Quick start: Choose the highest quality JPGs, here's it's JPEG fine.
One of your first decisions should be which format you want to use to record your images. All compact system cameras (CSC), DSLRs and some compact cameras - including top DSLRs such as the Canon 6D, Nikon D600, Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 - record images in JPG and raw formats.
And some (typically those from Nikon) add a further recording option known as TIFF.
A TIFF is similar to a JPG, in that it is a universal format so the image can be immediately viewed and used for display or printing. However, a TIFF has the upper hand in image quality for two reasons.
First, whereas JPG files are always compressed to some degree, which means that certain information is discarded. TIFF files can be saved in an uncompressed format. This enables them to retain all their original information.
Second, TIFFs may be saved in a higher bit depth than JPGs, which means they are capable of capturing a greater range of colour information. This is useful when the scene you're photographing contains smooth areas where the tones shift gradually, and also when editing images. This does, however, create larger files.
Above: On the Sony Alpha 65 the Quality option in the menu is used to set the file format.
Raw files contain more information than JPGs as standard, which makes them more suitable for post-capture processing, and they can be saved as high-quality uncompressed files. It is often possible to change many of the in-camera settings as a raw file is processed, so if you make a mistake with the white balance settings, for example, you can correct it very easily.
Although raw files are often referred to as digital negatives because they contain the maximum amount of data possible, they require conversion to another format (such as TIFF or JPEG) to make them universally viewable.
A disadvantage of raw files is that they need specific software for viewing and conversion - this is provided with your camera. Other software such as Photoshop and Photoshop Elements can be used, but it may need to be updated to make it compatible with your camera's raw files.
If you're unsure which mode you should be using, it's best to stick to JPG images only.
However, if you plan on learning about raw processing in the near future, try shooting simultaneous JPG and raw files - that way, you can use the JPG versions in the meantime, and revisit the raw files once you've gained a better understanding of what their use entails.
Check out this guide to shooting in raw format from our friends at Digital Camera World, when you are ready to give it a try.