What are Raw images

So I got myself a new camera and noticed that it can save images as a raw file.

When I transfer these raw images to my computer I notice that their

much larger in file size compared to jpegs and they don’t even open on my computer.

I need the software that came with the camera or something like Adobe Lightroom to view them.

I have to convert this raw image to a format like jpeg to upload them or send to people.

My camera can save in jpegs, so why should I even bother with saving

images in a format that’s larger and incompatible for the web.

What exactly is a raw file and how do I make use of it?

What am I missing out by not saving in Raw?

Raw images - the advantages

Raw files contain all the data captured from the cameras image sensor

and is the uncompressed image file.

Raw files retain somewhere between 4,000 to 16,000 levels of brightness.

So for the same shot, Raw files retain much more information than jpeg files.

This extra data is very useful when editing images in post as it

allows for more significant changes without loss of quality.

Shots that are too dark or too bright are easier to fix if saved in raw.

White balance is also easier to fix in raw images.

Raw images Pros and Cons

This power does come with a few drawbacks:

  • Raw images are much larger in file size compared to jpegs.
  • It can slow down the camera in some cases (when burst shooting.)
  • Raw files need to be converted before it is compatible with many software.
  • Raw files look flat and will probably require post editing.
  • Post Editing can increase work to your work flow.

Benefits of shooting Raw is huge though:

  • The highest level of quality is retained.
  • It’s easier to fix exposure and white balance.
  • It’s easier to edit sharpness, noise, colors and contrasts.
  • Raw file edits are non destructive.
  • Its super fun!

Image Processing - You vs the Camera

When you shoot jpegs with your camera,

the information from the sensor is processed in the camera and compressed into a jpeg.

When you save in Raw, you retain that full uncompressed information from the sensor.

You have full control of processing the image before you export it into a format of your choice.

With a bit of practice, you will process much satisfying images than your camera.

Raw vs jpeg comparison

Raw files require editing, and you can do so using a software like Adobe Lightroom.

I’ll briefly show you how to open a Raw image in Lightroom and export it to a jpeg.

I’ll also compare the difference in the editing between raw and jpeg files.

raw vs jpeg - Comparing the Images

So here we have two of the same image taken hand held at night with an aperture of f4.0, ISO 800 and a shutter speed of a fifth of a second (15). The image on the left is the raw image and the image on the right is a jpeg saved directly from the camera.

jpg straight off the camera
jpg straight off the camera

At this point, the jpeg image has more contrast and vivid colors with less noise but most of the grass, the trees and the house is too dark to even identify.

What the Raw looks like by default
What the Raw looks like by default

The same image in raw looks quite flat but we can see the grass area, the trees and the house.

We’ll open both these files in Lightroom and see how much detail we can bring back from these under exposed areas. We’ll also change the White Balance, add some color changes and edit the sharpness and noise.

raw vs jpeg - Fixing Exposure

We’ll start with increasing the exposure of the jpeg image and we can see that the dark areas in the grass and trees have lost its details. It’s apparent that the details are missing in the shadows of the trees and the house on the right. The sky also looks very noisy as well as the grass.

In the raw image, we can see that there’s much more detail left in the shadows as we increase the exposure. We can see that the blob in front of the house is actually a tree.

raw vs jpeg - Fixing White Balance

Fixing White Balance in jpegs can be challenging sometimes as artifacts and banding appear. There’s also much less control in jpegs where the slider starts from -100 to 100 where as in a raw, the slider ranges from 2000 to 50,000 both in increments of one. Editing raw also allows selecting from several presets while this isn’t possible for jpegs.

raw vs jpeg - Saturation and Hue

jpeg images show much more imperfection when adjusting Hue and Saturation compared to raw images. Both file formats do really well when the colors don’t have much tonal range. However, the jpeg suffers in quality when the color has a large tonal range.

raw vs jpeg - Sharpening and noise

Though unprocessed raw images look noisy, it’s quite easy to adjust noise and sharpness. In jpeg it’s much more difficult to fix noise as when you start editing, as more noise gets introduced in the image.

raw vs jpeg - Comparing final results

So I’ll try to edit both these images by increasing the exposure to bring back some more details from the shadows. I’ll also apply some color changes where it’s possible and also adjust the white balance a bit to make it cooler.

Here are the results.

jpeg retouched
jpeg retouched

With the jpeg image the dark areas were restored to reveal the grass and house but the contrast and colors are missing. There’s also banding in the clouds and overall there’s not much range in color in the entire image.

raw retouched
raw retouched

(These images are shot hand-held on a micro four thirds camera)

With the Raw image I was able to retrieve more detail from the shadows, especially around the house on the right. The clouds have less noise, and I was able to add more color into the image which wasn’t possible in the jpeg image.

Once I’m happy with the edits on the raw image I can then export it to a jpeg. My raw image is kept safe and unaltered as these edits don’t affect the raw file itself but saves the changes on a meta data.

So here are the 2 final images side by side for comparison.

So raw files not only allow more adjustments but also more detail to be recovered from an image.

If you don’t feel confident in making the switch to Raw, you can always save image in both raw in jpegs.

I hope this video helped you see some of the advantages of saving images in raw.

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