What is Camera RAW?

If you are just getting started out with digital photography, it’s quite likely you are focused on learning things such as ISO settings, aperture, and shutter speed, as this is what everyone should start with. Still, even the most ideal combination of these three basics can be enhanced by choosing the best and most effective photo file setting.

Many cameras have a default setting of JPEG (or JPG), which is good enough for beginners as they can quickly transfer and upload such files to websites. However, as you work on sharpening your shutterbug skills, you must definitely think about capturing images in RAW mode.

So, let’s jump right into the topic and explore more about camera RAW and its benefits in improving image quality!    

Adobe Camera Raw

Camera RAW basically comprises uncompressed, unprocessed grayscale picture information from the image sensor of a digital camera. It also contains data regarding how the picture was captured (metadata). You can think of a Camera Raw file as a photo negative.

This file can be reprocessed at any time and help you achieve the results you want by simply making some corrections such as adjusting the tonal range, white balance, sharpening, and color saturation.

What Is Adobe Camera Raw

When you adjust an image in RAW mode, the original Camera RAW information is preserved. Your adjustments and corrections will be stored safely as metadata in an additional sidecar file, in the file itself (in case of DNG format), or in a database.

When shooting JPG files with your smartphone or digital camera, the camera will automatically process that file to compress and improve the picture. In general, there’s minimal control over how the processing will take place.

The JPG conversion process of any camera acts like a small photo lab, where images are developed according to how it thinks they should look like. Here, there will be no input from you. At the same time, it discards much of the original picture data that was shot by the camera’s sensor.

Simply put, based on the settings you choose, this processor will decide on aspects such as contrast, white balance, sharpening, and color space, thus limiting your ability and creativity to bring changes into an image after the fact.
Hence, you will end up with an already developed image, with permanent modifications made to the pixels and a ton of useful picture data missing and permanently gone. 

On the other hand, shooting a Camera RAW image with your camera gives you more significant control than shooting JPG images. Camera RAW files contain every bit of the picture data straight from the sensor of a camera, with zero processing. All the data is saved, so you can make all the amendments afterward.

This allows you to develop the image from scratch according to how you (not the camera) think it should appear. This gives you complete freedom over the process, and the overload of picture data signifies you can restore detail in the shadows and highlights that would most likely have been lost as a JPG file.

TIFF and JPG photo files can still be edited in Camera RAW. However, it mainly involves editing pixels that have already been processed by the camera.

On the other hand, a Camera RAW file will always comprise the unprocessed and original pixels from the camera. Capturing pictures in RAW mode may be the best format to use for added flexibility when creating the final image.

Benefits of Shooting Pictures in Camera RAW

Now that all DSLRs, many shoot and point cameras, and even smartphones allow you to shoot in RAW, let’s look at the many benefits a RAW file format offers over a JPG while shooting pictures.

  • Highest Possible Quality

Cameras are quite intelligent, but not as intelligent as computers. Shooting pictures in RAW mode informs the sensor of the camera to capture all the data that comes in its way and not to compress or convert it in any way. This leads to an uploaded picture file with every single data point still intact, giving you significantly more to edit. 

  • No Degradation While Editing the File

 Every time you open, edit, and re-save a JPG file, a significant amount of data is lost. Doing this several times will only result in a discolored, grainy, and highly pixelated picture.
However, working with RAW requires no permanent changes to the original data set. This ultimately means the image file will be just as flawless as the day it was captured, no matter how many times you open it. 

  • Looks More Professional

Whether you are a professional or an amateur photographer, the image quality presented speaks a lot about you. Indeed, you wouldn’t want to face issues when your friends or clients ask you to share, re-size, or print their photos.
Luckily, problems such as grain, enlargement artifacts, or banding won’t arise with RAW pictures. However, if you shoot JPG, then there is no going back. 

  • Optimal Print Quality

Of course, things appear significantly different on paper. The imperfections and details are highlighted, and little things that aren’t visible on the computer screen tend to become more noticeable, especially if something is printed bigger than 8 x 10.
However, when you shoot an image in RAW, you can rest assured you will get richer prints and a wider range of tones. This is because even the tiniest pixel will contain all the data it initially had during the shoot: details, color, lighting, and these things matter the most.

  • Ability to Improve Poorly Shot Images

There will always be some pictures that turn out either too dark or too bright. These photos are easier to salvage or correct if you work with a RAW image file. You can benefit from a vast range of editing options if you have all the essential information in the file.

  • Mindful Shooting

Raw files are comparatively much bigger than JPG files, meaning they consume more space on memory cards and prevent you from capturing more pictures. While this might be a drawback for many, it tends to make you think harder and shoot photos more mindfully.
When you know that you need to work with only 100 shots and not 500, you will put more thought into the images’ exposure, subject matter, and composition.

  • Adjust White Balance

It can often be challenging to determine the right amount of white balance setting to use, specifically while moving between settings (from sunny outdoors to indoors).
Shooting with JPG automatically sets the white balance, which cannot be changed later. On the other hand, Camera RAW lets you set the ideal white balance while editing pictures and gives you the most realistic and pleasant colors.

  • Efficient Workflow

The “cloud” has made it easier to work and share your pictures. If you use Apple’s Aperture program or Adobe Lightroom, you can upload and fix an entire batch of RAW image files simultaneously.
However, bear in mind that Photoshop doesn’t support the editing of multiple RAW files. Instead, it is designed to open files one at a time.

Wrapping Up

Capturing images in RAW requires making a simple change within your camera menu. However, making this simple change will uncover many possibilities for you in post-processing.
If you have limited memory on your hard drive or memory card, need the maximum speed, or do not plan on editing any pictures, it is recommended to shoot in JPG.
But, to get the most creative control and maximum flex from your pictures, you must seriously consider shifting from JGP to RAW.