If you have been using your DSLR for any length of time you will have come across the phrase ‘camera raw‘. It is often featured on expert sites and discussed by photographers who have plenty of experience.
- Note: The terms ‘raw‘ and ‘RAW‘ mean the same thing (honest!)
It can seem technical and intimidating whether its Adobe Camera Raw, (a Photoshop plugin), or any other raw program. This post will make the process clearer for those of you learning to use your DSLR with confidence.
I want to explore ‘raw’ from the perspective of the novice
I hope you find the post, helpful. If you have any questions let me know in the comments and I will be happy to help.
- I also recommend that you master navigating your menus so you can look for settings (use your manual).
Here is basic definition of camera of raw. I will then work through what raw is used for, what the more common JPEG is and the differences that might affect how you use one or the other.
What is ‘Camera Raw’?
Camera RAW is an unprocessed photograph taken by a digital camera. The raw data is captured by the camera sensor and saved in a format specific to your own camera model.TechTerms.com
Each camera manufacturer has their own version of raw. Your image may have NEF (Nikon) CRW (Canon) or DNG (Adobe) and used by smaller companies aligned with Adobe. There are others.
- If you can’t find an image you took on your disc, search for RAW files.
More and more cameras including good quality ‘point and shoots’ or smartphones are beginning to include a raw option. Check yours if it’s a recent model.
- NOTE There is no one standard format for RAW
Why Use Camera Raw?
This was my first question when I tried the process in a recent workshop. Would
Our workshop tutor, a professional photographer, said that not every type of photograph needs raw but knowing what it can do expands your range of options and opportunities as a photographer of any standard.
Even if you don’t imagine using the raw process much at all, knowing the theory and putting in some practice improves your skillset and increases your confidence.
It may prove valuable if you have the opportunity to shoot important photographs when the conditions are less than perfect because you can do a lot of adjustment later using a raw processor.
Here are some Raw Ready ideas:
- An enlarged poster to showcase a specific pet, event or product.
- A top quality image for a sponsored blog post and subsequent promotion on social media. Potentially the image could appear in print if the sponsor likes your work.
- Compensate for poor light, or lack of colour if you anticipate this being an issue at an event.
- A printed canvas image from an image that is sharp, clear and well coloured – for marketing or gifts.
- If you have an image you need total control over for any reason.
It can be worth considering ‘raw’ for a specific project so let’s learn what it can do.
How is a Raw Image Different?
At it’s most basic a camera raw image is an image saved with all the settings you applied to it. But, you can’t see the image until you begin to process it with a raw program.
This can be any image you shoot in modes such as Av or P mode (Canon) or with your own manual settings. Set to ‘Raw’ your camera will save your photograph without changing anything but with lots of information to allow you to adjust later.
TIP Find where the Raw setting is on your own camera when you get the chance. If you don’t know if your photo software can cope with raw, shoot in Raw + JPEG then import your images.
Raw files are not yet processed and can’t be printed or edited. They need to be imported using either a RAW editing program or a photo editing program like Affinity that imports and edits Raw images without the additional software.
What is a Processed Image?
Your digital camera processor saves and compresses photos into JPEG files immediately after capturing the image unless you have changed the settings to RAW or RAW/JPEG (which saves a copy of each).
The JPEG processing step automatically applies the appropriate colour correction and compression. This compression significantly reduces the file size. The result is an efficiently processed image great for online use.
To give you an idea of the processed image sized JPEG is 8-bit, most cameras shooting Raw use between 12 and 18 bits. Bits measure the number of colours.
How To Edit Raw Without Photoshop:
There are two good options I have used. There will be others coming on to the market so do a search if you prefer.
- Adobe Photoshop – Subscription required
- Lightroom Photo – Subscription required
- Photoshop Elements – One-off purchase
Free Raw Photo Editors:
As well as Adobe Camera Raw there are plenty of free options to explore.
- Photivo Mac, Linx and Windows
- DarkTable – Mac, Linux and Windows
- digiKam – Mac, Linux and Windows
- RawTherapee – Mac, Linux and Windows
If you want to do your own research, look for a raw converter review. I know it will include DarkTable and Photivo as these programs are up-to-date. However, the choice is very much a personal one.
Adobe Camera Raw Note
You will see a lot of information about raw files that talk specifically about Adobe. However, you do not need to use or buy Adobe software. Adobe Raw is a plug in for Photoshop so you need to rent Photoshop to use it. There are dozens of Raw image processors to choose from so you don’t need to break your budget getting Photoshop..
Where is Raw on My Camera?
On my Canon 1300D, the option to choose my camera settings is on the MENU which is at the bottom right. I then selected IMAGE QUALITY. This is the back of my own camera with the menu setting open and the image quality clicked.
