Many amateur photographers start out using the JPEG converter on their camera. JPEG files are easy to work with and upload to editing programs with no problems. There’s a much better file format on most digital cameras that is worth some extra attention: RAW. RAW files are the most detailed files possible on your camera. They may take up extra space on memory cards and require a little extra processing before editing but the benefits they provide are worth the trouble. Here are the top three reasons to use your camera’s RAW setting:
1. RAW files contain all data from the camera sensor.
Take full advantage of your camera’s features by shooting in RAW. These files capture every detail of color, light, exposure, and sharpness that your camera’s sensor can pick up. Higher details in the image file gives you many more opportunities in the editing phase. Shooting pictures in JPEG format is simply a waste of that power.
2. RAW files record an incredible scale of brightness compared to JPEG files.
JPEG’s are stored in an 8-bit format and therefore can only represent 256 levels of brightness (levels from black to white). RAW files are stored in a 12-14 bit format which allows them to contain 4,096 to 16,384 levels of brightness. These sound like big impressive numbers, but what it really comes down to is how smooth the image will look after you’re done editing. 256 levels of brightness is not a bad number by any means. The human eye will perceive that as a smooth gradient. However, after any amount of intense editing, you are likely to see posterization (or banding) where noticeable lines form in gradients giving the image an unpleasant and cartoon-like look. RAW files provide enough detail to allow for heavy editing without worrying about banding.
3. RAW files can correct color and exposure problems.
You can’t always take photos in the best conditions. You also don’t always have the time to carefully plan the optimal camera settings for each photo. Sometimes you wind up with over/under-exposed photos or photos with over/under-saturated colors. The high detail in RAW files allows you to make the extreme corrections necessary to remedy many of these problems without losing an essential amount of data. The end result will still look natural to the human eye. JPEG files don’t contain enough data to safely make these edits which could result in a lot of great photos ruined.
The setup and editing may take a bit longer but working with RAW files is definitely worth the effort. Give it a try on your next photo shoot and see what a difference it makes!