- 1 Brief Introduction
- 2 Benefits Of Shooting RAW
- 2.1 1. White Balance
- 2.2 2. Sharpness
- 2.3 3. Dynamic Range
- 2.4 4. Less Noise
- 2.5 5. Shadow & Highlight Recovery
- 2.6 6. More Color Depth
- 2.7 7. Better Print Quality
- 2.8 8. Choose Any Color Space You Want
- 2.9 9. Non-Destructive Workflow
- 2.10 10. Digital Negative
- 2.11 11. Flexibility To Creativity
- 2.12 12. Affecting Color Channels Better
- 2.13 13. Archiving
- 2.14 14. Metadata
- 2.15 15. Proof Of Creation
- 3 Challenges Of Shooting RAW
So you just bought your camera, and while fiddling with the settings you came across the file format. Now you see that there is a setting called RAW and it has .jpeg as an option. But what is RAW exactly?
To answer that question you need to know about the image making process a bit in order to be able to understand the RAW format a bit better.
Imagine that your camera's sensor is a matrix of buckets, where each bucket is a pixel. Whenever you open the shutter (by pressing the shutter button) each of the buckets collects light. That light is then transformed to electrical impulses, which are later processed and transformed into the final picture. Each bucket (pixel) collects different amounts of light, thus you have the pixel array of a picture. Now when the impulses are processed, the camera basically processes them twice; first when it compiles the raw data input from the sensor (from electrical impulses from each pixel on the sensor towards something the camera can actually read) and then that data is processed again to generate the preview and the .jpegs.
The .jpeg file type exists for one single reason. It is efficient. It utilizes compression and various techniques to present something that on first glance looks exactly like the original, but utilizes less space on the hard drive/sd card. But that comes with a price. Due to the nature of the file type most of the original information captured by the sensor is lost, thus limiting you into post processing significantly.
The RAW file on the other hand is a direct dump of ALL the sensor data, meaning that you get everything that the sensor captured. This means that you have all the data possible that the camera can produce, giving you plenty of options afterwards.
The RAW file generated by the cameras will have a different file extension depending on the camera; it is .cr2 for Canon, .nef for Nikon, and so forth. Most of the time you’ll need to open those files either with Lightroom or Photoshop, or with the dedicated software from the camera manufacturer, since regular PC software won’t handle them properly.
Benefits Of Shooting RAW
1. White Balance
When shooting RAW, you have much more flexibility for correcting the white balance. You can go to extremes without almost any data loss. On .jpeg, that ability will be significantly restricted. With most modern cameras, color temperature has little to no significance when shooting RAW, since you can correct that post process to anything you want.
Since you have all the information of the sensor at hand, there is no compression to mess up the edges, thus the sharpness is significantly better.
3. Dynamic Range
There are no picture profiles on RAW files, if you set any, they will affect just the preview. The RAW file contains all the dynamic range that the camera can produce, without any compromises.
4. Less Noise
Even though jpegs will look a tad cleaner straight out of camera (due to the noise reduction that is applied in camera) RAW files can be cleaned to look better when compared to .jpeg since you have all the control on how the noise reduction is applied, and you have all the data on hand, thus giving a sharper, cleaner picture with much more dynamic range.
5. Shadow & Highlight Recovery
In post processing you can do more shadow and highlight recovery from a RAW file than a .jpeg. That is due to the dynamic range present on the file itself. The sheer amount of data available makes all that possible. If the highlights are a little blown out on the .jpeg, there is no going back. If the same happens on a RAW file, you’ll probably be able to recover them without any issues.
6. More Color Depth
Raw files on most modern cameras are 14 bit (not always used to the max, but in that general area) while .jpeg files are 8 bit. This means that each of the color channels (red, green, and blue) can record 8 bits (256 shades) for a .jpeg, while with 14 bit RAW files you can get up to 16384 shades per color channel. The amount of shades available will determine the amount of processing you can do to the image, and will also allow for much smoother gradients.
7. Better Print Quality
As a direct result of the color depth, the print quality will be significantly better. Especially on printers which can utilize the full spectrum of colors with photo paper.
8. Choose Any Color Space You Want
Since RAW isn’t limiting you at all, you can choose any color space you want after you take the shot. While post processing you can export the picture in any color space without the loss of color gamuts from color space conversions.
9. Non-Destructive Workflow
Even though you can accomplish this with .jpegs as well, tools that process RAW files are bound to be non destructive, and, since you can’t edit the RAW file directly, you are just saving the settings in a proprietary file and the original RAW file always stays intact. This will shed some new light to your workflow.
10. Digital Negative
RAW files are basically that, they replace the negatives that were used in film. They are always there, they need processing, but they provide the most flexibility in whatever you actually need.
11. Flexibility To Creativity
When you know the capabilities of the RAW file format, you’ll start thinking differently. For example if you think that a certain scene has way too much of a light contrast for your camera to handle, with RAW file you’ll probably be able to take the shot and fix that contrast in post.
12. Affecting Color Channels Better
Due to the amount of data you have on hand, in post process you can affect the hue, saturation, and luminance on each color channel with greater precision and with a larger range since there is a lot more color information available. If you haven’t done that until now, make sure you visit the HSL section in Lightroom or Camera RAW in Photoshop.
Yes, they take up more space than .jpegs. But the nature of the file will ensure that you always have the full resolution original file, since you can’t make direct changes to it, instead you are just saving settings in a proprietary file.
RAW files contain much more metadata when compared to .jpeg. It is also really hard to change that metadata which can prove good for evidence. Additionally, it is good to have an organizing software which can utilize that data for the organizing process.
Additionally, developing software, such as Lightroom, can utilize the metadata to develop the picture better. Especially when it comes to lens corrections, panorama stitching and so forth.
15. Proof Of Creation
In copyright claims, presenting a RAW file is the ultimate way to prove that the picture is indeed yours. There is no reverse engineering of a RAW file, if the photo “thief” has just a .jpeg, having the RAW file at your disposal will win you the case. Of course, you have to keep the RAW files just for yourself, never share them over the internet.
Challenges Of Shooting RAW
Even though nowadays hard drives are getting bigger and bigger (and therefore lower and lower prices per gigabyte), storing RAW files will take around 4 times more space than .jpegs.
Since RAW files are larger, camera buffers fill up quite quickly, in fact most of the cameras can’t hold more than 10 shots in the buffer (except the pro grade cameras). But this is rapidly changing, the 7D mark 2 which costs $1200 can hold 31 frames in the buffer with 10 frames per second burst, which is totally awesome for that price range.
RAW files need to be “developed” in post before usage. This can be a bit of a pain, but once you start doing it on a daily basis, it becomes fast and easy, even for snapshots.
Since the RAW files are around 4 times larger than .jpegs, this means that the cards you use on your camera will fill up faster.