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The other picture-file type that you can create on your Canon is called Camera Raw, or just Raw (as in uncooked) for short.

Each manufacturer has its own flavor of Raw files; Canon's are called CR2 files. If you use a Windows computer, you see that three-letter designation at the end of your picture filenames.

Raw is popular with advanced, very demanding photographers, for two reasons:

i Greater creative control: With JPEG, internal camera software tweaks your images, making adjustments to color, exposure, and sharpness as needed to produce the results that Canon believes its customers prefer. With Raw, the camera simply records the original, unprocessed image data. The photographer then copies the image file to the computer and uses special software known as a raw converter to produce the actual image, making decisions about color, exposure, and so on at that point. The upshot is that "shooting Raw" enables you, not the camera, to have the final say on the visual characteristics of your image.

i Best picture quality: Because Raw doesn't apply the destructive compression associated with JPEG, you don't run the risk of the artifacting that can occur with JPEG.

But of course, as with most things in life, Raw isn't without its disadvantages. To wit:

i You can't do anything with your pictures until you process them with a Raw converter. You can't share them online, print them, put them in a document — nada. So when you shoot Raw, you add to the time you must spend in front of the computer instead of behind the camera lens. Chapter 8 shows you how to process your Raw files using the converter found in the Canon software that was included in your camera box.

Note, too, that technology that will enable retail printers to print Raw files is on the horizon, so you may not have to process the images to get prints made in the near future. Of course, that means that the printer would do the processing, making all those color, exposure, and other judgments for you, but only for the prints you order. You could still process the images for your own use on your computer.

1 Raw files are larger than JPEGs. The type of file compression that Raw applies doesn't degrade image quality, but the tradeoff is larger files. In addition, Raw files are always captured at the maximum resolution available on your camera, even if you don't really need all those pixels. For both reasons, Raw files are significantly larger than JPEGs, so they take up more room on your memory card and on your computer's hard drive or other picture-storage device.

Are the disadvantages worth the gain? Only you can decide. But before you make up your mind, compare the Large/Fine JPEG image in Figure 3-7 with its Raw counterpart, shown in Figure 3-9. You may be able to detect some subtle quality differences in the enlarged view, but most people would be hard pressed to distinguish between the two otherwise. And JPEG certainly wins out in terms of convenience, time savings, and smaller file size. (Note that during the Raw conversion process, I tried to use settings that kept the Raw image as close as possible to its JPEG cousin in all aspects but quality. But any variations in exposure, color, and contrast are a result of the conversion process, not of the format per se.)

Raw, 9.8MB

Raw, 9.8MB

Figure 3-9: The difference between Raw and Large/Fine images typically is noticeable only when images are greatly enlarged.

That said, I do shoot in the Raw format when I'm dealing with tricky lighting because doing so gives you more control over the final image exposure. For example, if you use a capable Raw converter, you can specify how bright you want the brightest areas of your photo to appear and how dark you prefer your deepest shadows. With JPEG, the camera makes those decisions, which can potentially limit your flexibility if you try to adjust exposure in your photo editor later.

I also go Raw if I know that I'm going to want huge prints of a subject. But keep in mind: I'm a photography geek, I have all the requisite software, and I don't really have much else to do with my time than process scads of Raw images. Oh, and I'm a bit of a perfectionist, too. (Although I'm more bothered by imperfections than I am motivated to remove them. A lazy perfectionist, if you will.)

If you do decide to try Raw shooting, you can select from the following two Quality options:

1 RAW: This setting produces a single Raw file at the maximum resolution (10 megapixels).

1 RAW+Large/Fine: This setting produces two files: the standard Raw file plus a JPEG file captured at the Large/Fine setting. At first glance, this option sounds great: You can share the JPEG online or get prints made and then process your Raw files when you have time.

The problem is that, like the Raw file, the JPEG image is captured at the maximum pixel count — which is too large for onscreen viewing. That means that you have to edit the JPEG file anyway to trim down the pixel count before online sharing, although you can produce great prints right away. In addition, creating two files for every image eats up substantially more memory card space. I leave it up to you to decide whether the pluses are worth the minuses.

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