RAW Files Explained in Photography

RAW files and the new Adobe DNG digital negative. For some reason I don’t warm to certain ideas very quickly. I’m afraid I didn’t understand why I should be using these for a long time.

raw files in photography

“first line photographer” captured by omens liu (Click Image to See More From omens liu)

The elusive concept for me was RAW files. A mystery to me mainly because every time I tried to understand it I ended up trying to avoid handling the large files sizes.

This was until it was explained to me properly by Anthony Sinfield at Park Cameras on one of their excellent ‘Working with RAW files’ courses at their training centre in Burgess Hill in West (Mid) Sussex.

Before that day I knew I should be shooting RAW but wasn’t sure why. All the explanations under the sun that I had fallen asleep reading merely confused me further and kept me from using raw files properly, although I still knew I was missing out somehow and I had an inkling it had to do with flexibility.

Now I refuse to shoot in anything else, even to the point where I had to be sold on the idea to even have my camera bother to produce a small JPEG at the same time, despite the extra post processing time. I am truly converted, and if you understand them you will be too. There is no other way if you’re serious. NONE.

Why not use JPEGs? Where digital cameras fell down and got back up. Avoiding a historical ramble about the ‘good old days’ of film but going back to the days when people developed films, took the negatives into a darkroom and produced enlargements, there was a great deal of control. You could do tons of things but hours would disappear each time, and it took years to get any good at it.

Then we got digital. Producing glossy JPEGs that could also be edited in Photoshop. Great.

But a little know fact is that each time you take a JPEG, a hell of a lot data is discarded straight away by the clever little person who made your camera.

Worse still, when you save a JPEG, even more information is hoofed out. This is compounded by the fact that cameras’ AI-based decisions about your photograph cannot always be trusted. What you’re likely to end up with isn’t what you shot.

Enter RAW files. They might look horrible, but your options are open. The way to think about it is that when you release the shutter, the sensor gets some digital information. Think of this info as the RAW file (it isn’t, but don’t worry about it). Literally the 1s and 0s from the sensor. When your camera produces a JPEG it takes this info, does all sorts of clever stuff, and produces your glossy saturated beautiful JPEG and simultaneously throws away what it thinks is doesn’t want.

RAW files carry a great deal more information than JPEGs. In fact, it’s this information that the camera looks at and trims down into a JPEG, which as we saw in the previous section, isn’t so bad. But the original untreated RAW file looks horrible, dull, and generally uninspiring. That’s because no correction work has taken place yet.

Here’s the best bit. RAW editors never overwrite data but instead record the changes you have asked to make, which of course you can edit. They record these edits in sidecar files or within the RAW file itself. Better still is your changes can be duplicated across numerous similar shots.

Photoshop can now be used only for creative editing and Adobe Camera RAW only for corrections.

The RAW files Issue. The one drawback: with hundreds of cameras and sensors, each producing different raw data, it follows that there will be hundreds of types of raw files. And there are. Sorry. About 400. Which means photo editing software has a job to cater to them all. Every time a new camera gets released the poor souls at Adobe have to get a codec for it, update everyone’s software, and then it becomes compatible.

So a standard is needed.

Adobe DNG files to the rescue: the standardization of RAW files. With all the RAW formats coming into being not only were software houses dying on a never ending mouse wheel of compatibility, but as cameras become older and obsolete so do their RAW formats, and ultimately the support for them.

So a future-proof standard became necessary, and Adobe invested very heavily in a new technology called DNG which stands for Digital Negative. So you convert your RAW to DNG and you can always edit your RAW file and convert it to an excellent image years later, as if you had just shot it.

RAW files changed everything: the real benefits. Just to finish, the net result is more control than ever before. It’s future proof. You have full non destructive and recovery editing.

Now there is no excuse, and with higher ISO quality this is the dawning of a new era.

My advice: start using RAW files as of yesterday.

Try visiting Park Cameras and their excellent training center if you have any doubts. This is how you will improve your photography.

You can view my Live Music shots, all shot in RAW at http://www.flickr.com/bigmojo

About the Author
Hi, my name is Keith Trigwell. I’m a live music photographer and I also have a passionate interest in most other types of photography, particularly portraiture and fine art. My live music shots can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/bigmojo.

To pass the time I also write a few articles on photography and technical photographic matters.

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One response to “RAW Files Explained in Photography”

  1. Totally agreed with the you Keith! I started shooting only RAW last year, and I can see the difference, thanks for sharing man!

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