Digital Focus: Shooting in RAW, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago we discussed the pros and cons of shooting in your camera's RAW format. Using RAW means that your digital photos won't be processed and compressed while still in the camera. That's important if you plan to do a lot of editing.

Transferring RAW Photos to the PC

Fortunately, while RAW can make everything else slightly more complicated, there's nothing particularly unusual about moving RAW files from the camera to the PC. Use whatever technique you prefer--a camera connection cable, memory card reader, even wireless, if your camera offers such a feature. After the pictures show up on your computer, though, RAW is a different story.

RAW-Compatible Software

In the past, since most image editors didn't understand the RAW format, it was also a pain in the neck to view, edit, and organize your RAW photos as well.

Thankfully, that's changed. All of my favorite image editors now work with RAW images just as if they were JPEGs. No matter whether you use Adobe Photoshop Elements, Microsoft Digital Image Suite, Corel Paint Shop Pro, or Ulead PhotoImpact--the most popular commercial photo editors--you'll get RAW support if you upgrade to the newest version.

However, Microsoft Windows XP doesn't know anything about RAW files. In your folders, RAW images appear with nondescript icons instead of thumbnail previews of the photos they contain. And don't bother double-clicking on a RAW file; it won't open the Picture and Fax Viewer to display the image.

But there's a solution: Microsoft's free RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer. This PowerToy lets you preview, see thumbnails, and print RAW images as if they were any other file format that Windows understands. It also gives you the ability to see RAW images on the desktop without special RAW image management software.

Editing RAW

Depending upon what image editor you use to edit RAW files, your experience will vary. Most programs allow you to make some initial adjustments to your RAW photo before loading it onto the editing canvas. Paint Shop Pro, for instance, offers a simple window in which you can adjust the white balance, exposure compensation, and sharpening; Photoshop Elements delivers a powerful and elegant interface that lets you fiddle with the image's histogram before loading it into the editor.

Should You?

So, now you're wondering if you should take the plunge. If you already have an image editor and a camera with RAW capabilities, why not? Give it a spin and see if you like it.

If you'd have to spend money to experiment with RAW, though, tread carefully. The JPEG format, used with low compression, is an excellent tool and gives results that are surprisingly similar to RAW. Indeed, you won't see a dramatic difference in the quality of your photos by switching.

RAW's real benefit comes in by making it easier to get high-quality results when you edit your photos on the PC. If you rarely spend much time editing your photos, using RAW may still be more trouble than it's worth.

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