First off, what is RAW? RAW is a file format that captures all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. When shooting in a format like JPEG image information is compressed and lost. Because no information is compressed with RAW you’re able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problem images that would be unrecoverable if shot in the JPEG format.
And happily many many cameras these days shoot RAW, including point and shoots! So even if you’re using a little camera, you might still be able to take advantage of the RAW file format (just check your camera manual to see!).
So, the benefits of RAW. Let’s list ‘em out:
1. Get the Highest Level of Quality
This is one of the biggest benefits. When you shoot in RAW you record all of the data from the sensor. This gives the highest quality files. And when it comes to your awesome images, you want high quality.
Look at it this way: all cameras technically shoot RAW. Yes, it’s true.
The difference when you shoot in JPEG format is that the camera does it’s own processing to convert the RAW information into a JPEG.
However, your camera is nowhere near as smart as your brain, nor is it as powerful as your computer. When you shoot RAW, you’re able to do that processing yourself. You can make the decisions on how the image should look, and produce way better results.
2. Record Greater Levels of Brightness
Levels of brightness are the number of steps from black to white in an image. The more you have, the smoother the transitions of tones. Smooth is good.
JPEG records 256 levels of brightness, and RAW records between 4,096 to 16,384 levels! This is described with the term “bit”. JPEG captures in 8bit, and RAW is either 12bit or 14bit. That’s what that bit business means!
The effect this has on your images is huge. Those additional steps of brightness let you make more adjustments (exposure, blacks, fill light, recovery, contrast, brightness) to your image without a significant reduction of quality, because there’s more levels to work with!
3. Easily Correct Dramatically Over/Under Exposed Images
Obviously you want to get the best exposure in camera, but sometimes things move fast (especially with weddings!) and you wind up with a dramatically over or under exposed image.
With RAW you have additional information in the file, so it’s much easier to correct the image without a drastic reduction in quality. You can also recover more blown highlights and clipped shadows. Good stuff.
4. Easily Adjust White Balance
When you shoot JPEG the white balance is applied to the image. You can’t just easily choose another option. With RAW the white balance is still recorded, but because you have way more data, it’s easy to adjust.
Great white balance and colour are essential to an awesome image, and shooting RAW lets you make the adjustments easier and faster, with better results.
5. Get Better Detail
When you shoot RAW you have access to sharpening and noise algorithms in a program like Lightroom that are way more powerful than those found in your camera.
Plus, these sharpening and noise algorithms are always improving, so in the future you’ll be able to re-visit your RAW files and take advantage of these improvements.
6. Enjoy Non-Destructive Editing
When you make adjustments to a RAW file, you’re not actually doing anything to the original data. What you’re doing is creating a set of instructions for how the JPEG or TIFF (another file format) version should be saved.
The awesomeness of this is that you never ever have to worry about ruining an image, accidentally saving over, or being unable to go back and make changes. You can always reset your adjustments, and start over again.
JPEG files lose quality every time you open them, make adjustments, and save again. True story. It’s what is known as a “lossy” file format. So if you’re making edits to JPEGs you always have to be duplicating the image and saving out a new version if you don’t want to lose file quality. Hassle.
7. Get Better Prints
Because of the finer gradation of tones and colours you’ll get better prints from RAW files. Even though more and more people are shooting digital, great prints are as important as ever (maybe even more so, due to their relative rarity!)
You’ll also get less banding, which is really yucky on a print.
8. Select Colour Space on Output
Colour space is a bit of a complex topic, but here’s a quick tip. With RAW you can choose from any colour space when you are exporting it out, so you can adjust depending on the situation!
Is the image going on to the web? Then output in the sRGB colour space to ensure maximum compatibility among web browsers.
Are the files heading to a client? Save it in the common Adobe RGB(1998) colour space.
Do you want the widest colour space possible? Use ProPhoto RGB.
Basically there are different colour spaces that work best for different situations, and when you shoot RAW you can export a single image in multiple spaces! Sweet!
