Today, I’ll tell you ‘what is RAW photo and how to work with it?’ Your camera has more than it shows. To share with you a digital copy of the image, it encodes the information received on the matrix into a particular format. If this is JPEG – the universal image formatting standard – then some information is lost: the camera automatically converts photos in a reasonable time and with available resources (the electronic brains of your camera are inferior to the stuffing of a desktop computer).
As a result, the memory card saves not on the matrix but how the camera processed it. It turns out a finished dish with its advantages but devoid of flexibility.
If you want to experiment with the ingredients, you need to take a step back and set up the camera so that instead of a formatted picture, it gives you the complete reflection of what was captured by the matrix. It is how photos are obtained in RAW format, about the pros, cons, and principles of working with which we will talk in this article.
What is RAW Photo?
RAW is the original data taken directly from the camera’s matrix. The advantage of the format is that no corrections are applied to the image, and all further processing is given to the user. It is not the case with JPEG.
The main disadvantages of RAW: are file size, shooting speed, and lack of coding unification.
How A Raw Photo Works?
The transformation of a RAW file to JPEG takes place in several stages, each of which affects the image in its way. First comes the demolition. To understand how this process works, let’s first understand how digital cameras generally acquire images.
The camera matrix consists of millions of pixel cells. When you press the camera’s shutter button, each of these cells begins to absorb light. Then the light in each cell is counted. To make the images in color, a filter (usually three of them: red, blue, and green) is superimposed on top of each light collector, allowing only a particular color to pass through.
The most common matrix color filter is the Bayer matrix, which consists of alternating rows of red-green and green-blue filters.
Benefits of RAW
Dematrization is to interpolate (i.e., find the missing values) the color components with the original image passed through the Bayer matrix. Each cell is represented not by one color number but by three that make up the usual color representation format, for example, RGB.
It is a resource-intensive process, so the camera inevitably simplifies during RAW to JPEG conversions. If you save the image in RAW, you can dramatize your computer yourself.
Another feature of RAW is that it retains the original bit depth of the image. If you remove the actual data in JPEG format from the matrix, you get 8 bits per color channel. Accordingly, the frame’s dynamic range (chiaroscuro interval between absolutely black and white) will be limited to 28=256 red, blue, and green shades in the RGB model.
In RAW, the bit depth is higher – 10, 12, 14, or 16 bits per channel. These bits of RAW files have additional data that will allow you to expand the dynamic range and get out of it those details that are lost in JPEG.
UNLIKE JPEG COMPRESSION, the RAW format uses lossless compression, which produces compression artifacts. RAW files contain more information and are more compressible.
When RAW is processed, no changes are made to the original file. All settings are saved separately, so the source cannot be corrupted. To get an edited image, the RAW file must be converted into a finished image with the selected settings.
Disadvantages of RAW
The shortcomings of RAW are in the volume and speed of recording. If you shoot strictly in RAW, the memory card will fill up faster, and the number of frames per second will decrease compared to JPEG.
In addition, RAW does not have a single encoding standard, and each manufacturer defines it separately; they also create their software (called RAW converters) for processing images in this format. For users, this means that the software can choose depending on which manufacturer’s camera they have.
For example, Nikon cameras encode RAW in NEF/NRW format, and the converter that comes with the camera for free can only work with files in this format. There are also universal programs that support most RAW encodings. Let’s look at each of these types separately.
Programs for Working with RAW
1. Capture NX-D
Supplied with the camera on a CD. You can also download the latest version from the Nikon website. It supports Windows and macOS.
The program allows you to adjust the white balance quickly: use the eyedropper tool to specify a place in the photo that will be taken as a reference point when adjusting the white balance. It can also be adjusted manually using the “color temperature” and “shift” sliders.
There is a horizon alignment function; you need to draw a line along which the photo will be aligned. By adjusting the exposure, you can adjust the brightness of the picture. The Highlights Protection and Shadows Protection sliders bring out details in the highlights and shadows of the frame.
The noise reduction function eliminates digital noise if the picture was taken at a high ISO value or when the brightness was raised too much during processing. Noise reduction has two sliders: Intensity and Sharpness. If you twist the first one too much, you risk losing small details in the picture, and you can try to restore them using the second slider.
Processing ends with exporting the image to JPEG or TIFF (it weighs more than JPEG because it saves the image without loss during compression).
2. Digital Photo Professional
Software for owners of Canon cameras. To download, you need to specify the camera’s serial number on the Canon website. It supports Windows, Linux, and Mac.
Rough adjustment of brightness white balance can be done by thumbnail, and then convert, say, a batch of photos to JPEG using the batch processing function.
More fine-tuning, in addition to the functions listed in Capture NX-D4, allows you to adjust the color interpolation.
3. Imagine Edge Desktop
RAW converter for Sony cameras, there are versions for Windows and macOS. It is notable for the function of remote control of the camera when connected via Wi-Fi or USB.
4. Raw File Converter EX 3.0
Fujifilm camera software works on macOS and Windows and, in general, is not inferior to other free converters.
5. Raw Therapee
Cross-platform (Windows, Linux, and macOS) and free converter, but relatively slow. There are so many functions that their analysis is enough for a separate article.
The processing process in this software begins with the already mentioned dematrization procedure. Raw Therapee offers different dematrization algorithms for the user’s choice. There are a lot of algorithms – some work out the details well, others show the correct color better. There is no best algorithm; each one is suitable for its situation, so the scope for experimentation is immense.
Next, the program offers the usual steps for a RAW converter:
- Exposure and image geometry correction,
- White balance and color balance corrections,
- Noise removal,
- Sharpness correction.
6. Raw Photo Processor
A free converter that works exclusively on macOS. The program contains film profiles, captivates with a simple interface and good picture quality.
7. Capture One
Paid converter available on Windows and macOS. A monthly subscription costs about $28. The converter is distinguished by the support of ICC profiles of cameras (i.e., color profiles – data on how the same color looks on different cameras) and a highly customizable interface.
Capture One has a whole arsenal for working with color, and working with layers in it is implemented precisely like in Photoshop. If you mask one or another object in the frame, you can process it separately from the rest of the photo.
8. Adobe Camera Raw
Tiny plugin for Adobe Photoshop. By default, it offers automatic settings for the main exposure parameters, and if it detects overexposed areas in the frame, it reports about it. If you violated the exposure yourself during processing, the plugin would also warn you about this.
It does not have batch processing tools, but Photoshop will help with this. Details on how to use the plugin can be found here.
9. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
Separate paid software from Adobe. It has few differences from Camera Raw, and the main thing is the presence of cataloging and support for its plugins.
RAW is not a universal replacement for all other image encoding formats. But it’s a helpful tool that will open up new creative possibilities and ways to correct mistakes while shooting.