So you just bought your first DSLR camera and now you have more buttons, dials menus, settings and you got to learn. You understand ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture, but what’s raw? Mostly likely when you buy a DSLR or even some high end point and shoot cameras will have optional file formats likes, Jpeg, Jpeg Fine, Raw and Raw+Jpeg. You are wondering what Raw is aren’t you?
Raw is uncompressed data, in camera terms its raw data right of from the image sensor. When you shoot in jpeg format, the camera isn’t done after you take a photo, it compresses it and adds some simple edited tot he image. Which in almost all cases jpeg format will be much shaper than Raw and that is because Raw files are Raw, you have to do the edited, there camera doesn’t nothing to it.
Alright, lets do a little comparison
- not a image file, like it’s not a jpeg so windows natively will not open it, you need special software like Photoshop or Lightroom.
- is a proprietary format, meaning Nikon and Canon use different format of Raw files.
- uncompressed, like say if your camera is 10.1 megapixels, the file size is going to be 10megabytes (or at least around that anyways).
- 8 bit per color, though most DSLR’s these days are 12 bits per color.
- lossless data straight from the image sensor.
- is normally higher in dynamic range, meaning the ability to display better looking shadows and highlights.
- much lower in contrast, the photo will appear flat, washed out looking.
- not as sharp as jpeg.
- not very suitable to be printed with out post processing first.
- a standard format readable by any image program or photo frame.
- exactly 8 bits per color.
- compressed data, which doesn’t always mean the photo will be low quality.
- smaller file size
- lower in dynamic range
- much sharper
- great for printing, sharing and posting on the web with out any further post processing
- able to be manipulated, though not without losing data each time an edit is done.
- processed by your camera, no need for manually processing, unless desired.
These are major differences, you shouldn’t shoot in raw all the time, and you shouldn’t shoot in jpeg all the time. You should choose which format that depends on the situation, general photography will be just fine with jpeg, I shoot in jpeg most of the time because I had good luck getting excellent photos from using jpeg format, I also use jpeg when i’m at car shows and other events where I will be taking many pictures and not want to edit them. Most journalist, press photographers use jpeg so they can instantly upload the photo of George Clooney right to web.
Now say if you want to setup a perfect shot, maybe an interior shot of a home, or maybe you want to do HDR (High Dynamic Range) you should use Raw format because it offers better dynamic range, it has more data and is lossless, so no matter how many times you save it, the data is always going to be there, it never gets lost, unlike jpeg.
Now for my personal experience, I hardly shoot in raw, I took many shots with raw and jpeg and of course the jpeg looks fine right of the camera, the raw is flat and washed out, but after the editing, the photos look just about the same, of course it really depends on the situation. I actually know a lot of professional photographers that rarely shoot in raw nowadays. Which is partly because the technology is getting so much better that someday Raw format may never be used anymore, and that’s how it’s going to be.
I also tried doing an HDR shot with jpegs, came out like crap, did it with Raw and it came out perfect. Raw and Jpeg are two different formats that will depend in your situation. When you get your first DSLR, you wont be using raw format right of the bat, your going to being jpeg for a long time and you may never use raw, but you should at least try it and learn it. It will come in handy someday to get the perfect. Remember chose raw or jpeg that is appropriate for your saturation. Read more about Raw and Jpeg.