10 Reasons Why You Should Be Shooting RAW

RAW

You’ve probably heard over and over that you should be shooting in RAW.

But do you know why it’s so important? And what it really means for your images? Let’s sort it out!


First off…

What is RAW?

RAW is a file format that captures all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo.

When shooting in a format like JPEG image information is compressed and lost. Because no information is compressed with RAW you’re able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problem images that would be unrecoverable if shot in the JPEG format.

And happily many many cameras these days shoot RAW, including point and shoots!

So even if you’re using a little camera, you might still be able to take advantage of the RAW file format (just check your camera manual to see!).

Want to create stunning photos by easily controlling your camera?
Here’s our complete guide!

Advantages of shooting RAW

So, the benefits of RAW… There are quite a few, and they’re super important!

Let’s list ‘em out:

1. Get the Highest Level of Quality

This is one of the biggest benefits. When you shoot in RAW you record all of the data from the sensor. This gives the highest quality files. And when it comes to your awesome images, you want high quality.

Look at it this way: all cameras technically shoot RAW.

Yes, it’s true.

The difference when you shoot in JPEG format is that the camera does it’s own processing to convert the RAW information into a JPEG.

However, your camera is nowhere near as smart as your brain, nor is it as powerful as your computer.

When you shoot RAW, you’re able to do that processing yourself. You can make the decisions on how the image should look, and produce way better results.

2. Record Greater Levels of Brightness

Levels of brightness are the number of steps from black to white in an image.

The more you have, the smoother the transitions of tones. Smooth is good.

JPEG records 256 levels of brightness, and RAW records between 4,096 to 16,384 levels! This is described with the term “bit”. JPEG captures in 8bit, and RAW is either 12bit or 14bit. That’s what that bit business means!

The effect this has on your images is huge.

Those additional steps of brightness let you make more adjustments (exposure, blacks, fill light, recovery, contrast, brightness) to your image without a significant reduction of quality, because there’s more levels to work with!

It’s also easier to avoid or correct posterization in your images when you shoot in RAW.

Posterization is the banding that you often see in bright skies, which really doesn’t look good in prints!

3. Easily Correct Dramatically Over/Under Exposed Images

Obviously you want to get the best exposure in camera, but sometimes things move fast (especially with weddings!)

So, you wind up with a dramatically over or under exposed image.

With RAW you have additional information in the file, so it’s much easier to correct the image without a drastic reduction in quality.

You can also recover more blown highlights and clipped shadows. Good stuff.

4. Easily Adjust White Balance

When you shoot JPEG the white balance is applied to the image.

You can’t just easily choose another option.

With RAW the white balance is still recorded, but because you have way more data, it’s easy to adjust.

Great white balance and colour are essential to an awesome image, and shooting RAW lets you make the adjustments easier and faster, with better results.

5. Get Better Detail

When you shoot RAW you have access to sharpening and noise algorithms in a program like Lightroom that are way more powerful than those found in your camera.

Plus, these sharpening and noise algorithms are always improving, so in the future you’ll be able to re-visit your RAW files and take advantage of these improvements.

And jetpacks.

6. Enjoy Non-Destructive Editing

When you make adjustments to a RAW file, you’re not actually doing anything to the original data.

What you’re doing is creating a set of instructions for how the JPEG or TIFF (another file format) version should be saved.

The awesomness of this is that you never ever have to worry about ruining an image, accidentally saving over, or being unable to go back and make changes.

You can always reset your adjustments, and start over again.

JPEG files lose quality every time you open them, make adjustments, and save again. True story. It’s what is known as a “lossy” file format.

So if you’re making edits to JPEGs you always have to be duplicating the image and saving out a new version if you don’t want to lose file quality. Hassle.

7. Get Better Prints

Because of the finer gradation of tones and colours you’ll get better prints from RAW files.

Even though more and more people are shooting digital, great prints are as important as ever (maybe even more so, due to their relative rarity!)

You’ll also get less banding, which is really yucky on a print.

