What Does 'Raw File Format (Raw Image Format)' Mean?

What is a Raw File Format (Raw Image Format)?
Photo by Gidon Wessner on Unsplash

A raw image format is a file format that stores unprocessed data from a digital camera’s image sensor. It is called “raw” because it is not yet ready to be printed or edited with a bitmap graphics editor. Instead, it must first be converted into a more usable format, such as JPEG or TIFF, using specialized software called a “raw converter.”

One of the best things about shooting in raw format is that it keeps all of the information that the image sensor picks up.

This allows you to make more adjustments to the image during post-processing without losing quality. For instance, you can change a raw image’s white balance, exposure, and contrast without changing the pixel data.

In contrast, shooting in a format like JPEG discards some of the data captured by the image sensor in order to create a smaller file size. This means that any adjustments made to the image during post-processing will result in a loss of quality as the original data has been discarded.

Raw formats also tend to have a higher bit depth, which means that they can capture more tonal range and color detail than JPEGs. This can be especially useful for photographers who want to make fine adjustments to the image in post-processing or for images that will be printed at a large size.

There are many different raw image formats, each of which is specific to a particular camera or image sensor. Some common raw formats include NEF (Nikon), CR2 (Canon), ARW (Sony), and DNG (Adobe).

While shooting in raw format does require the use of specialized software to convert the files, many modern photo editing programs, such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, include built-in support for raw files. This allows photographers to easily edit and process their raw images using the same software they use for other tasks, such as retouching and color grading.

Shooting in raw format is a powerful tool for photographers who want the maximum amount of control over their images and the ability to make fine adjustments during post-processing. It may require a bit more time and effort to convert the files, but the results are often worth it for the increased flexibility and quality of the final image.