The Power of RAW

Many people do not understand the power of a RAW file. If you’ve set your camera to shoot .jpeg (or .jpg) files only AND you like to post-process the captured images in your favorite editing program – like Photoshop, Affinity Photo, or The GIMP – then you’ll miss out on the ability to perform fantastic photo adjustments.

A photograph of a birch tree against the landscape and orange glow of sky just after sundown.
A raw file was used to create this jpg image of a birch tree after sunset. Without a raw file, this image could not be possible to make from another jpg.

That’s because the RAW and .jpg file formats have different bit-depths: the number of color tones assigned to each pixel that makes up the image. The JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group, sometimes just .jpg) file format is great for photography, but images made with the RAW format are AWESOME!

So, why not assign the RAW file format as the default output for every camera and go with it, instead of jpeg, if raw is that great? Simply put, file size! RAW files are massive compared to jpegs, and because jpg files do such a great job for a small file size – everything from web presentation to print output at the local pharmacy or department store – it works just fine for the masses.

And, you may ask, what does the acronym RAW stand for? Nothing that I can find, specifically pertaining to a photographic image file format. If you run a search for ‘raw’ you get:

raw, adjective
1. (of food) uncooked.
“raw eggs”
synonyms: uncooked, fresh
“raw carrot”

Thus, the keyword here is ‘uncooked,’ and RAW images are just that: uncooked and bland straight out of the camera, but of course with extensive post-processing options that a jpeg can’t offer. Each camera manufacturer assigns a proprietary format to represent their camera’s RAW (uncooked) file format. Some manufacturers have more than one raw file format; here’s a few for a couple of popular camera makers:

Manufacturer RAW file format
Pentax .pef
Mamiya .mef
Canon .crw
Fuji .raf
Olympus .orf
Nikon .nef

 
Therefore, RAW is not a file format, but a global reference to multiple, different file formats by many camera manufacturers.

This is the same photograph of the above image but it is a jpg image straight out of the camera.
A jpg image straight out of the camera.

You can set your camera to capture both image file formats. After a quick review of your jpg images on the camera’s lcd screen (it displays jpg, not raw) and you find that killer image destined to become the next Henri Cartier-Bresson or Ansel Adams, download your images and run with the RAW! After a RAW file is downloaded off your camera and processed in your favorite photo editing software you can convert the masterpiece to a jpg (or other file format) and use the image for whatever purpose suits the need.

Note: A raw file won’t display in a post or on the web in it’s native format, and if it did the large size would suck up massive bandwidth and no-one would visit your blog 🙁

To sum up lets look at a RAW file this way, from the perspective of a landscape painter: I throw you along a piece of canvas and three buckets of different coloured paint. Now, I say, paint the scene before you! You do just that and you’re impressed with the result. Then, I throw you along 24 different coloured buckets of paint and some more canvas. Paint again, I tell you. You do so, and this time you (and I) are MIGHTILY IMPRESSED!

That, my friend, is the Power of RAW! There’s just one caveat: When you head off into the countryside with your 24 buckets of paint it’s much more back-breaking than if you carried just three. Thus, if you are shooting RAW files you’ll need extra, or a higher capacity memory card in your camera. Likewise, processing power and memory onboard your computer are a factor for image processing.

RAW = Larger Files. However, the final processed image output – whether on screen or in print – is immensely satisfying!