9. Have an Efficient Workflow
It’s easier to work through large batches of images when you’re using a workflow centeric program like Lightroom or Aperture.They’re designed to easily process groups of RAW images. Photoshop is not meant for that kind of thing, it’s built to handle one image at a time.
In order to take full advantage of all the benefits of Lightroom and Aperture you should be shooting RAW!
10. It’s the Pro Option
Professionals should be providing their clients with the highest quality possible. Issues like banding and blown h
lighlights are big deals when you’re offering your clients printed products. Achieving proper colour balance, and choosing the right colour space for the situation are critical as well.
By shooting RAW you take control, and are able to manage these problems to create the best results possible.
Now that some point and shoots are capable of shooting RAW, hobbyists and amateurs can also take advantage of this pro level option, and get better files and prints! Good deal.
Downsides and Solutions
Now, there are always pros and cons to every option, and RAW does have a few downsides. We’ll chat about those, as well as some potential soluations!
NEED TO BE PROCESSED
A common argument against shooting RAW is that because the files need to be processed, it takes more time to shoot RAW than JPEG. If you don’t do any processing to your JPEGs that might be true.
However, most photographers do some level of processing to their JPEGs so already the argument is getting flimsy.
Then, when you add in the fact that adjustments like white balancing, and recovering highlights and shadows are way faster with RAW files, and it actually begins to looks like processing RAW can be faster than JPEG!!
Then, with RAW, you can easily export to JPEG, as well as convert to various sizes (like web res) at the same time. If you really wanted you could even shoot RAW + JPEG simultaneously!
RAW gives you way more options, and can be processed just as fast, if not faster, than JPEG.
TAKES UP MORE SPACE
Since RAW files have more uncompressed information they can be 2-3 times larger than JPEG files. This is definitely a concern for many shooters, especially those who create a lot of images.
But over the past few years, the cost of hard drives has really dropped, and they’re incredibly affordable!
Let’s consider a 3TB hard drive.
- A 3TB drive costs about INR10,000
- If a large JPEG file is about 8MB, you’ll fit 375,000 images on the drive, at INR0.026/image
- If a RAW file is about 30MB, you’ll fit 100,000 images on the drive, at INR0.1/image
Obviously you can store fewer RAW files, but the number of images that you can cheaply store is so large for both formats that it’s not really an issue! It’s also probably a good idea to not place so many images on a single hard drive. Don’t put all your photographic eggs in one basket!
SLOWS THE CAMERA DOWN
RAW files are larger than JPEGs, so they’ll fill up the buffer of your camera faster. The camera will still shoot the same frames per second, regardless of whether it is RAW or JPEG, but you may have to wait for the camera to write to the memory card if the buffer fills up.
If shooting fast sequences if critical for you, and you want to shoot RAW, you can purchase faster memory cards, or a more expensive camera with a larger buffer.
IN A PROPRIETARY FORMAT
RAW files are often recorded in a proprietary format, which means that the camera manufacturers haven’t officially disclosed how the raw data can be converted. Companies like Adobe either need to license software to decode the RAW files or reverse engineer how the files should be converted. (For Canon cameras the RAW format looks like .CR2 and for Nikon it’s .NEF).
The problem here is that you can’t be certain that in 5, 10 or 20 years you’ll be able to easily open that RAW file if you don’t have the proper software to decode it!
A new open source RAW format has been developed in order to overcome this obstacle. It was developed by Adobe and is known as DNG (Digital Negative). Using a program like Lightroom, you can convert your proprietary RAW files into the open source DNG format. It’s an extra step, but it will ensure your files are readable far into the future!
Already the Leica M9 shoots in the DNG format, so look for more camera manufacturers to support this open source format in the future!
Computers (and devices that are run by built-in computers such as digital SLRs) use the binary number system. Binary numbers are constructed from two digits – 1 and 0 (the decimal system by contrast has ten numerals). A single digit in a binary number is called a bit (shortened from ‘binary digit’).
