cameras photography

Why are RAW files important, and why should you start shooting RAW

If you started doing photography and you invested in a DSLR, mirrorless camera or even a more advanced compact or bridge, i bet you heard people telling you that you should be shooting RAW now.

But as many will agree, not everyone does it and i’m here to tell you that it is an important aspect that you have to consider if you’d like to make sure you don’t miss that perfect image.

The standard file format of a photograph that comes straight of any device that has a lens attached to it (even from phones), is called JPEG. In reality, a Jpeg file is a format for compressing image files. As the definition suggests, the file you’ll be getting will be compressed so will result in some information loss about the image, such as exposure, white balance, shadows, noise etc.

The Raw format provides you with an unprocessed photograph captured with a digital camera. What that does is providing you with the raw data captured by the camera sensor, without any extra “adjustments” done by the camera itself.

This is how the menu looks like on a Nikon camera

Keep in mind that every camera manufacturer will have a different file extension, .ARW(Sony); .CR2(Canon); .NEF(Nikon); RAF(Fuji); etc. that will sometimes require software updates to the editing software you’re using in case the manufacturer has released a new camera.

Because the RAW file, offers you an unprocessed file, this will result in a larger file too, so the space available on your memory card will decrease compared to when you’re using only JPEG files.

In the example i’ll be showing you , the JPEG file has 8MB , while the RAW one has 26.1MB., so i will be getting more information about my image that i could be using to recover lost detail.

JPEG file taken on a Nikon D7200
RAW file taken on a Nikon D7200

The image i used for the example was shot both in JPEG and RAW format (this will happen if you set up your camera like that, so will result in you having 2 files of the same image). In photoshop i used the same adjustments for both of them, using the Camera Raw Filter for the JPEG so that i will get access to the same settings you are presented to when opening a Raw file.

If we look at the image we can see that, even though same adjustments were used, the Raw file provides us with a brighter image that has more details then the JPEG file.

Original image straight from the camera in JPEG format

If i only had the JPEG file of this image, with the help of Photoshop i would have still been able to recover some of the information, but as we can all agree, the RAW file is providing us with a better result.

One thing to keep in mind if you decide to start shooting RAW is that, unless you have an editing software you won’t be able to do much with that file, as it requires a software to even be opened. I know some updates on the Windows 10 was allowing you to see the image but that will be pretty much it.

Some of the softwares recommended are Photoshop Lightrrom, Phase One Capture Pro, Afinity Photo, Photoshop Elements, Alien Skin Exposure etc.

A RAW file will always provide you with the best quality image your camera has to offer, as well as providing you with higher levels of brightness. While a JPEG file is captured at 8bit and can offer you around 256 levels of brightness, a RAW file is done in 12bit or 14 bit and is offering you between 4,000 and 16,300 levels of brightness.

Because a RAW file is providing you with more data, this also means that even if you edit it quite heavily there will be no loss in the final quality of the image.

Best thing about editing your files in the Raw format is that it’s a non-destructive way of doing so. When you’re editing a RAW file you’re not actually doing anything to the original data and you can always go back to the original.

Let me know in the comments section why are not shooting JPEG yet or how the RAW shooting has changed your images.

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