What's Raw Format All About?
Shooting digital photos in raw format is increasingly popular for people who want to get the highest possible quality out of their images. Working with raw files is the digital equivalent of processing your own film you get more involved in the technical details of image processing to wring every last bit of quality out of your images.
Although raw files require more disk space than JPEG files, many feel that the increased quality of the data in raw files is worth the larger file size. The size of raw files also becomes less of an issue as the capacity of image storage cards continues to grow and their cost continues to drop.
Because raw files are raw, they must be converted to a format that can be used for final output, such as Photoshop, TIFF, or JPEG. It's similar to how a film negative isn't usable until you make a positive version. Similar to negative film, there's no single right way to interpret raw data you can adjust the conversion so that the converted file is technically and aesthetically the way you want it. Adobe Camera Raw software exists to perform the conversion and provides controls so that you can convert raw files in a way that works best for your output.
It's worth noting that there isn't one raw format. Because "raw" in this context means the data that comes straight off the camera sensor, every camera has its own raw format. Right now, software like Adobe Camera Raw must be updated every time a new camera comes out. The Digital Negative (DNG) format standardizes raw camera data into a universal format so that your software only has to support DNG, instead of having to support every camera out there. DNG is supported by an increasing number of software programs. If you want to convert your raw files to DNG, you can download the free Adobe DNG Converter, available from: www.adobe.com/dng/