An eight bit binary number looks like this: 10110001 (equal to the decimal number 177). The table below shows how it works.
The highest possible eight bit number is 11111111 – or 255 in decimal notation. This is a significant figure to photographers since it crops up in many image editing programs and on old monitor displays.
Each of the millions of pixels in a digital photo corresponds to a photosite (also called a pixel) on the camera’s sensor. Photosites generate a small electric current when hit by light, which is measured by the camera and recorded in a JPEG or RAW file.
JPEG files record the color and brightness information for each pixel with three eight bit numbers, one for each of the red, green and blue channels (these color channels are the same as the ones you see in programs like Photoshop or in your camera’s color histogram display).
Each eight bit channel records colour on a scale of 0-255, giving a theoretical maximum of 16,777,216 tones (256 x 256 x 256). The human eye can detect somewhere between 10 and 12 million colours, so this is more than sufficient information to record any subject.
This gradient has been saved in a 24 bit file (eight bits per channel), enough to render a smooth gradient.
This gradient has been saved as a 16 bit file. As you can see, 16 bits is not enough to render a smooth graduation.
RAW files dedicate more bits to each pixel (most cameras have 12 or 14 bit processors). More bits means larger numbers and more tones per channel.
This doesn’t equate into more colors – JPEG files can already record more colors than the human eye can see. But each color is recorded with a much finer tonal graduation. The image is said to have greater color depth. The table below shows how bit depth equates into tones.
When you set your camera to record photos in JPEG mode, the camera’s internal processor reads the information gathered from the sensor when you take a photo, processes it according to the parameters set in the camera menu (white balance, contrast, colour saturation etc.) and records it as an eight bit JPEG file. The ‘extra’ information gathered by the sensor is discarded and lost forever. In the end, you are only using eight bits out of the 12 or 14 bits of detail that the sensor is capable of capturing.
A RAW file is different from a JPEG because it contains all the data captured by the camera’s sensor during the exposure. When you process a RAW file using RAW conversion software, the program is carrying out a similar conversion to that of the camera’s internal processor when you shoot JPEG. The difference is that you set the parameters within the program you are using, and the ones set in your camera’s menu are ignored.
The benefit of the extra bit-depth of the RAW file becomes apparent in post-processing. A JPEG file is all you need if you got exposure and all the other settings spot on when you took the image, and you don’t want to do any post-processing.
However, in real life most of us want to carry out at least a few adjustments, even if it’s just to the brightness and contrast. That’s where JPEG files start to fall down. With less information per pixel, the tones can separate as you carry out adjustments to brightness, contrast and color balance.
The result is most pronounced in areas of smooth continuous tone such as blue skies. Instead of an even graduation from light to dark, you’ll see banding patterns. This effect is also known as posterisation. The further you push the adjustments, the more the image is affected.
With a RAW file, you can make much greater changes to brightness, contrast and colour tone before you see any breakdown in the image quality. It also enables some of the features that you find in RAW conversion software, such as white balance adjustment and highlight recovery.
This photo originated from a JPEG file. Even at this size there is visible banding in the sky as a result of the post-processing.
A close-up look at the sky shows the posterisation effect. Working with a 16 bit TIFF file would have eliminated, or at least minimised, the banding effect.
16 bit TIFF files
When you process a RAW file, your software gives you the option to save it as an eight bit or 16 bit file. If you are happy with the edit and don’t wish to make any more changes, you can save it as an eight bit file. You won’t notice any difference in quality between an eight bit and a 16 bit file on your computer monitor, or when you print the image out. The only exception is if you have a printer that recognizes 16 bit files. In this case, a 16 bit file may produce a better result.
However, if you plan to carry out further post-processing in Photoshop, then it’s advisable to save the image as a 16 bit file. In this case, an image that originated from a 12 or 14 bit sensor is ‘stretched’ to fill the 16 bit file. You can then work on it in Photoshop, knowing that the extra bit depth will help you obtain maximum quality.
