Why commercial photographers shoot in RAW

When you capture an image using a digital camera there’s a lot of action in between hitting the shutter button and a file being stored. The camera captures the image, converts it into ones and zeros, processes it, converts it to the chosen file format and stores it on whichever memory medium has been selected. All that in a fraction of a second. The immense processing power contained within the tools we use every day is an underappreciated wonder, but with so much done for us automatically, it can sometimes be beneficial to understand a bit more about what goes on ‘under the hood’ of the tools commercial photographers use every day.



There a several commonly used file formats used in digital photography, but by far the most common is ‘JPEG’. In 1992 the Joint Photographic Experts Group created this standard and it remains popular today especially for web images due to its ease of compression. Unfortunately, JPEG’s are a ‘lossy’ file format, in that the processing and storage of JPEG images loses some of the integrity of the image each time it’s saved or edited.  With this being the case, an image captured and converted to JPEG will already have lost some of the information captured by the camera sensor. Repeated editing will cause further loss.

RAW format, however, as the name suggests, are minimally processed. So the stored picture is as close to raw data as is possible while still being an image file. Sometimes referred to as ‘digital negatives’ a callback to the days of photography using film, RAW images capture all the image information captured by the camera sensor, rather than the processed and compressed file you’d get with a JPEG. While modern and high specification cameras do indeed contain some very powerful processors, they’re nowhere near as powerful as a desktop computer, so all that processing power is used instead to capture as much information as possible from each image so that a skilled operator with a suite of powerful image software can make the most of it later.