8. Select Colour Space on Output

Colour space is a bit of a complex topic, but here’s a quick tip.

With RAW you can choose from any colour space when you are exporting it out, so you can adjust depending on the situation!

Is the image going on to the web? Then output in the sRGB colour space to ensure maximum compatibility among web browsers.

Are the files heading to a client? Save it in the common Adobe RGB (1998) colour space.

Do you want the widest colour space possible? Use ProPhoto RGB.

Basically there are different colour spaces that work best for different situations, and when you shoot RAW you can export a single image in multiple spaces! Sweet!

9. Have an Efficient Workflow

It’s easier to work through large batches of images when you’re using a workflow centric program like Lightroom or Aperture. They’re designed to easily process groups of RAW images. Photoshop is not meant for that kind of thing, it’s built to handle one image at a time.

In order to take full advantage of all the benefits of Lightroom and Aperture you should be shooting RAW!

10. It’s the Pro Option

Professionals should be providing their clients with the highest quality possible. Issues like banding and blown h
ighlights are big deals when you’re offering your clients printed products. Achieving proper colour balance, and choosing the right colour space for the situation are critical as well.

By shooting RAW you take control, and are able to manage these problems to create the best results possible.

Now that some point and shoots are capable of shooting RAW, hobbyists and amateurs can also take advantage of this pro level option, and get better files and prints! Good deal.

Downsides and Solutions

Now, there are always pros and cons to every option, and RAW does have a few disadvantages.

We’ll chat about those, as well as some potential solutions!

Need To Be Processed

A common argument against shooting RAW is that because the files need to be processed, it takes more time to shoot RAW than JPEG.

If you don’t do any processing to your JPEGs that might be true.

However, most photographers do some level of processing to their JPEGs so already the argument is getting flimsy.

Then, when you add in the fact that adjustments like white balancing, and recovering highlights and shadows are way faster with RAW files, and it actually begins to looks like processing RAW can be faster than JPEG!!

Then, with RAW, you can easily export to JPEG, as well as convert to various sizes (like web res) at the same time. If you really wanted you could even shoot RAW + JPEG simultaneously!

RAW gives you way more options, and can be processed just as fast, if not faster, than JPEG.

Takes Up More Space

Since RAW files have more uncompressed information they can be 2-3 times larger than JPEG files. This is definitely a concern for many shooters, especially those who create a lot of images.

But over the past few years, the cost of hard drives has really dropped, and they’re incredibly affordable!

Let’s consider a 3TB hard drive.

  • A 3TB drive costs about $129
  • If a large JPEG file is about 8MB, you’ll fit 375,000 images on the drive, at $0.000344/image
  • If a RAW file is about 30MB, you’ll fit 100,000 images on the drive, at $0.00129/image

Obviously you can store fewer RAW files, but the number of images that you can cheaply store is so large for both formats that it’s not really an issue!

It’s also probably a good idea to not place so many images on a single hard drive. Don’t put all your photographic eggs in one basket!

Memory cards are the same deal. They’re constantly dropping in price. Remember when a 2GB card was over $200??

Nowadays you can hardly even buy one that small, and 4GB is as cheap as $15. Madness!

Yes, RAW files are bigger and take up more space.

But that’s because they’re of higher quality. Go with high quality for the extra $0.00121/image.

Slows The Camera Down

RAW files are larger than JPEGs, so they’ll fill up the buffer of your camera faster.

The camera will still shoot the same frames per second, regardless of whether it is RAW or JPEG, but you may have to wait for the camera to write to the memory card if the buffer fills up.

If shooting fast sequences if critical for you, and you want to shoot RAW, you can purchase faster memory cards, or a more expensive camera with a larger buffer.

In A Proprietary Format

RAW files are often recorded in a proprietary format, which means that the camera manufacturers haven’t officially disclosed how the raw data can be converted.

Companies like Adobe either need to license software to decode the RAW files or reverse engineer how the files should be converted. (For Canon cameras the RAW format looks like .CR2 and for Nikon it’s .NEF).