Again, when you have completed the editing process, you can save the file as an eight bit file. Magazines, book publishers and stock libraries (and just about any client purchasing photos) require eight bit images. 16 bit files may only by required if you (or someone else) intends to edit the file.
This is an image that I took using the RAW+JPEG setting on an EOS 350D camera. The camera saved two versions of the file – a JPEG processed by the camera’s processor, and a RAW file containing all the information recorded by the camera’s 12 bit sensor.
This compares the top right hand corner of the processed JPEG and RAW files. Both files were created by the camera from the same exposure and the only difference between them is the bit depth. I was able to pull back highlight detail in the RAW file that isn’t visible in the JPEG. If I wanted to work on this image further in Photoshop, I could save it as a 16 bit TIFF file to retain the maximum possible image quality throughout the editing process.
Why photographers use JPEG
It’s worth noting that not all professional photographers use the RAW format all the time. Both wedding and sports photographers, for example, often use the JPEG format.
For wedding photographers, who may shoot thousands of images at a wedding, this is to save time in post-processing.
Sports photographers use JPEG files so that they can send photos to their picture editors during a sports event. In both cases, the speed, efficiency and smaller file size of the JPEG format makes it the logical file type to use.
Bit depth in computer screens
Bit depth also refers to the depth of color that computer monitors are capable of displaying. It may be difficult to believe for readers who are used to modern displays, but the computers I used at school could display just two colours – white and black. The ‘must-have’ home computer at the time was the Commodore 64 – capable of displaying 16 colours. According to Wikipedia, this computer sold over 12 million units.
Commodore 64 computer – photo by Bill Bertram
Clearly, you can’t edit photos on a machine with 16 colors (the 64 kilobytes of RAM wouldn’t have gone very far either) and the development of 24 bit true color displays is one of the things that made digital photography possible. True color displays are, like JPEG files, generated from three colors (red, green and blue) each with a possible 256 values recorded in an eight bit digit. Most modern monitors use either 24 bit or 32 bit true color graphics.
Many of you know that high dynamic range (HDR) images are created by combining two or more versions of the same image taken with different exposure settings. But, did you know that the software creates a 32 bit image with over four billion possible tonal values per channel per pixel – quite a jump from the 256 tonal values in a JPEG file.
True HDR files such as this can’t be displayed on a computer monitor or the printed page. Instead, they are reduced to either eight or 16 bit files by a process called tone-mapping, that retains the characteristics of the original high dynamic range image.
Pixels and bits are the basic building blocks of digital images. If you want to get the best possible image quality out of your camera, it’s essential to understand the concept of bit depth and the reasons that the RAW format produces the best quality image.
Frequently Asked Questions About Raw
Now some of the following FAQs are addressed in the original article, but I’m rephrasing them here to hopefully help clarify them.
1. HOW IS RAW NON-DESTRUCTIVE?
When you’re editing a JPEG file (for example adjusting exposure, white balance, or contrast) it is possible to save your adjustments over your original file. This means you could never go back to how the original image looked. Uh oh!
This could be quite a disaster if you make a mistake and save over the original file (especially if you don’t have a backup of the original).
How easy is it to make a mistake? Maybe you crop an image, convert it to black and white, or resize it – and then save the image. All of those adjustments would be irreversible. This is known as destructive editing – where the editing cannot be undone. TIP: When working with JPEGS always make sure to choose “Save as” and create a new separate file from the original.
Now, when editing a raw file it’s actually impossible to save over your raw file. You can export a new file (like a JPEG or TIFF) that contains the adjustments you made to the raw file. You can also save the adjustments you’ve made to the raw file as a separate “instructions” file known as an XMP. But you cannot save over the original raw file.
This means that you always have the original data to work with. Because the original image data is always preserved, this is known as non-destructive editing. (And it’s a good thing.)
