To understand the advantage of the raw file format, it is first necessary to understand a little more about how a digital camera processes an image before saving it to the memory card.
When the image is captured by the camera sensor in any mode other than raw, the computer in the camera processes the sensor data before saving it to the memory card. White balance, exposure, tonal corrections, sharpening, and other adjustment are applied to the image before it is saved. If the camera saves images in raw format, the data from the unprocessed charge-coupled device (CCD) or complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensor data is saved using a proprietary format that is maker/models specific, such as Nikon's NEF, Canon's CRW, and Kodak's DCR.
These formats are loosely based on the TIFF format, except the resulting image file size is smaller than an uncompressed TIFF image. Figure 6-13 shows the Nikon version of the software that works with raw files. Called NikonCapture, this software gives you the ability to change almost every tonal and color setting of your photo. Only two problems cannot be corrected in an image saved in raw format: if the photo is out of focus or grossly overexposed.
The real advantage offered by saving in raw format is the amount of creative freedom it allows. Using either the manufacturer's proprietary raw processing software or other software, you can change almost anything in an image because you are using your computer to do the processing of the sensor data that is normally done by the camera. You can change the exposure and WB, and with the new Nikon software (Capture 4), you can even automatically remove any dust or debris that may have accumulated on your camera sensor (this is a problem with DSLR cameras with detachable lenses).
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