If you have a digital SLR from any of the top vendors then there’s a very good chance it will allow you to save all your images in a format called “RAW”. You may have looked at this and wondered what it was and why you’d bother to use it. In fact, many cameras are set to the ubiquitous JPG format out the box and they remain in that state to this day.
However the RAW format is exceptionally useful because it captures all of the detail of a picture. In essence, it’s the RAW data that the camera takes in from the lens, unaltered, and uncompressed. JPG on the other hand compresses the data and it loses some of it in the process.
But why does this matter?
1- Refine the details of a picture
When you’ve taken your pictures, you might want to alter them to get the best final image. RAW gives you far more data to play with so adjusting clarity, sharpness, exposure, colour is all much easier and you have more parameters to play with.
Also, when you’ve made the changes, you retain the quality. Each saving of a JPG reduces the quality a little (or a lot in some cases), RAW will retain all the quality.
2- Undo with ease
And while we’re talking about adjustments, with a RAW image you never lose the original. You’ll have to save your final image as another format so you’ll always have the RAW version to go back to.
3- Get the best quality possible
Not only do you not lose quality when adjusting, you begin with the highest level of quality possible from the outset. To save at JPG your camera will need to convert and it won’t do the best job possible. The best job will be done by you and your favourite software.
4- Correct over or under exposed images easily
I’m always going to my RAW data to solve this particular problem. Sometimes you might not get chance to adjust your exposure properly when taking a picture. Because the RAW image format has more data, you can adjust your exposure easily from the comfort of your laptop.
5- Want to print? Get the RAW data
The more information you have, the better any prints will be. You want the best quality possible for printing and sometimes the compression of a JPG can show in a final image. If you’re creating images for a magazine or brochure, the last thing you want is for your images to look amateur.
Of course there are reasons why people don’t shoot RAW and the main one is space. On my Nikon on a 16GB SD card I can get just over 1,600 images in high quality. If I switch to RAW the extra space needed means I can only get 340 – that’s a huge difference!
Luckily, SD cards are getting cheaper all the time so it’s actually not that uncommon to have a few large cards knocking about in your camera bag.
So embrace the RAW!