I have to admit I was a bit surprised at such forward thinking at Microsoft, but they have released codecs, which are essentially drivers or software to be able to view RAW camera files in Windows Explorer and Windows Live Photo Gallery.
RAW format is really taking off, and for serious photographers, it is the way to go. This format is generally only available in the more advanced cameras such as DSLRs and higher end point and shoots.
What is the difference between RAW and a .JPG file?
When you take a photo with a digital camera, and save it as a .jpg in the camera, the camera and it’s electronics make assumptions about the photo and make a bunch of exposure and other important decisions about the photo when saved.
With a RAW file, it is almost like going back to the scene and able to retake the photo. You have a lot more control over exposure and thus your lighting and photos can look much better.
I won’t get too technical, but a .jpg file is an 8 bit file which will store about 256 levels of brightness in your photo.
A RAW file is usually a 12 bit size file which can handle about 4,096 levels of brightness for each and every pixel. It does vary by manufacturer and camera model.
So if I have a choice of 256 brightness levels, or 4096, I would take the bigger one any day. What that does is give you a much larger latitude of exposure to work with.
Ever have a photo where the sky is just all washed out, or the shade under the tree is too dark? More exposure levels is what allows you to pull out detail in those areas you would not be able to with only 256 levels.
There are a few things to consider and they are not necessarily disadvantages with shooting photos in RAW.
They do take up a lot of space, the RAW file sizes can be around 25 megabytes vs. around 3 mb for the same photo saved in .jpg.
Also, you do need to process the files a bit differently with software that will edit the RAW files. JPG files are pretty much ready to go unless they need some minor adjusting.
Different Formats for brands of Cameras
The one big problem is there are a lot of RAW formats out there. Each camera manufacturer can have their own, Canon uses .CR2 and Nikon uses .NEF, and there are a bunch more.
The nice thing about the ability to view RAW files is that without the codecs, you just see a blank document in thumbnail view. But the the codecs, the RAW files act just like a .jpg or other photo. You can see the little thumbnail, and you can click on it, and see the RAW file in the file preview window. You can enlarge the view, just like all other image files.
The codecs work in Windows 7 or Vista with Service Pack 2 installed. Just download, and install, quick and easy. Then go into your Pictures folder where you have some RAW files, and check it out.
If you have a camera capable of shooting RAW, many times you can set it to shoot a .jpg and RAW photo at the same time. This way you can make sure you have a .jpg like you are used to. In addition, you will get a RAW file that you can start to learn how to edit. The main thing you can do with RAW is exposure type changes.