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What is a RAW file?

Written by Gail Bjork

Referred to as a true digital negative, RAW is an unprocessed digital camera file format. Shooting RAW is considered essential by most advanced digital camera users.

Raw XMPA RAW image file is often referred to as a true digital negative. The option to shoot RAW is available on many advanced and professional digital cameras. Images in this format have a .raw extension, eg: filename.raw.

There is much more latitude controlling exposure than with JPEG files. When shooting RAW, no processing is done in the camera to the file. As a result, the photographer has total control adjusting elements, such as sharpening or white balance, when processing a RAW file during editing.

When editing a RAW image, no changes are made to the actual file. A separate file is created and all adjustments are kept in the associated file.

The RAW format, considered essential by professional and serious photographers, is still not widely used by others. At this time, RAW files can not be opened with every image editor and can take longer to process when editing that JPEG files.

In 2004, Adobe introduced the Digital Negative (DNG) format,  an open standard RAW file format. Adobe and others want the DNG to become to standard format for RAW files generated by digital cameras.

A RAW image has a smaller file size than a TIFF but is considerably larger than a JPEG.

sRAW and mRAW

Digital cameras with sRAW and mRAW give photographers the option to shoot RAW image files at reduced size. While they have  lower resolution than RAW, the smaller file allows more images to be captured on a memory card and there can be an increases in speed when using burst mode.

But my digital camera doesn’t shoot RAW!

If you’re concerned because your camera doesn’t shoot RAW, don’t worry. Many digital camera users find JPEGs, when shot at the highest resolution and lowest compression settings, meet their expectations for image quality. Many also find JPEGs easier to edit than RAW images.


Some digital cameras have an option to take both RAW and JPEG images simultaneously (JPEG + RAW setting). If you generally prefer to shoot JPEG only, consider shooting JPEG+RAW for special events or when lighting is difficult in case enhanced image editing is needed.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.


  • Mike, after processing a RAW image, you save it to another file format such as TIFF or JPEG. They will be different sizes than the originally RAW file. If you need to do additional editing, then use a program such as Photoshop CS.

  • When I have taken photos in the Raw format, as soon as I make any changes while using iphoto from is compressed eg 6.8Mb to 2.0Mb the file, should I be using Photo shop? Is image ready CS ok for this?

  • If you are a DSLR user, try to shot with RAW, because, RAW files are much better than standard JPG. However, RAW files are large and need to convert if you are a standard camera user.

  • anu, some photographers wouldn’t purchase a camera that didn’t offer the RAW file format. Others, like me, almost never use RAW, which requires extra processing and conversion to other file formats (TIFF, then possibly JPEG). The quality of JPEGs today is so good that, for most, the extra work of processing RAW is not worth it. It depends on how much you like to edit your photos.