First, if you are unfamiliar with RAW, it’s a format that applies no changes to the image that your camera captures. Images are generally 14 or 16 bit. RAW files are much larger than jpg (jpeg) files. When a digital camera is set to produce jpg files, the camera makes changes to the file: sharpening, saturation, lighting adjustments, conversion to 8 bit, and other changes depending on the camera and the settings. Generally speaking, about 90% of the info that comes through the lens and hits the camera’s sensor is discarded. When a camera produces RAW files, nothing is lost, no changes are applied; it’s up to the photographer or editor to apply changes.
Considering the difference in file sizes – RAW files are much larger than jpg files, and the extra effort involved, why would anyone want to use RAW? I use RAW because it gives me a lot more creative control. I enjoy editing my photos. RAW files contain a lot more information than jpg files. Occasionally I like to make HDR (High Dynamic Range) images. RAW is the only way to go for doing this. It’s true that you can create HDR images from jpgs, but your results just aren’t going to be the same. Since HDR is an artistic expression, quality is very important. 14-16 bit images have a lot more info to work with than 8 bit files do.
You may see articles comparing Jpg to RAW. These comparisons are basically meaningless. Jpg is not Jpg. What does that mean? Your camera processes the Jpg. It sharpens it, saturates it, maybe adjusts the exposure in it. Different cameras make these modifications in different ways. You can even adjust the settings on your camera. There is no universal norm for Jpg files are not intrinsically sharper or brighter than raw files. Jpg images usually look better straight out of the camera than RAW files because the camera made adjustments to it and the RAW files have no adjustments. How they look straight out of the camera is meaningless; what you can do with once they are on your PC is what is important.
If you are shooting a casual back yard cook out or other such event, you may want to just use Jpg, especially since everyone will be wanting to see the photos right away, but if you are photographing beautiful scenics, macros of flowers, insects, still lifes, etc., you should seriously consider shooting RAW. RAW images have much greater dynamic range and you will be able to make much finer corrections to the image in post processing, especially if you are using Photoshop and Camera Raw. Your camera most likely allows you to shoot RAW and Jpg at the same time. You’ll need a higher capacity storage card for this, but it can be useful.
I’m not going to add images here trying to convince you about RAW mode. My only goal is to share my opinion about the topic. If your serious about your photography and you bought a DSLR, explore this for yourself. However, if you have no intention of doing any post shoot processing, you might want to just stick with Jpg – at least until you come back from vacation and find that you underexposed or overexposed a number of photos and then find that correcting the Jpg version of what you thought were going to be beautiful images doesn’t work quite so well.