RAW Image Format - Understanding RAW Images

RAW Image Format - Understanding RAW Images
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What is a RAW photo?

What exactly is a RAW image file? When you shoot RAW, the image is saved onto the memory card with minimal in-camera processing. This allows the photographer to make adjustments to the image using photo editing software. Although this can be done with a JPEG photo, there is more information retained in the RAW photo, giving the photographer more flexibility.

When a point-and-shoot digital camera takes a picture, the image is usually saved as a JPEG format. JPEG is a lossy image format which means that some quality is lost during in-camera processing and can not be restored. Although the images can appear extremely sharp, upon closer look there is some lost data.

[See Image 1]

Take the same photograph that’s saved as a RAW image and the difference can be very dramatic, depending on what the photographer does with the image in the editing software. Here is the same image shot in RAW.

[See Image 2]

By zooming in and looking closely at both images, you will see where there is lost data. The centers of the flowers appear washed out, almost like the color has been removed. You do not see the finer lines on the petals and leaves, and some areas can appear blurry. In most cases, only a trained eye is going to notice the lost data. It is mentioned here to illustrate the difference between the two formats.

The whole idea behind RAW is the camera will capture the image without the compression found in JPEG format. You won’t be able to change the exposure or the ISO but you will be able to change many other parameters. This gives the photographer more control and flexibility over the finished product and is one of the reasons photos shot in RAW look so clean, crisp and sharp.

Advantages of shooting RAW:

  • Higher image quality because less data is lost through in camera processing.
  • More control over the edits to the image such as saturation, hue and white balance.
  • Edits made to an image are not as destructive because the base data is never changed. No matter how many changes are applied, the image quality is not compromised.
  • The image is not compressed so the detail in the image is not lost.

Disadvantages of shooting RAW:

  • A RAW image file can be as much as 10 times larger than a JPEG image and can take longer to write to the memory card. This means your response time may be slower and your memory card will fill up faster.
  • You cannot view the image without a RAW image viewer program. Some camera manufacturers supply software with the camera or have free downloads on their websites.
  • It can be time consuming to process the image after you’ve taken the picture.
  • Larger file size means it will be slower to transmit images wirelessly and online.

So, should you shoot in RAW? If you want a crisp, clear photograph RAW may give you the results you’re looking for and it’s an excellent way to shoot if you have the time and patience. Some of the newer cameras allow you to shoot and/or store both RAW and JPEG simultaneously, giving you the best of both worlds. You can access the JPEG image immediately and have the RAW image file which you can process and convert to your liking. The downside to this, of course, is it takes up even more space on the memory card. Be sure to read your manual to see what setting your camera needs to be on in order to shoot RAW. The Canon XTi, for instance, must be set to the advanced zone to access the RAW format. And don’t forget, you will need appropriate software such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel PaintShop Photo Pro to view and edit your photos.

If you’re willing to take the leap, learn the few steps it takes to get the results you want, you can capture that stunning photo you’ve been dreaming of.