Part II - Get the Best Images Your Digicam Can Produce

Take Advantage of RAW Capture Mode

by Peter K. Burian

(c) 2005 Peter K. Burian
Adobe Camera Raw provides fully automatic corrections and user-selectable controls
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

What is RAW Capture?

When you select the RAW capture mode, the camera records raw data from the sensor in a proprietary file format (such as NEFF or CR.) In-camera settings for white balance, exposure compensation, contrast, sharpening and color saturation are recorded, but not applied to the image data. After you download the files to a computer, all of these settings can be modified before converting the file to TIFF.

Use the special "converter" software packaged with the camera, or an aftermarket converter from Adobe (Camera Raw), BreezeBrowser (, PhaseOne ( or the free RawShooter Essentials from Pixmantec (

(c) 2005 Peter K. Burian
Major technical problems (as in this example) can be difficult to correct in JPEG images
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

Who Needs RAW Capture?

Obviously, you can correct an image made in JPEG capture using conventional software, so why shoot in the RAW format? There are two primary reasons. First, image quality will be preserved even if you make fairly major corrections. And if you use Adobe Camera Raw (in Elements 3.0 or Photoshop CS2) the process requires little expertise. The automatically applied corrections are often close to ideal, calling for only a bit of fine tuning using one or two of the slider controls.

Let’s say you were shooting under fluorescent lighting (without flash) using Daylight Auto White Balance, and your images exhibit a strong green cast. Perhaps you inadvertently set spot metering instead of evaluative metering and many of your images of sky capped mountains are underexposed. Or you set the color saturation level to High in-camera, and skin tones are much too ruddy. No problem if you were shooting in RAW mode. These serious errors (and others) can all be corrected in converter software without the loss of quality that would occur in the conventional image editing program.

Is RAW Capture the Ideal Option?

Admittedly, there are a few drawbacks to shooting in RAW capture mode. First, image recording time is much longer and you may not be able to shoot more than one (or a few) photos in a sequence. Because of the larger files, your memory card will fill up much more quickly. Finally, you’ll need to spend extra time at a computer using the special converter software.

(c) 2005 Peter K. Burian
Because I had used RAW, corrections were easy to make without degrading quality
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

The Bottom Line

While RAW capture is not ideal in all respects, it's great whenever you absolutely must be sure that you'll be able to make a perfect photo. Take advantage of the slightly higher image quality and the wider latitude for making corrections in your computer. Use RAW versus JPEG mode particularly for important events, or once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities and you’ll have extra peace of mind.

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Peter K. Burian
Photography Instructor: Peter K. BurianPeter K. Burian, Photo Journal Syndicate (, is a freelance photographer based in Toronto, Canada. His outdoor, travel, nature and active lifestyle photographs are available as stock for editorial and advertising use. He markets his work direct to photo buyers via and is also represented by three stock agencies: Corbis, Alamy and The Stock Connection.

Peter Burian also writes illustrated books about photography and camera equipment, including:

  • Co-author of the National Geographic Photography Field Guide.
  • Author of 15 Magic Lantern Guides to SLR camera systems.
  • Author of Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging (Sybex), covering the technology, equipment and techniques, with 270 pages of practical advice
In his spare time, he is a Contributing Editor with Photo Life, Photo News and Australian photography magazine. Finally, Peter Burian is a course instructor who teaches two online photography courses: Mastering the Digital Camera and Photography and Mastering the Canon EOS Digital Rebels. Sign up today to learn how to make great photos with your digital camera!