JPEG, PNG, PDF or TIFF as well. Thus, when adjusting an image in Lightroom, you are not modifying any pixels, only the instructions.
RAW format, on the other hand, is your camera’s proprietary image format when not saving in JPEG such as .DNG (Adobe’s RAW Format), .NEF (Nikon’s RAW format), .CRW or CR2 (Canon’s RAW format), or .ORF (Olympus’s RAW format). Each camera manufacturer has its own unique RAW extension.