Disadvantages & Advantages

This post is by no means a thorough technical investigation on the usage of camera RAW file format on the DSLR. It is simply a real world look at the disadvantages and advantages of shooting RAW.

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Canon EOS 50D menu selection for RAW/jpeg files.

Camera RAW files are the data captured by the image sensor and left unprocessed and uncompressed by the DSLR’s processors. Unlike jpeg files, where the DSLR’s chips processes and shrinks the image accordingly to the selected jpeg size thereby permanently compressing the RAW file. A computer software (RAW converter) is needed to process into RAW files into an actual viewable and printable image file. RAW files are the norm for many pro photographers. Unfortunately, not all. Those that do can attest to and live by the standard. Many even make a good living in shooting RAW files. Just do a quick look at any of the reputable stock image companies and all their inventory are from RAW format.

Disadvantages of Shooting RAW File Format
1. Typical file size more than 15mb. Takes up a lot of space on the cf /sd card and hard drive of computer- it becomes more expensive as external back up drives are also needed.
2. Camera RAW files not usable right out of the DSLR. RAW files will need to be post processed to some extent in software (but RAW conversion softwares are bountiful).
3. Camera RAW files need time to edit and process. Unlike jpegs that can be used immediately after shutter is pressed and uploaded to any social media of choice.
4. A fast computer is recommended for processing RAW. With 18 mega pixels as norm today on DSLR models the files get bigger and require newer computers with up to date hardware/software combo. It can become more expensive but there are some free software available.

Advantages of Shooting RAW File Format
1. RAW files are like film negatives where in all the information captured (sort of a loss-less file, if you will) from the sensor are stored on the cf/sd card unprocessed by the DSLR thereby preserving the original exposure in all it’s mega pixel glory (usually 16bit colors).
2. An otherwise unusable shot on jpeg file goes to the trash bin while if an image captured in Camera RAW format can be ‘rescued’ in post processing softwares.
3. RAW files are significantly better in dynamic range than jpeg where blown out highlights and shadows can be brought out to a certain degree.
4. Lens distortion can be corrected, chromatic aberration can be lessened and noise can be reduced without loosing too much sharpness.
7. If Canon user, RAW converter (Digital Professional Photographer) is FREE and included in box. Don’t put your hard earned DSLR to waste.

The original image below was captured using a Canon EOS 50D with a 22 year old Canon EF 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 (1989). The 1 RAW file was then processed into the many versions with a few minutes time using Canon’s Digital Professional Photographer on an iMac.

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Original RAW out of camera shot without any post processing work.

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Post processed using RAW conversion to highlight silhouetted DSLR & lens.

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Same image as above. HDR rendered with Photomatix pro directly from RAW file.

The next set of images were from the dslr pictured above captured on the same day. Images were captured in RAW format with a Canon EOS 7D with EF 24-70mm f/2.8. All processed to jpeg with Canon’s DPP.

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Original RAW out of camera shot without any post processing work.

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RAW file post processed using Canon

If these shots were captured using jpegs, undoubtedly, post processing them to be upload standard would have been a time consuming and tedious chore. But, there is really nothing wrong with jpegs as long as the images won’t be intended for scrutiny or large print somewhere down the line.

With RAW camera files, they can be stored on external drives for a very long time. While most RAW converters are upgraded eventually with better algorithm and features stored RAW files may be reprocessed again for future use.

It is highly recommended to start shooting in RAW. Much of the advantages of using RAW far outweigh the disadvantages. One day a magazine might call and ask for an image. With RAW, the options are all within a few mouse clicks.