If you’ve spent any time with a DSLR at all, you’ve heard the term RAW thrown around. But what does it actually mean?
RAW is not a file format per se…it’s a way of capturing an image so that it retains as much of the information as possible. In other words, there is no compression or processing done in the camera. Any processing you want has to be done after the fact, and by you.
All camera brands have their own RAW file format, or file extension, if that makes more sense to you. For instance, Canon’s RAW file format is a .CR2 while Nikon uses the file extension .NEF.
But what does that mean to you as an end user? Why would you ever want to shoot in a format that pretty much forces you to post process your photo in order to print it, upload it to any social media, or share it with friends and family?
RAW captures more dynamic range. The transition between shadow and light in the file is much more detailed, and therefore can be processed much more effectively in RAW than in a compressed format like JPG. This is especially important to anyone who wants to shoot in black and white. It also means that you can adjust your overall image exposure more delicately to bring out hidden details.
You can adjust white balance with much more accuracy in a RAW file. That means that if you’re shooting indoors at night and get that weird yucky orange colour cast, RAW lets you fix it better than you could with a JPG.
Most cameras have a noise reduction setting that is applied when you use a high ISO setting. With a compressed format like JPG, this can lead to nighttime shots that look…mushy. Plastic. With RAW, the noise reduction isn’t applied as aggressively so the image will look more grainy and less mushy. Noise is something that is easily taken care of when post processing RAW files.
Is that enough to make you want to shoot in RAW instead of JPG? It comes down to personal choice. Here’s what we tell people:
- If you are shooting for pleasure and have no interest or intent to post process your images, go ahead and shoot in JPG.
- If you are shooting for pleasure but plan to post process, you could shoot in RAW+JPG. That way you have the best of both worlds. Be aware though, that this will eat your cards up in record time. Have extras on hand at any given time.
- If you are shooting for work, or to sell, or you really love post processing, do yourself a favour and shoot in RAW.
If you have any questions about shooting in RAW, don’t hesitate to get in touch!