The problem here is that you can’t be certain that in 5, 10 or 20 years you’ll be able to easily open that RAW file if you don’t have the proper software to decode it!

A new open source RAW format has been developed in order to overcome this obstacle. It was developed by Adobe and is known as DNG (Digital Negative).

Using a program like Lightroom, you can convert your proprietary RAW files into the open source DNG format. It’s an extra step, but it will ensure your files are readable far into the future!

Already the Leica M9 shoots in the DNG format, so look for more camera manufacturers to support this open source format in the future!

Wrap It UP!

Hopefully this look at RAW and it’s benefits has cleared things up a bit!

Suggestions that RAW takes too long, or is too much work, don’t really hold water anymore.

These days, it’s super duper easy (and fast!) to process RAW files, and you’ll be able to get the absolute best quality out of those images that you put so much time, effort and love into!

Want to create stunning photos by easily controlling your camera? Here’s our complete guide!

UPDATE: Due to the overwhelming response to this blog post, and the questions many readers have had, we have created a followup blog post called 12 Answers To Your Burning Questions About Raw. Go check it out!

Rob Lim

Hi there, I’m Rob! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I love all things photography: shooting, teaching and always learning more! If I’m not reading up on the latest photography news, or studying a technique, I’m probably reading a book or planning our next adventure!

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Comments

186 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. i've been shooting RAW for ages, and won't go back. However, I loved this article. You explain complex things in such an easy to understand way! Thanks for laying it all out!

  2. Thank you so much Tamsen! We're really glad to hear that we make it easy to understand!!

  3. I remember when I first decided to shoot RAW a few years back – i thought it was a such a risky choice! How amateur tho – RAW is simply the best!! I will never go back to JPG, and I recommend it to everyone that asks :)

  4. Have I toooooold you lately that I love yooooou? <3
    Raw is awesome!

  5. What an awesome post! I've just started to use RAW on and off as I keep hearing it's "better for processing" but never really knew why. Now I do and will definitely be making the switch permanently :) thanks for the great info!

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone! Really glad you're all digging RAW!!

  7. I'm one of those nerdy kids who felt the need to go to some sort of photography class before I started to use my camera. Even though it was years ago the teacher begged us all to shoot in RAW even though we were a bunch of amateurs. I'm super I listened because I think it could be a daunting switch for some people even though it's soo totally worth it.

    Great post!

  8. Thanks Nikki! :)

  9. Excellent and concise. I love having this as a tool to inform friends who aren't shooting in raw yet. Thank you!

  10. I've wanted to shoot in RAW but was told that the images would have to be converted to jpeg to download to my computer anyway, so why shoot in RAW. Is this true? My computer is less than a year old and I use Photoshop Elements.

    • Tiger78232 says:

      You can store the RAW images on your computer (preferable). From there use a tool like “lightroom” to convert that RAW image (touch it up as much as you’d like) to JPEG.

  11. another great post.. thank you.. I always shoot raw+jpeg. I just have one question, why crop to square?

    • Square is useful for photographers who shot using 120 film and twin lens reflex cameras. It makes them feel at home.

      I used a small Linhof with the same film and ideal format, 6X7.

  12. sorry im suppose to ask my question on your last post..:)

  13. Lakshmeesh Bharadwaj says:

    Thanks for sharing articles, about lighroom, raw, shooting with panning. etc..

  14. I did some photos is raw & loved them but had a really hard time getting downloaded into elements? Loved your article. donna

  15. I know how to shoot in RAW and completely understand the benefits, but I don't know how to get the file from my camera to my computer in RAW and not JPEG. I use CS5 for my editing. Can anyone help? I'd be so grateful.

    • I use an external sd card reader, I never go from camera to computer

    • There are several ways to move files from a camera to a computer. The ones I use are the same for JPEG or RAW.

      1) I can use a USB cable to connect between the camera and the computer. The computer recognizes the memory card in the camera as a drive and I simply select, copy (or cut) and paste the files into My Pictures.

