Not too long ago, I had a conversation with someone who had some nice new mirrorless camera gear.
I asked them if they were shooting RAW format and jpeg format, just RAW format, or just jpegs. They answer was “just jpegs.”
To which I replied: “RAW. Just shoot it!”
Many of us have digital cameras that will capture images in RAW format in addition to jpeg. RAW is somewhat of a generic term for a “raw” image file that stores everything that the camera sensor captured when you clicked the shutter. Some cameras only capture the jpeg, which is compressed and processed for optimal results according to the camera manufacturer’s software. The jpeg images are also smaller than RAW files – sometimes by as much as 75%.
So, why shoot RAW (which in reality has many different filename extensions – .nef, .raf, etc. – it’s whatever the manufacturer wants to call it) if you have to process it and it’s a bigger file?
In simple terms, it presents a wider range of editing and processing options, particularly if the jpeg is overexposed or underexposed. You might be really unhappy with your jpeg – but you can probably make a winner out of the RAW file in your editing software. RAW images can have an exposure latitude of +/- 2 stops or more – that’s really a wide margin for error. You can also work to bring out the shadow detail in a RAW file, or tone down the highlights to even out an image.
I have to admit that when I first got a camera that was capable of shooting RAW images (a Fuji S-9000 9MP all-in-one) – I didn’t shoot RAW.
Confession time: I was intimidated by the notion of digital processing more so than anything else, and was under the (mistaken) impression that the jpegs my camera put out were the best that could be done with the image. One word: WRONG!
I started to play around with RAW, and as I got comfortable with processing images, actually reached the point where now I only shoot RAW. It started to get to be too much to organize and keep straight. Most of my processed images are saved as jpegs (although some are saved as lossless .tif files if I really had to do some work on them – and then saved as jpegs) for posting. You can always convert the RAW image to whatever file format you’d like, but you can never work backwards to the original information and quality of the RAW file.
You can use the software that came with your camera, or download free software such as Picasa by Google or Gimp, or buy software (Acdsee, Adobe, Corel, onOne, etc.) to process your RAW files. It might take some time to learn the software, and you might actually have to read the instructions, but it’s well worth it!
So, in case you missed my point… RAW. Just shoot it!