RAW, Why Must You Torment Me So?

    6 February 2006, mid-morning

I have been taking photographs using the RAW capture mode on my digital camera. What this means is that my camera takes the raw data it reads on its light sensor and saves it to an image file without processing it whatsoever. You are supposed to post-process the images on your computer, which give you much more control.

The other option available to me, and the one most people use, is to save their photos as JPEGs. If I went this route, the camera does some processing on the photo—colour correction, white-balancing, and what not—and then saves the images as a JPEG image. JPEGs are smaller, and easier to work with on a computer. The problem with JPEGs is that they achieve their size by throwing away a lot of the data in the image. You can’t take a JPEG and apply some transformations to get the original image back; once an image is compressed, the information that was removed is gone forever. As such, we call JPEG a lossy compression scheme. A high-quality JPEG will still give you a very good image, however, you will never have the exact image your camera saw.

The main advantage of shooting RAW is that you can do post-processing on your computer with an untainted image. On your PC, you can fix the white-balance, curves, and other such things, getting the image you want, before exporting the photo as a JPEG (or some other image format you can work with). You can decide what you think looks best, as opposed to letting the circuits in your camera decide. This is a big plus.

There is however a big problem with shooting RAW, at least for myself: the files are huge and a pain to work with. It takes my iBook a full minute to convert an image from a RAW file to a JPEG. One minute is a really long time for a computer to spend doing anything in this day and age. It took me 45 minutes to export this set of photographs from a dinner I had at my house on Saturday. I am still trying to figure out the best—and quickest—way to deal with processing a large batch of RAW images.



  1. Aperture. You should know this mac genius. Would you like a 15% discount off an $800 software?

  2. Have you read the list of requirements for Apeture? I’d need 15% off a $5000 dollar computer first I think. (Also, the reviews of Apeture thus far have been pretty lackluster.)

  3. Have you tried out lightroom? There’s a public beta test going on right now.

  4. Yeah, I have been reading up on Lightroom, but as with Apeture, I think my computer is just too slow for it. (Though Lightroom has more more conservative requirements then Apeture.)

  5. Uhhh I don’t see how you’ll get around this without a new computer. I never shot RAW when I was using my severael years old PC, but when I got my iMac (2GHz G5, 2GB RAM) it was like a whole new world opened up to me. I can open dozens of RAW images fairly easily. I am terrified to think what they’d do on my G4 PowerBook. I wouldn’t bother trying it.

  6. “Uhhh I donít see how youíll get around this without a new computer.”

    +1. You need more powaaaaahhhh.

  7. For the record, Ram’s not allowed to get a new computer until he’s purchased more important things… such as… I dunno… um…a diamond ring for me…. :P

  8. Yeah. I also think that trying to squeeze more power out of my G3 is a futile task. Though perhaps there is some super-fast command line program that does everything I want. ImageMagick can do a lot of post-processing on files, though I don’t think it works on RAW files just yet. (Even then, i’m not sure if ImageMagick runs any faster than photoshop, though it would certainly have less overhead to work.)

    And Shima, I was going to get you a Leica instead of a diamond ring.

  9. That’s the right attitude Ram, Stick it to the man.

  10. Ram, Have you been able to use your computer savvyness to find a good source for estate diamonds? Birks wanted $40,000 for 2 carats! Cripes.

  11. No sorry Victor. I’m not sure if there is a good online retailer for stuff like that. I think you just need to go to shops that sell antique jewelry—or pawn shops I suppose. Though I am guessing you won’t find 2 carat diamonds at a pawn shop.

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