      2) I can remove the memory card from the camera and insert it into the slot in my laptop. The computer also recognizes the card as a drive and I can follow the procedure above.

      3) If you do not have a card reader in your laptop, you may attach an external one via USB and do the same thing as in 2).

      I don’t think there is any problem moving the files to your hard disk. What you do after that varies.

      Note that if you need it, Adobe Bridge is able to open JPEG files in a RAW editor provided by Adobe. Bridge was free with my CS5 package. My Canon 60D is set to record jpeg files at highest quality. Photoshop opens jpeg files directly. It opens .CR2 files in an editor. I seldom edited them, so I stopped using CR2. When I need it, I open the JPEGs in Bridge and make corrections. The editor is very useful in saving a bad exposure. I find that using the RAW editor is similar to correcting negatives after development with chemical processes. There were reducers and intensifiers to do this in the rare cases when it was necessary.

      I hope this helps.

  16. This was a great read, thanks!

    Heidi, do you have Adobe Bridge? That is an easy way to organize your photos and keep the raw files in there and open them through Photoshop that way.

  17. I used to shoot jpeg an I switched to raw, and what a difference, thx for the article.

  18. Thanks for commenting everyone!

    @Liz – It's not true that the RAW files would need to be converted to JPEG before being able to download them to your computer. You can easily download RAW files to your computer.

    What you need to do is convert (process) the RAW files before you print them, or post them online. So you end up converting back to JPEG (or TIFF).

    The quality of RAW files is so much greater than a JPEG straight out of camera, that it's better to convert RAW files to JPEG on your computer than let your camera shoot JPEG.

    @Gino – No particular reason to crop square, sometimes it just works better for the composition. I feel rectangular crops often work better because composition is less constrained. With square crops symmetry feels more important to me.

    @Donna – I don't have experience with Elements, but you should be able to just copy the RAW files from your memory card to your computer and then open then in the Photoshop Elements RAW editor. Something I'll have to look into further.

    @Heidi – It sounds like you might be shooting in RAW + JPEG mode. When you connect the memory card to your computer and view the contents of the card do you see both JPEGS and RAW files?

    If you're shooting just RAW you shouldn't see any JPEGS on the card. If you're only shooting JPEG then you won't see any RAW files on the card – in which case you'll need to change your camera to RAW mode or RAW+JPEG mode.

    I'm not sure if this really answers your question? Let me know if that helps and we'll go from there!

  19. Great suggestion Liz! Lightroom is also a great program to use to import, organize, and process RAW files!

    • Hello rob just seen your article, im currently shooting jpeg but have read your post and it seem raw is the way forward I’m currently using a nikon d3300 along with my 50mm 1.8 my favourite lens to use mostly. I transfer my Imsges to disc and usb for my client in which format do I need to save these images in for them to be able to view on there own devices? Many thanks
      Also I’m looking to go to full frame d610 or would you suggest buying a better lens for my current camera?

  20. what if you don't use lightroom or aperture? I tried opening raw images as a test in elements, and found it difficult and tedious, if it even worked.

    • Tiger78232 says:

      As the article states, RAW images are proprietary. Not all imaging tools can read them. I have a Nikon and all RAW images are stored in “NEF” format. I am unable to open this image with many normal imaging software. But Nikon does have its own viewing software called “ViewN2” (something like that). It opens great.

  21. I started shooting in RAW a few months ago…i was nervous about doing it but would never go back!! I use elements and it's not hard at all to get the RAW images in there, although i did have to make sure the actual software that came with my camera was installed first b/c windows media viewer (or whatever it is called) won't show .NEF files but once you load them into elements it will bring each one up so you can change the exposure, fill light, etc and then once you've got the lighting etc the way you want you select all the images from the left hand side you want to process in elements and wa la they will open just like a jpeg then :)

  22. Good post ! Maybe you can help me out ? I was shooting RAW up until a year ago when I upgraded my camera to a 5dmk2 – I am unable to find the appropriate plug-in for CS2 – without it, if I shoot RAW, my Photoshop doesn't regognise the file . Help , your post made me realize I need to get back to RAW !!

