Jun 26 2007

Defining RAW File Format

Published by at 12:44 am under Better Photos

Digital is awesome!

Photography has taken on new identity with the digital revolution. If you are eager to get your hands on some software that can improve your photos even more, then the Raw file format may be just what you are looking for.

If you handle a lot of the more recent digital cameras, you have probably seen the Raw option on your file format. For those of you that are capitalizing the three letters, you can stop now because unlike JPEG or TIFF, Raw is not an acronym. It is capitalized in the title of this piece simply to attract the attention of those that know it as such. What it is instead is the raw image data that the sensor receives and digitizes inside of the microprocessor of the camera. You must have image processing software to see the raw image, in addition to the less sophisticated versions of some image processing programs. The Raw software turns the Raw image file format into an image that shows up on the screen and let’s you save it to another format besides Raw.

Once the Raw file is downloaded to your computer, the file formats are uncompressed, like Tiffs but the Raw file format offers more information than you would get in the JPEG file. All JPEG files are compressed so even if it is Fine or Super Fine or whatever is the lowest compression JPEG file the information is written to your memory card. After the information goes away and the image is opened, it is reconstructed with algorithms or what the thrown out pixels favor. Once the information is gone, it cannot be retrieved so if you are dealing with images that have a lot of delicate details, there might be some loss of subtle tonal gradations.

Raw is a great file format for purists, but it also can be useful to the average Joe. If you want to get the most out of your images, Raw is the way to go. If you are wondering why you can’t just shoot TIFF’s since they are non-compressed file format without losing information, you can. However, if your camera used TIFF you could easily use 24MB plus per exposure, and so even with a new 2GB memory card, you would be limited to about 80 photos. If you go with Raw format file, it will take up only about 33% of the space a TIFF uses, allowing about 240 photos on the 2GB card.

With raw, your image processing will be deferred until you have the images processed by the Raw converter software on your computer. This occurs because, while you are using your camera in raw mode there is less processing inside of your digital camera.

Even though these are all great reasons to use Raw file format, the real benefits come when you have the Raw image in the computer. Once you open the Raw converter software, you will see a raft of options that allow you to balance image and the exposure compensation controls the way that you set them when you are photographing. You will be able to define resolution for printing and change between color spaces and noise filters. The Raw file format can open up a wealth of photographic experiences. Using the Raw file format is kind of like developing your own film.

The Raw file format is a wonderful way to get the most out of the photos. If you are skeptical, give it a chance and see what you think. You will be surprised by results.

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