2. I’VE SET MY CAMERA TO RAW AND TAKEN SOME PHOTOS, NOW WHAT?
Good work! Now you’ll need to copy the photos to your computer.
You can do this by connecting your camera to your computer or you can take the memory card out of your camera and insert it into a memory card reader that you plug into your computer (the faster method which we recommend).
Once the raw files are on your computer you can use a program like Lightroom to edit them, and once you’re finished editing you can then export the ones you would like to share or print as JPEGs.
3. CAN I PRINT A RAW FILE?
The short answer is Yes and No.
Not all software programs will allow you to print raw files directly. If you’re working with an editing program like Lightroom it is possible to print your raw files directly from Lightroom.
The bigger issue is printing from third parties. Most consumer photo labs will not print raw files. Professional labs also do not print from raw files.
The acceptable file format for print is high resolution JPEG or in some cases TIFF – both of which you can easily export copies of from your raw files.
4. HOW BIG ARE RAW FILES COMPARED TO JPEG?
The file size of raw files are 3-4 times as large as JPEGs. Raw files are larger because they contain a lot more information compared to JPEG files. JPEG is a compressed file format. That means that in order to get that smaller file size your camera is literally throwing away information. Uncool.
Keep in mind that storage space is cheap, and the benefits of shooting raw far out weigh the larger file size.
5. DO I NEED TO CONVERT MY PHOTOS OUT OF RAW?
No, you can store your original raw files in the raw format. You only need to export your raw files as JPEGs when you want to print them, or share them.
It is possible to convert your raw files to an open source raw format known as DNG.
6. WHAT DO I DO WITH MY JPEG PHOTOS NOW THAT I’M SHOOTING IN RAW?
Your older JPEG photos are still worth keeping! You cannot convert them to raw (bummer), but you can still edit them in programs like Lightroom.
While it’s possible to make all the same adjustments to a JPEG file that you can to a raw file, the amount of adjustments a JPEG file can handle without a huge loss in image quality is far less than a raw file is capable of handling.
7. WHAT ABOUT SHOOTING IN SRAW AND MRAW?
Some cameras are capable of shooting in different size raw formats known as sRaw and mRaw. These are essentially advertised as reduced resolution raw formats. So instead of having a 6000×4000 pixel image you would have a 3000×2000 pixel image.
The benefit of this would be a smaller file size with a smaller sized photo. From the brief amount of research I’ve done these options seems like a marketing gimmick that should be avoided.
At the time you take the photo you may not be sure how large you want to eventually display it, so you really should be capturing photos in the largest size your camera is capable of. Also, it seems that these sRaw and mRaw formats may be applying some compression to the photo file and so even though it’s labeled as a raw file you may not be able to make the same high quality adjustments you could make to a full sized raw file.
8. HOW DO YOU DO BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY WITH RAW?
The raw format and black and white photography are an excellent combination! Fine choice!
The first thing to mention is that you shouldn’t be using your camera’s built in black and white filters to shoot in black and white. Those filters can help give you an idea of what the photo might look like black and white but you’ll be able to do much better black and white editing to a photo once you have the photo on your computer and you’re using a program like Lightroom or Photoshop.
Also, the black and white filters on your camera often require you to shoot in the JPEG format. Which means you can never go back on that decision. (Remember when we talked about how raw is non-destructive?)
When you shoot in the raw format you’ll be able to decide after the fact whether a photo is best in colour or black and white or both! You’ll also be able to make more dramatic, higher quality black and white conversions when shooting in the raw format (since you’ll have more image data to work with compared to a compressed JPEG image).
9. SHOULD I DELIVER RAW FILES TO MY CLIENT?
I wouldn’t recommend it. Just like with your JPEG photos, you’ll want to do some editing to your raw photos to make sure they look their best before giving them to your client.
You could give your client the raw files with the adjustments you’ve done (giving them the associated .xmp files) – but unless your clients are photographers themselves then they probably won’t find the raw files very useful (they won’t be able to print them easily, and they probably won’t know how to adjust them).
