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What is RAW photography, in the simplest way possible

Introduction

This article is meant to be extremely simple and guide you in your journey to learn RAW photography. After reading this article, two things will become crystal clear:

  • RAW photography isn’t that difficult to understand;
  • RAW photography is available to anybody.

The explanation

So, what happens when you shoot JPEG with your camera?

  • You press the shutter button;
  • The camera processes the data collected by the sensor (which lays behind your lens);
  • The camera outputs a JPEG file that you can share anywhere you want.

Now, what happens when you shoot RAW with your camera?

  • You press the shutter button;
  • The data collected by the sensor is saved in a file without any processing. It’s heavy, inexploitable and you certainly can’t post it on Facebook.

Then, why should you shoot RAW instead of JPEG? Because there are editors that can read the big amount of data in that file, display it on your screen and let you express your creativity by making adjustments on the way it is rendered. Once you’re done, you can export it as a JPEG and share it on Facebook.

Does it make sense? Here’s one more information: the amount of data contained in one RAW file depends on the size of the sensor. So yeah, size matters in the technical aspect of photography!

Which cameras can shoot RAW?

Back in the old days, shooting RAW could be achieved only by traditional cameras. But now, we’re living in the future and even our phones have this capability. That means almost anybody can do it!

If you’re an iPhone person like me, you can shoot RAW starting with the iPhone 6s / SE. The default camera app has been made with simplicity in mind, so it doesn’t shoot RAW and you can’t precisely adjust all the settings.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free camera apps that shoot RAW on the App Store. Just open the App Store and look for “RAW photo” (you can do the same if you’re an Android user).

Or you could stick with your mirrorless / DSLR camera, which is totally fine (and better, because the sensor is a hell lot bigger).

How can I process RAW files?

To process RAW files, you need a special application. You can do it on your computer, but also on your phone.

On a computer these days, most people use Adobe Lightroom. But I hate it for very good reasons: it’s an unecessarly resource consuming app and it just looks awful. Instead, I’ll just recommand you the best in the market (in my opinion): Capture One.

Capture One

Capture One can be tested for free for 30 days and then, it will cost you around $20 per month. There also are free versions, but with limited capabilities. Phase One (the company making Capture One) also has a YouTube channel which contains a lot of educational content to help you learn RAW processing.

Here are other very high quality RAW processing apps for computers:

On the mobile side, Adobe Lightroom (iOS / Android) is the most popular choice. Contrary to its Mac and Windows counterparts, Lightroom on iOS and Android is a very high quality app. Be aware that it is limited unless you pay a monthly subscription. For iPhone and iPad users, here are others very good (paid) alternatives:

It’s also interesting to know that the Photos app on iOS is capable to process RAW files. It’s just hard to tell the difference between JPEGs and RAW files when browsing your library.

Conclusion

As you can see, we live in a world where RAW photography can be apprehended by anyone. You don’t have a mirrorless or DSLR camera? Who cares? Use your phone. You have a camera but you don’t have a computer? Who cares? Process your images on your phone.

You now have all the tools at your disposal. I hope this article answered some of your questions and that you are extremely motivated to learn everything you can about RAW photography. Once again, YouTube is one of the best way to help you in that quest.

If you have more questions, join us in my Facebook group where thousands of people are ready to help (you don’t need to have a Fujifilm camera for that).

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