RAW image files are so named because they include all the unprocessed data directly from the sensor of a digital camera, and are hence not ready for editing for viewing without special software. RAW images are usually something only pro photographers or at least "prosumers" are concerned with, and are only output by DSLR-type cameras such as the Nikon D90 or the Canon 50D, but are also available in recent high-end compact “point and shoot” cameras such as the Nikon CoolPix P6000 or the Canon G10. RAW files are also large, perhaps twice the size of a high-quality JPEG file from the same camera.

Once you have a RAW file which is often called a “digital negative” because of its unprocessed state, you would normally “post-process” or “develop” it using a RAW converter program that allows precise adjustments to highlights, contrast, white balance, exposure, sharpness, noise-reduction and so forth, prior to exporting it as a JPEG or TIFF, for printing or publishing on the web. Photographers use RAW because it allows a higher degree of processing control compared to working directly on a JPEG, though it is quite possible to have your expensive DSLR output JPEG directly (many DSLRs can output both RAW and JPEG at the same time).

Post processing options include maker-proprietary software such as Nikon Capture, and, generalist programs such as Apple Aperture, Bibble Pro and Adobe Lightroom. When buying into a system like Apple Aperture, one has to note that there might be a lag time when a new camera with new RAW format comes out, until the software maker can catch up and incorporate that format into their software.

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Adobe Understanding RAW PDF
Open RAW - standards working group
Apple Aperture
Bibble Labs Bibble Pro
Adobe Lightroom


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