Instead it’s better to give your clients high resolution JPEGs which they’ll be able to print (it’s also nice to give your clients a version of low-resolution JPEGs which are easier to share online).
10. WHEN SHOULD I SHOOT RAW?
Whether you are an amateur or professional you should be shooting in the raw format.
Pretty much all DSLRs offer the ability to shoot in raw, and most advanced point and shoot cameras also shoot raw. Raw is the highest possible quality your camera is capable of capturing, so you should be taking advantage of it. On top of that, you usually also have the option to shoot in raw+JPEG. So if you’re scared to start shooting in raw, try shooting in the raw+JPEG mode – you have nothing to lose!
I want quickly chat about the main objections people had to shooting in raw:
“Shooting raw takes up too much space” – It does take up more space – 3-4x as much space. It’s worth considering what “too much” space means. For the quality you get with raw files it’s worth the additional storage space.
“Shooting raw is for amateurs, professionals get it right in camera” – Shooting raw is for anyone who cares about the quality of their images. But the truth is that the vast majority of professionals shoot in raw, not in JPEG.
It’s a photographer’s decision to shoot JPEG-only and their clients are thrilled with the results.
This is not a do or die situation.
But it does have everything to do with quality of images, and nothing to do with “pro vs. amateur”.
I’m actually a little confused by the suggestion that pros should shoot in JPEG and get it right in camera. Yes, you can (and should) get your settings as close as possible in camera to your intended look and it’s always important to have a great starting point. Raw is not an excuse for sloppy work.
But by shooting raw you have a lot more flexibility on how you can improve the photo with processing. For example being able to control a raw file’s white balance in post processing is alone reason enough to shoot in raw. Good luck trying to adjust the white balance of a JPEG… and white balance is just one of the many adjustments that you have more flexibility with when shooting raw.
Professionals are humans. Not cyborg’s who get things perfect every single time (although that would be cool!). Robot dreams aside, the point I’m making is that pros make mistakes. All pros. The difference between a pro’s mistake and an amateur’s mistake is usually just that the pro has a lot more riding on those images. Upset clients, and a bad business reputation could be the result of a missed shot.
When you shoot raw you also have a lot more latitude to fix a missed shot. I personally have been able to recover images that I would have otherwise had to throw out, had I not been shooting raw.
In that regard, it makes more sense for a pro to shoot raw. It’s a safety net, just in case things go wrong.
“Clients won’t know the difference between raw and JPEG” – It’s true your clients probably won’t know the difference (especially if you deliver JPEG files to them at the end).
The important thing to note here is that, as the professional photographer, you will know the difference between raw and JPEG. You’ll know if you’ve over or under exposed a shot that could have been saved shooting raw. You’ll know whether an image is as good as it can be – or if it could have been better. Your clients rely on you as the professional photographer to have their best interest in mind.
With a JPEG file, settings like sharpness, white balance, and contrast get “cooked” into the image file, meaning you can’t as easily adjust those settings after the fact.
With a raw file you have control over those settings by adjusting them in a program like Lightroom. The raw files often look a lot flatter right from the start because they need additional processing in order to look their best. With a bit of practice you’ll be to get better skin tones with your raw files.
“The workflow for raw files takes longer than JPEGs” – Regardless of whether you’re shooting in raw or JPEG the workflow can be as long or as quick as you would like.
Any professional photographers who shoot in JPEG would not give their clients completely unedited photos directly off their memory cards – that would be the only scenario where shooting in JPEG would be faster than shooting in raw.
Even photographers who shoot in JPEG edit their photos – and if you’re spending time editing your photos you might as well be working with raw to get the highest quality possible.
Using Lightroom, you can batch edit raw files (Lightroom also works with JPEGs). Batch editing allows you to select multiple raw photos at once and make adjustments to all the photos simultaneously. You can even create presets that apply multiple adjustments at once. The workflow using Lightroom is fast! It’s also super easy to batch export JPEGs from your raw files.
