What is Raw Format in Digital Photography

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Are you interested in learning what is raw format in digital photography? Perhaps you're even interested in shooting a few frames to see how it works and would like some additional information or tips on how to use it.

What Is Raw Format In Digital Photography?

Much like other digital photography file formats (such as GIF, JPEG and TIFF), raw format data is a way of creating a photographic image file with minimal digital processing. Instead of being compressed in any way, the images are stored just by their image sensor data. When an image is taken, the camera stores the pixel color readings directly rather than editing them in camera.

How Does It Work?

When a photographer shoots a picture in raw format, the camera sensor senses what is in front of the camera and takes a photograph. Then ISO readout is then stored directly as is. With a JPEG, the image is then balanced and compressed. This does not happen with raw data.

Times To Use Raw Data Images

The best times to use raw data images are when one is unsure of the camera settings a given situation needs. If you're shooting in an unfamiliar environment where you cannot gauge the white balance or contrast, raw image formats can be the best file format to shoot in. You can later compensate for these features. Also, when you would like to print an image large, raw image formats can give you the room to provide the best print.

Anything Else About Raw Data?

When asking what is raw format in digital photography, it's important to note that raw image data must be processed before it can be edited or printed. Its stored format is not useable as is. However, one can convert a raw data file into a TIFF or JPEG with little effort.

Pros and Cons of Raw Format

As with any other file format, there are pros and cons to using raw image format to take photographs.

Pros

  • One of the biggest pros of the raw image format is that the sensor attempts to replicate exactly what is outside of the lens. There is no ISO or white level adjustment and no compression. As a result, when the image is uploaded to a computer, many photographic 'flaws' can be edited. Pixelation, noise, under and over exposure, coloring and depth of field can be edited when editing a raw image file. You will have the most control over your image.
  • You do not need to worry about poor compression in your camera.
  • Having a raw image data format means that you can always go back to that file if you would like to edit the image for other purposes.

Cons

  • In order to edit or print the photography, you must convert the file to a compatible form.
  • Raw images take much more space than JPEG image do on a memory card.
  • When shooting in raw format, many camera settings (if not all) are ignored and it can sometimes be difficult for a photographer to remember that.

What Is Raw Format on My Camera?

Many of the most popular camera brands refer to raw image files by their own file extensions. Some common brands and their file extensions:

File Extension Brand
.crw, .cr2 Canon
.drc, .drf Kodak
.nef, .nrw Nikon
.raw, .rw2 Panasonic
.erf Epson
.orf Olympus
.arw, .srf Sony

Final Thoughts

When debating which file format is best to use for a given situation, it's important for photographers to consider their needs. If one does not plan to edit the images and is not too concerned about supreme image quality, then raw image photography may not be the best option. If space is not a concern and a photographer is looking to use images for multiple purposes, than raw data may be one of the best options. It's also important to keep in mind that some digital cameras (such as basic point and shoot cameras) cannot shoot in the raw image format. If the option of raw format is important, be sure to look for it when choosing a digital camera.

What is Raw Format in Digital Photography