A RAW is forever! Guide to essential image formats in photography
Do you know what are the essential image formats in photography?
It’s important to make this clear right away to avoid mistakes and wasting time, consolidating a correct workflow, during the shooting phase and in post-production. There are different formats available and the choice of using one or the other will depend on the final use of the image.
To help you, in this article, I will explain which formats are most important for the development of an image in photography, evaluating advantages, disadvantages and when to use them.
The raw format is also called “digital negative”.
Depending on the type of camera we are using we can find it under the extensions: .CR2 (Canon), .NEF (Nikon), .ARW (Sony), .RAF (Fujifilm).etc.
– It is a raw format, unprocessed, without loss of information and with high color depth. With the RAW you will have more possibilities to recover exposure, white balance, high ISO noise, color, detail and contrast. This will allow you to fully exploit the potential of your sensor and optics;
– It doesn’t overwrite, you could convert an image to other formats from the RAW, but this original file will always be available for future digital edits.
– Being an uncompressed format it takes up more space. This means you need more space to store it on your camera’s memory card and computer;
– Without a proper memory card, it may increase the storage time during shooting;
– It is necessary to use a photo-retouching software to open and modify it. RawTherapee and Darktable are valid free options. Among the paid options we find Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop’s Camera Raw plugin and Capture One.
When to use it?
– Almost always! It’s the mother format, it contains all the information of the image. The basis for higher quality results.
– It’s not ideal if you do not yet use photo-retouching programs such as Photoshop. It needs post-processing, otherwise, you won’t be able to use it, for both printing and the web.
If you have just started to photograph and do not edit your images with software, don’t worry, it is normal! If you have the possibility (large memory cards, like 16 or 32 GB) I suggest you choose the option of saving RAW + JPEG. So you can easily open your photos in JPEG and save your RAWs for a later time.
It’s a fairly common format. It is not possible to choose it on the camera, to obtain it you will have to convert with a photo-retouching software a RAW to TIFF.
– It is uncompressed, without loss of information.
– It takes up a lot of space, it is not recommended to convert all images to TIFF.
When to use it?
– For images to be printed;
– When you want to save an image to your computer in the highest quality.
It’s the most popular image format in the world.
– It has a great compression capacity and for this reason, it is still today the most used format for the web;
– It takes up less space on devices;
– It is compatible with most software;
– The output image from the camera is more attractive because it is processed through the selected image style, with default values of sharpness, contrast, saturation and color tone, which do not apply in the case of RAW (in that case you will have to do it with a photo-retouching software).
– It’s a compressed format, with a loss of quality. It may generate artifacts due to compression;
– It allows less recovery on exposure, white balance, noise due to high ISO, color, detail, and contrast.
When to use it?
– When converting images for web use (sites, social media.etc.);
– To save most of the images on your computer, since it is not possible to convert everything to TIFF for space reasons;
– If you know that, after the shot, you will not use a photo retouching software like Photoshop.