One way to look at RAW Nancy is to think back to film photography. You had Kodak, Agfa, Fuji and Ilford mainly, not to discount the Polaroid film types. Each of those films looked at color in a different way, so that a green on Kodak looked much different from a green on Agfa film. To process those films many had proprietary chemical processes though you could get results using the major Kodak processes on the other films. Each brand had its fans and each brand was able to deliver different results depending on the process used.
RAW is the same. Each manufacturer looks at image capture differently and stores that information differently. This is why you can not insert a memory disk from a Canon into a Nikon and expect to see the image. The cameras internally convert RAW data to JPEG if you allow it to, there is no reason not to allow it as it does it faster than you can and in many cases better. Yes there are some minor trade-offs, mostly with ½ stop of exposure, but if you are using the camera for enjoyment, minimal if any time messing with the image afterward, you should only shoot JPEG.
Until someone can show me a RAW image that can be manipulated to a noticeable degree better than one could with a JPEG, I stick with JPEG. Will there be one out there, probably, but will there be thousands, no.
When vermilye speaks of disk storage, this is mainly speaking of images downloaded to a computer HD. The storage cards inserted into most camera begin to max out at 16 GB, not a lot of room for tons of RAW images. You can likely store thousands of JPEGS on that same card, while RAW, depending on the brand, might run out of room after 20 images. Sure you can carry around tons of cards and switch to a new one when one is full, but somehow I don't think this is what you are after – correct me if I'm wrong.
RAW will allow you to work on it a bit more in photoshop and not lose quality saving it numerous times. If you work on a JPEG photo, then save it, then go back in and do some more work, it loses quality each time. RAW will keep the same quality, no matter how many times you tweak it.
RAW leaves file "as shot" without adjustment or compression. Storage size can be an issue over time. Need software for manipulating that may have a large learning curve. Really only need this format if you are going to work on the layers of the file extensively. Some of the newer formats -example JPEG 2000 will compress without much data loss. Each Format has its plus and minus depending on what you do.
I use large format TIF images in mapping work -a great format for my use but a file sizes can be extremely large.
I too am waiting for someone to explain "RAW" in a little more detail. I don't normally use RAW either, but only because I don't understand it.
RAW takes the unfiltered data from the camera sensor and puts it in a file. The data is not compressed or treated in any way.
The advantage is that there is no quality loss in the data, and that you have complete control of manipulating the data in software such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or Nikon's ViewNX.
JPG files are what is called a "lossy" format. Every time you open, manipulate, and close a jpg file, there is some loss of data due to the jpg compression. Do this several times and you can seriously degrade the quality of the picture.
Also many cameras that have scene settings such as portrait, landscape, etc, apply different color balances & effects to the data when you save it in JPG mode. These are almost impossible to get rid of if you don't like them.
I have an entry-level Nikon D3100 that I am really getting the hang of. Even though it is an entry-level SLR, it has excellent optical quality and capabilities, and I think it will serve me well for a long time. I'm just now starting to use RAW files, and am shooting in RAW & JPG simultaneously. I can get about 400 photos on a 16 GB SD card.
JPG is fine for things you are not interested in spending much time on. I go through and discard my RAW files (and many JPGs) for any shots that have obvious problems---out of focus, something blocking the subject, whatever. Then I will do some fast edits on the JPGs if all they need is a little cropping, etc. Then I only work on the RAW files of my best photos.
Most software that handles RAW files does what is called non-destructive editing. The edits are actually commands in a file attached to the RAW file. So you can revert to the original, many times, without losing any data or degrading the original photo file.
There is a wonderful website called Nikonians.org, which has been extremely helpful to me. I highly recommend you look for a similar site for whatever brand of camera you get.
The "Dummies" series of books also are very helpful. There is one for almost every Nikon camera, I don't know about other brands. They are also good for software.
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I downloaded the trial version of Lightroom 4 but am having trouble getting helpful instructions about how to use it.
I assume that at some point a picture shot in Raw format is doctored and perfected can eventually be saved to a jpeg or other common format, although I never figured out how to do this. Without being able to do this I am having trouble seeing the benefit of the Raw concept. For example, I made several family photos in both jpeg and raw format. I would like to work with one of the photos and take it to Costco for our annual Christmas card. They need it in jpeg format. I can give them the original jpeg but I would like use the raw version and make corrections.
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Most RAW editors will enable one to save to various formats, including jpeg or tiff. Many will do batch processing too ... so if you like all the shots 'as is' then just let the system process RAW to jpeg. Once you have your jpegs, then you may wish to delete the RAW files.
BUT ... there are continual improvements made to RAW editors. For instance, Canon introduced new sharpening options in its Digital Photo Professional. I re-visited some of my older RAW files, images of birds, and liked the better result with the newer sharpening options. So, re-dickered with the images and re-saved them to jpeg.
As well, as one gets more experienced, or maybe one finds a processing method that they like more via experimentation, then being able to re-visit old RAW files -- perhaps images that are those once in a lifetime shots -- then it is nice to have the RAW data to work with. There are also trends with images, for instance the images some are now processing to look like those faded yellowish shots we all have from the 1970s ... and working with the RAW file gives one more options for a wide variety of results. As wonderful as PhotoShop is, it in no way has the flexibility offered by working with RAW data.
Not to open up another can of worms but in considering a new camera purchase I would be giving more consideration to the lens than to RAW or live view. I see so many really nice cameras out there in kits with glass that just does not keep up with the camera. You will never be happy with your camera if you don't have good glass. The way I do it is to buy the body by itself and then get the lens I want separate. I am switching out of my old Minolta stuff and going to Canon so I am going through this process right now.
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I can see that I personally have a lot to learn. I thought I had mastered the camera when I left the fully automatic mode and started making manual shots but there's a world out there I haven't begun to explore.
Mike stock, imagine how I feel! I'm not even holding the camera yet!
I think RAW will quite a ways away for me right now, but glad to know this link will be here, you are all soooo knowledgeable!
Not to open up another can of worms but in considering a new camera purchase I would be giving more consideration to the lens than to RAW or live view. I see so many really nice cameras out there in kits with glass that just does not keep up with the camera. .
I am with you. I don't use RAW, but rarely have to do much post processing to make them look good for what we use them for.
For me having good lens for low light conditions was the best investment I could make