Trusted Reviews is supported by its audience. If you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

What is a camera RAW image?

Most cameras (and even some smartphones these days) give you the option to shoot in RAW over JPEG. 

But what is a RAW image and how do these files compare to other image formats? Here’s our comprehensive guide.

What is a camera RAW image? 

RAW is a file format used to save unprocessed, uncompressed images on a camera. The term RAW doesn’t actually stand for anything, but rather refers to the raw data that is preserved when using this file type. 

RAW files can essentially be thought of as digital photo negatives. The main difference between this and a traditional negative is that you’re able to process and reprocess the file an infinite number of times. This is possible because the original camera RAW data is preserved with the edits stored in a separate, non-destructive sidecar file. 

RAW files can be signified by a range of different extensions depending on the make of your camera. For example, Canon cameras will shoot .CR2 files, while Nikon models will create .NEF images and Fujifilm will save as .RAF files. 

Head over to our guide to learn how to change your camera format to RAW

Is RAW better than JPEG? 

There are a number of benefits to shooting in RAW with your camera over the smaller JPEG format. 

RAW photos are higher quality than JPEGs because they’re able to retain more information. They also offer significantly more flexibility when editing, meaning it’s easier to “save” an image that may not have been captured in the best lighting conditions. 

However, there are some drawbacks to RAW images. For one, they’re much larger than JPEG and PNG files. This means they take up more space on your camera and take longer to load on your computer. 

RAW files can also be tricky to open depending on the software you have on hand. You’ll want to make sure you have access to an image editing app that can process RAW images before setting your camera up to shoot in RAW. 

How do you open a RAW file? 

You can use any app or editing software that supports RAW files to open your RAW images. One of the most popular options is Adobe’s Camera RAW editor, which is a plug-in available with Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.

However, if you’re hoping to send RAW files to someone without access to software, you might need to turn them into JPEGs yourself first so they can easily view them. You can learn how to convert RAW files to JPEGs in Photoshop using our guide.

Why trust our journalism?

Founded in 2003, Trusted Reviews exists to give our readers thorough, unbiased and independent advice on what to buy.

Today, we have millions of users a month from around the world, and assess more than 1,000 products a year.

author icon

Editorial independence

Editorial independence means being able to give an unbiased verdict about a product or company, with the avoidance of conflicts of interest. To ensure this is possible, every member of the editorial staff follows a clear code of conduct.

author icon

Professional conduct

We also expect our journalists to follow clear ethical standards in their work. Our staff members must strive for honesty and accuracy in everything they do. We follow the IPSO Editors’ code of practice to underpin these standards.

Trusted Reviews Logo

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the best of Trusted Reviews delivered right to your inbox.

This is a test error message with some extra words