RAW files contain uncompressed and unprocessed image data, allowing photographers to capture practically every detail they see in their viewfinder. The RAW file format stores the largest amount of detail out of any raster file type, which photographers can then edit, compress and convert into other formats. Learn more about the benefits, drawbacks and best ways to work with a RAW image.
What you’ll learn:
- What is a RAW file?
- What are RAW files used for?
- Advantages and disadvantages of RAW files.
- RAW files: frequently asked questions.
Learn more about different RAW file types.
What is a RAW file?
A RAW file is the uncompressed and unprocessed image data captured by a digital camera or scanner’s sensors. Shooting in RAW captures a high level of image detail, with large file sizes and lossless quality. The direct image data means you start with a high-quality image that can be edited, converted and compressed in a non-destructive manner.
RAW files are a type of raster file format, but not actually images themselves. This means you need to import them into relevant software before you can edit or export them as a different raster image file, like a JPEG. Many photographers who shoot in RAW manipulate the original data in software like Photoshop before compressing the RAW file into a different format for print or online.
Find out more about vector files
What are RAW files used for?
The highest-quality images often start out as RAW files. DSLR cameras capture and hold image data in RAW files, which are typically large and highly detailed because there is no compression. Image generation software can sometimes create RAW files too, but this is less common.
Photographers import and edit their RAW image data in photo-editing software like Photoshop Lightroom, for example. From there, they can adjust the RAW image data for exposure, white balance, colour balance and much more. The last step is to convert the RAW file into a different type of raster image format, resizing and compressing it to fit its intended use, whether it's in print or online.
Advantages and disadvantages of RAW files.
Before deciding to use RAW files, make sure to consider both the upsides and the downsides.
Advantages of RAW files.
Some of the benefits of RAW files include:
- Great detail.
The main advantage of RAW files is that they contain the most detail compared to other raster and vector file types. This gives you a lot more to work with when editing photos.
- Wide colour range.
RAW files can contain millions more colours than a JPEG image, plus increased RGB tonal values.
- Lossless compression.
This ensures that the quality of your RAW image files won’t drop due to compression.
- Greater control.
With RAW files, you have the power to make any kind of adjustment, such as converting a black and white RAW file to colour and modifying brightness, contrast and gamma correction, all without changing the RAW image itself.
- Converting potential.
Try merging RAW files to form HDR or panoramic images you can then edit.
Disadvantages of RAW files.
Some common disadvantages of RAW files include:
- Large size.
Their size can require both additional camera and computer storage space.
- Format compatibility issues.
RAW files aren’t standardised, so some software can’t read the files from certain cameras.
- Processing requirements.
It can add time to convert the RAW file into a raster image file for both print and online.
- Sharing restrictions.
You need to convert RAW files before sharing them with people who don’t have the appropriate software.
- Longer workflows.
Due to the larger file sizes, conversions and having at least two files for each image (the original RAW and converted raster file), it can take longer to work with RAW files.
RAW files: frequently asked questions.
How do I open a RAW file?
To open a RAW file, you need image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom. The most appropriate software to open a RAW file depends on your camera type and computer operating system or smartphone. After opening a RAW file, you can then convert and export it in your desired image format.
How do you convert RAW files to JPEG?
To convert a RAW file to a JPEG image file, open your RAW file in your chosen editing software. From there, simply make a copy of the file, save and export it as a new JPEG image file. You’ll then have two files — the original RAW file and the converted JPEG image.
Is RAW the best image quality?
RAW files are the highest-quality files available for shooting and saving, as they contain the most detail. There’s no compression or conversion, which can lower the image quality and affect other types of raster files. However, this high-quality means RAW files are usually a lot larger than alternative formats.
Why should I shoot in RAW?
You can capture a lot more detail if you shoot in RAW, since RAW files contain everything that passes through your camera’s image sensor. Enjoy a greater colour range and depth to create vibrant images. Starting with more detail gives you more control as you edit colours, contrast and brightness to create exactly the images you want.
How do I send RAW files?
Because RAW files are large and require editing software to open, it can be easiest to convert and send them as a JPEG or PNG image. However, you can transfer RAW files themselves. Most RAW files are too large to send over email, so using file-sharing services that allow for large transfers can be the best solution.