Monday, 14 September 2009

Why you need to use RAW

Over the next two weeks I hope to put the final touches to my next Photoshop training DVD. The whole DVD is devoted to the subject of processing RAW files in Adobe Camera RAW.

Last week I gave a lecture at a local camera club and part of the evening was devoted to explaining the basics of RAW processing. As with any camera club my audience was made up of mixed abilities, some of the members were really clued up about the advantages of using RAW, whilst others could see nothing but disadvantages in the format.

In this post I’m going try and counter the most commonly voiced concerns I hear about RAW. Before I start I should point out that this isn’t an unbiased appraisal. I believe RAW rules and will try and convince anyone I meet that they should start using RAW today.
OK, let’s tackle the complaints I hear about RAW

RAW files take up too much space.
It’s true RAW files take up 3-5 times more memory then the same Jpeg file. That means a 4 GB memory card will hold around 800 images but that number drops to around 250 when I shoot in RAW. The solution is simple. Buy more memory. Looking at the Picstop store I can buy an 8 GB compact flash card for £14.99 and that includes postage. Now that’s a bargain.

I can’t see RAW thumbnail images in Windows.
This one really stumped me for a while. I could see JPG’s, tiffs and even PSD files in windows but not RAW files. Fortunately Canon, Nikon (and probably others) offer free windows plug in to sort the problem.

Canon: Click Here
Nikon: Click Here
Olympus Click Here

RAW files slow my computer down.
No they don’t, but being bigger means they will take longer to open and they will fill up your hard drive quicker. To get around this you could upgrade to a new computer but it’s much cheaper to buy a bigger hard drive. A 1TB (1000 GB) drive will set you back around £80 for an internal drive or £130 for an external USB hard drive.

Photoshop won’t open my RAW files.
OK I admit this is frustrating. You’ve just bought a flashy new camera but when you try and open the RAW files in Photoshop CS3 they’re not compatible and you’d need to buy CS4 to make them work.

There are two options. First, use the RAW converter that came with your new camera. Second (and probably better) use Adobe’s free DNG converter to batch convert all your RAW files to Adobes RAW format (called DNG). You can download from here

Will I still be able to open RAW files in 10 years time?
It does worry me a bit. RAW files are unique to each camera manufacturer and even unique to each camera model. Who’s to say you’ll be able to find a RAW converter for a Kodak DCS 14n (for example) in 10 years time. My solution is to set my camera to shoot both JPG and RAW simultaneously, that way I have two versions of every image.

RAW work flow is just too slow.
You’re kidding me! If you missed it here’s a short tutorial on using RAW to enhance texture. The last two minutes should convince you that RAW can be the fastest way you’ve ever worked.

So there you go. If you’re never tried RAW, give it a go today. Like everything to do with Photoshop there’s a learning curve, but once you see what RAW can do for your photography you’ll never change back.

Watch out for my “Totally RAW” DVD coming soon.


Anonymous said...

I shoot both a jpg + NEF (raw) file. Have been doing it since 2004. No problems here. My agents REQUIRE me to turn in a raw file if they like the initial jpeg. They require me to convert my NEF file into a full-size TIFF which makes it about 80mb each file.
I have no problem with the question about whether I'll be able to open files 10 years from now. That is ridiculous. As we upgrade our hardware, and our software you'll immediately see whether your photos are opening in the new machine/software combination. No big deal. If it doesn't, then find the software that will work.
Again, in my world, shooting about 50k images per year, no big deal.

Gavin Hoey Training said...

Thanks for your perspective on the subject. You make a good point about technology upgrade. I'm confident that in the future someone, somewhere, will make some sort of emulator for our old file formats

michel said...

I'm even surprised this question should be debated given the flexibility that RAW shooting provides in Post processing. I equate shooting JPEG to the old method of shooting film and leaving all the development decisions to a commercial lab. Sometimes you got what you wanted most of the time you didn't. With RAW all the decisions on how the final image will look like are yours to make.
The only exception I make is when i shoot for work in the field (construction sites etc), then JPEG is an option only because it is faster and easier to turn the photos to the employer with minimal post processing.

PS I really enjoy your website Gavin and the new format is even more enjoyable. Keep up the good work
michel latendresse

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Phot Ogre said...

Hello Gavin, you mostly speak about Adobe Camera RAW but, until now, I haven't seen any post relating Lightroom. To be honest, I always hesitate to use Camera RAW rather than Lightroom. Would you have an idea about this? Which software works better? Thanks in advance for your answer.
Ornorm (

Soo Yeshun said...

No worries about space
Amazon selling 1TB Western Digital HDD dirt cheap selling cheap memory card....

I dont take commission from them!!

Gavin Hoey Training said...

I can beat that (sort of). My new Samsung 1TB internal hard drive came in at under £60 delivered.

Anonymous said...

I have been a photographer for the past 4 years and in the past two weeks i have started watching your tuturials and reading your blog. and feel i have learnt more in those weeks than i have the rest of my life. Thanks.

Ever since getting my DSLR 2 years ago i have used RAW and would never turn back.

Anonymous said...

very good tutorials, thank you very much...
about opening RAW in PS-CS3, instead of converting every time the files is better to get the plug-in camera RAW from the latest version doesnt have all the new features of CS4 but it opens the RAW files, or am I wrong?
anyway, I have been using it and it works perfect...

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