  23. Thanks for sharing Jessica! I'm afraid I don't have much experience with Photoshop Elements yet (sorry Amanda) :)

    @Loren – From what I understand you need Photoshop CS4 or later in order to open the 5D mk II's RAW files. "See this forum post for details":http://photo.net/digital-darkroom-forum/00TpeN Apparently what you can do is download a "free DNG converter free from Adobe":http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/product.jsp?product=106&platform=Windows&promoid=HTENB, and convert your RAW files to DNG. Worth a try!

  24. Pentax cameras are able to save RAW in DNG format.

  25. Great tip Artur! Thanks for sharing!

  26. I shot in raw from our vacation. Converted a few to jpeg and the didn't look as sharp. What is the best way to convert and make them pop. I have a few thousand pics too.

    Shot with a canon.

    • Be sure to set the quality setting to maximum when saving a file to JPEG, The compression algorithm will then do minimum damage to your image. As an experiment, I once opened JPEG file, made a minor edit and saved it as a max quality JPEG. I did this 11 times and could not tell the difference from the first to the last. I believe most of the problems with JPEG files are the result of saving at too low quality. Keep the slider to the right!

  27. Hey Nick! Right on for trying out RAW! As we mentioned in the article, RAW files do need to be "processed" before they look as poppy as JPEGs.

    With JPEGs the camera is doing the processing, but with RAW you get to take control.

    The best way, in our opinion, to make them pop and then convert to JPEG is by using "Adobe Lightroom":http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/. You get more control over the final look. Or you can just apply some contrast and brightening to them all in a batch. Totally up to you and what you want to do!

  28. I dont have lightroom… Can you do that same process in cs5??

    • Yes you can. Bridge CS5 has a feature to open JPEG files in a RAW editor. It is the sixth item down under the File menu in Bridge. You may also use control + R. Try it, you’ll like it. I always save the file first under another name and edit the copy. The editor makes changes to the original file and saves it to a CR2 Format. It isn’t necessary to do it, but I like to have both versions. Two features of the editor are very useful. Setting the black point (Hold down the alt key and move the black slider until you just see some detail) and correcting the exposure with fill light. The other features of the RAW editor may be useful, but they require skill and practice. Good luck.
      .

  29. Hi Jessica!

    CS5 does have Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) which is basically the engine that Lightroom runs on. While you can make the same adjustments, Lightroom is much easier to use from a workflow perspective.

  30. I just discovered the perfect workflow solution for my RAW images, Corel Aftershot! i prefer it to lightroom

  31. Katie Jackson says:

    this week on NEWEGG.com they have a pack deal on corel paint shop and corel aftershot for $100 together! Just a tip for anyone in the market for those programs:)

  32. Christy Marie says:

    @ Heidi if you have set to RAW your camera probably came with software installation disc and info should be in user guide or manufacturers website.

  33. Hello, I have Photoshop CS2, and am considering using RAW for a shoot Saturday. Just got my Canon DSLR & this is my 1st shoot. Anyone know if it's worthwhile to shoot RAW? Will it be compatible? Haven't done this in a while.

  34. *@Matt:* Interesting, I haven't heard anything about Aftershot. What you do like about it over Lightroom?

    *@Pamela:* You can open and edit RAW files in Photoshop using Adobe Camera RAW. Bridge also lets you do this. We find Photoshop isn't the most convenient method, however. We find Lightroom to be a far easier way to edit RAW files. Hope that helps!

  35. Yes :) Thanks!

  36. I always shoot in RAW format.

  37. This article was inspiring and informative. I only shoot out of hobby and I've never used RAW on my Nikon D5000. I now realize I've robbed myself of brilliant photos for nearly three years by neglecting this feature.. I've processed gorgeous photos directly on my camera without losing the depth in