11. WHEN SHOULD I SHOOT JPEG?
A few people have commented about a perfect time to shoot JPEG, and that is when you need to shoot in burst mode. Because JPEG files are much smaller than raw files your camera’s memory buffer fills up much slower when shooting in the JPEG mode.
I had originally suggested that if you needed to shoot in burst mode that you should consider purchasing a better camera, but if you don’t need to shoot in burst mode that frequently (and it’s really only sports photography that you need to be shooting 10 frames per second for multiple seconds) then you can simply switch your camera to JPEG mode for the occasions you’d like to shoot high speed bursts for longer periods.
Keep in mind that your camera can still shoot in burst mode when in the raw format it’s just that your buffer will fill up faster and you won’t be able to take as many photos as you could in JPEG mode.
There aren’t really any other scenarios I can think of where shooting JPEG would be advantageous compared to shooting raw. If your camera is not capable of shooting in the raw format obviously it’s better to be shooting JPEGs than nothing at all. My camera phone only shoots JPEG but I still take a ton of photos with it. However, as soon as my camera phone has the option of shooting raw or DNG I’ll be switching to that.
12. WHAT SOFTWARE DO YOU NEED TO SHOOT RAW?
If your camera is capable of shooting in the raw format then chances are that the camera manufacturer included some raw processing software on a CD or DVD which you’ll find in the box your camera came in. You can likely also download this software from your camera manufacturer’s website.
The benefit of using the camera manufacturer’s raw processing software is that it’s free – but the benefits pretty much stop there. Their software is usually clunky, ugly, and made without much consideration for an efficient workflow.
The biggest and most well known raw processing software is called Adobe Lightroom. It costs $140 ($77 upgrade) and is easily worth every penny. You can’t even really buy a decent lens for $150 – so Lightroom is an absolutely incredible investment for any photographer.
All of these different programs have strengths and weaknesses. No program is leaps and bounds above another. I’ve been using Lightroom since it’s beginning and it’s a very effective program for both amateurs and professional photographers.
So why go with Lightroom? First, Adobe is easily the market leader. It’s likely that well over 90% of professional photographers use Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw (the underlying software that powers both Lightroom and Photoshop’s raw processor). My guess is that it’s probably over 95% now since Lightroom’s only real competitor, Apple Aperture, has been discontinued.
Since Lightroom is made by Adobe, it plays nice with Adobe’s other massive photography program – Photoshop. Whether you open a raw file in Photoshop or Lightroom you can make the exact same adjustments to the raw file (since they use the same Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) processing engine).
Now you might be asking yourself what’s the difference between Lightroom vs. Photoshop – and for that you should check out our blog post – Lightroom vs. Photoshop: The Epic Battle.
In general Photoshop is a more advanced professional graphics program capable of making adjustments at the pixel level (not something possible in Lightroom). Pixel level editing is important for things like retouching where you need to select a certain area of the image and remove, replace, or alter it in some way. Photoshop also a much more expensive program only available through a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud ($50/month for the whole Creative Suite of programs, or $10/month for just Photoshop + Lightroom).
A good alternative to Photoshop for most photographers is Photoshop Elements ($59) which is a consumer level version of the program. Photoshop Elements does support ACR, however it appears that Adobe has reduced some of the ACR features found in the full version of Photoshop and Lightroom. You may never need to use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements – it depends on whether you need to do retouching, or if you’re interested in more advanced image editing techniques.
My suggestion for anyone starting to shoot raw, and really anyone getting into photography is to try Adobe Lightroom. Adobe offers a 30-day free trial.
Go Try It Out!
Hopefully this look at RAW and it’s benefits has cleared things up a bit! Suggestions that RAW takes too long, or is too much work, don’t really hold water anymore.
These days, it’s super duper easy (and fast!) to process RAW files, and you’ll be able to get the absolute best quality out of those images that you put so much time, effort and love into!