Most cameras allow you to save your images as RAW files. Photographers love these uncompressed, unedited files due to their numerous benefits. Though, the most common reason is that you can choose how to edit them without losing their quality. However, upon opening, RWW files often shrink and become flat and dull.
RAW files do not get smaller when you open them. However, they have the same resolution as a JPEG image. As such, they can appear compressed in some editors. Fortunately, this apparent compression is never saved unless you specifically request it. Therefore, the initial file sizes should remain intact.
Although, there might be some benefits from compressing a RAW image. Thus, by reading further, you will learn the available levels of RAW file compression and their uses.
Do RAW Images Shrink During Editing?
At 2 to 6 times larger than their corresponding JPEG files, RAW files allow you to store and create high dynamically ranged images that support up to 16-bit or 68 million colors. Unaltered with minimal processing, these files store your photos as your camera’s sensors recorded them.
Photographers love RAW files for the benefits they bring:
- More convenient than other image file formats.
- Offers 12 to 16-bit color channels
- Easy to adjust white balance
- Reveals finer details with improved image quality and sharpness
- Allows batch processing
- Non-destructive editing
Let’s go over some of these points below.
You Do Not Edit RAW Files Directly
When you open a RAW file, you do not open it. Instead, your editor creates a copy. Every alteration you make is done to this copy. When you are done, these alterations are saved as an additional layer on top of your original image data.
This feature lets you undo your edits anytime even across multiple sessions. It also allows your editor to easily convert the RAW file into something more usable such as a JPEG. It even lets you use different editors, such as Adobe Lightroom and Placeit, on the same file.
Processed RAW Can Appear Smaller
Because you do not edit the RAW image directly, most editors tend to use their native format. This step is usually done to get around the lack of a real standard for RAW files.
Every camera uses a different version of the RAW format. These differences are normally proprietary to that camera. As such, most RAW editors open the files in their native format. This lets the editors give you the same user experience regardless of the camera you have.
However, this temporary conversion has a few side effects:
- RAW images look dull and flat from the lack of processing
- You cannot print or view a RAW file before processing it
- RAW files appear to shrink as you open them
RAW files are largely thanks to the additional information they carry. However, most editors require only a fraction of that information to display and edit the images. Therefore, most editors only load the bare minimum required to import and convert the files.
As a result, the files usually appear to shrink in size despite having the same pixel resolution. This I just an illusion though. The only time when RAW files get smaller is when you compress them.
Types of RAW File Compression
Most cameras and RAW editors will let you set the compression, but it will always be one of the following three types. While all three types offer the same color depth, they can vary in quality and processing speed.
Uncompressed RAW files completely preserve the original image data. These files are completely unedited with no impact on quality. Uncompressed files give you the most room for adjustment but are the largest in file size. As such, they are recommended when you need high-quality images you can quickly develop.
Lossless Compressed RAW
Lossless compression reduces the file size with a minimal impact on image quality. The byproduct of post-processing, lossless compressed RAW files open and decompress like ZIP files. This decompression completely restores the original data and size, making these files the most common type of RAW. As such, you can use them to maintain image quality but in a smaller size format.
Compressed or Lossy Compressed RAW
Fully compressing a RAW file will reduce it to its smallest size. However, once compressed, you cannot decompress RAW files. As such, compressed RAW files have a noticeable loss in quality. Despite this, some photographers love them. Despite the reduced quality, they are still better than JPEGs, PNGs, and other raster formats. Plus, they are great for continuous shooting.
RAW files are a powerful image format that leaves your photos unaltered in any way. This feature allows you to continuously reprocess them to achieve different results. While these results can appear smaller than your original RAW, you can rest assured that your original file will always remain intact.