You can see the setting I currently have; RAW plus a JPEG copy. You can also see the number of images that will fit on my memory card [ 279] and the image size of 5184 x 3456 pixels.
NOTE The shape beside the letters is either a curve or stepped graphic – this indicates how good the images will be with my current settings.
Do you see how many different image options there are? You will have something similar on your camera. Check the manual, or online tutorials.
Editing Raw Images
If you choose to shoot raw, you’re entering into a commitment that you’ll spend time editing your photos to bring out the best in them.Amateur Photographer
You can fine tune the exposure
A raw image holds a lot more detail in its highlights and shadows that your raw editor can bring out. This can affect the mood or the impression you want to make.
Make sure you know how to open a raw file too. Most
My Raw Image Experiment
Let me show you the impact adjusting one thing, the exposure can have. This is an ‘extreme’ challenge set by our tutor at the workshop I attended, so that he could show us the difference raw can make.
The workshop class had to set our cameras to Manual > ISO 100 > Shutter Speed 15″ > F-stop F16 with a self-timer for 10 seconds.
Downloading the image to a computer, it appears very dark. I don’t think you could work out the subject if it isn’t enhanced in some way.
The camera was on a tripod with a timed exposure of 10 seconds.
The second image was lightened to the maximum level the software has but there are still heavy shadows I could not brighten. I tried to adjust the contrast as best I could. If I pushed it too far the picture began to look a bit unreal.
This is the same image as the original as a raw file enhanced in Affinity which is one of the software programs available that allows you to import and work on a raw file without an intermediary program.
Even though I have not edited too many raw files, you can see how much deeper the editing can go. There is a clear definition in the darker foliage, the colours are realistically bright.
You can sharpen the image
To make it very clear and clean. You remove slightly fuzzy edges with great control so your image looks sharp.
You can make fine curve adjustments
Most good photo imaging software has something like Photoshop’s curves feature. You can brighten your light and darken your shadows or do the opposite as I did in my sample image.
Editing Raw is ‘non-destructive’
Since you can’t preview your raw data directly, your photo app will generate a preview leaving your RAW file untouched.
When we shoot RAW, the voltage information from every pixel is recorded to a file and saved to the camera’s memory card. That’s all, nothing else.DIY Photography
With a raw file, you have something that needs work. It doesn’t look brilliant but, once you have made your adjustments and fine-tuned your image it is absolutely the best image you can get from the camera. If you compare this potential to a JPEG. You can do a lot but not as much as in raw. Your JPEG image is already processed and saved.
When Do I Shoot Raw?
- When you want perfect landscapes.
- It makes wonderful large format prints
- When lighting conditions are difficult
- Raw can cover your newbie mistakes (adjust stuff later!)
- Perfect for Fine Art.
When Do I Shoot JPEG?
- Action Cat pictures. JPEGS are smaller than raw files, the camera can work quickly to capture that pet in action.
- When you don’t have a big memory card but need to make a record, JPEG is terrific – go for it.
- At an event when you are going to upload images to a blog, you don’t need raw because you won’t be adjusting the images (beyond a simple tweak or two).
My Raw Own Experience
I wanted to write this post to show the potential some images have to be greatly enhanced by using the raw format. I have experimented and seen that it can make a difference in certain situations. The files are very big so you either need a large memory card or several small ones.
Not every image and not every situation demands that you use it so don’t feel pressured. If you know how to use raw, there will be times when the light is terrible, or you know people will demand prints, your image represents an important moment, and then you raw is the way to go.
Try the raw processout. This is the only way to see the impact and difference it can make to an image. Have you tried RAW yet?
BONUS: Camera Raw Cheats
You do not adjust a raw file. You only adjust its online appearance. Your original raw file remains unaltered and your edits are saved side by side with the original file.
Camera raw files do not have a set ‘look’. It will not look the same in different software, or on different devices.
Because raw files take longer to process, shooting continuously in raw will not be a success. For rapid shooting use a setting like Sport Mode and work with JPEGS format.
You can check your raw pictures in your camera preview but you are only seeing a JPEG preview created for viewing purposes.
Any Questions? Let me know in the Comments!
Definitions and Descriptions for Camera Raw
- What is
a JPEG? is a commonly used method of lossy compression for digital images, particularly for those images produced by digital photography. The degree of compression can be adjusted, allowing a selectable tradeoff between storage size and image quality. Wikipedia
- Camera Raw – a detailed technical explanation
- Lossy, and Lossless Compression “Lossless and lossy compression are terms that describe whether or not, in the compression of a file, all original data can be recovered when the file is uncompressed.” – TechSpot.
- What are Bits? “Users of digital editing programs will be familiar with different value bit images. One of the most common is an 8-bit image, which has 256 available tones.” A detailed explanation can be found at