The new camera I got this spring has many new useful features compared to my previous camera. One feature new to me is shooting images in RAW format. I wondered what difference it made in the image quality.
I conducted a simple experiment and photographed the same scene in AUTO mode and in RAW mode. For both modes, I used a 10 second timer delay to eliminate movement. The camera was at full optical zoom of 65x on a tripod. The subject was a radio tower visible from my house 100 m (330 ft) tall and 500 m (1640 ft) away.
This first image used the camera AUTO setting. The camera automatically processed the image in a variety of ways such as shutter speed, ISO, contrast, brightness, white balance, etc, and saved it as a JPG format on the memory card. That resulted in an image needing less memory space and which is generally pleasing to the eye. Click on it to embiggen to full size of 4608 x 3456 pixels.
This next image used RAW mode. The original image saved on the memory card was about 17 megabytes. To see it here, I saved it to as a highest quality JPG with no processing of the file in the camera or on the computer. Notice a few differences from the image above. It is a little flatter overall with less contrast. A faint cloud drifted into the background. Click on it to embiggen to full size of 4608 x 3456 pixels.
Scaled to 100%
Both images looked ok. Are there differences which are harder to see? I scaled each image above to 100% view in order to look for more subtle details. I centered the top of the tower in each. This next image is from the AUTO mode. Please click to embiggen in order to see the artifacts along the edges of boundaries between blue sky and dark objects. These were introduced when the camera processed the image and saved it in JPG format. They are quite small and not noticed unless scaled up to 100%.
This next image is from the RAW format which I saved as a JPG with no processing. Click to embiggen and compare it to the previous image. The artifacts at the edges are not present. The picture is missing some enhancements of contrast, brightness, etc. I can add those adjustments to the amounts I want. The image retains some subtle image details the previous one is missing.
Will I Use RAW?
Not very often. For most of my needs, the camera does a great job balancing color, choosing shutter speed, ISO, contrast, brightness, adjusting white balance, and selecting focus when in the AUTO mode. I wouldn’t gain much by using RAW.
I am not an expert or professional photographer. My needs are simple. RAW photography is an essential part of the workflow of many photographers. It gives them full control over the final appearance of their images.
Now and then, I photograph astronomical scenes of the Moon and planets. I use a high zoom setting, scale them to 100%, and crop to select part of the frame. I don’t want those small JPG edge artifacts to show in the image at the boundaries of Jupiter, Venus, or the Moon. The RAW mode will let me avoid them.
RAW to JPG Online Conversion
As I researched this topic, I found some handy online tools. One in particular got my attention. It is free with a simple interface. The site is raw.pics.io and is worth a view.
Drag an image onto the window at their site. It can be a RAW image, as well as many other types. It will quickly open a JPG version. Editing tools found in most image processing software are provided for your adjustments. After you are finished, save it to your desktop as a new image with your changes. It can open a RAW version of the image. But, it takes a while to upload the large file.