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RAW file converters provide non destructive conversions and editing for the RAW data from your camera.

RAW data is the untouched, 3 grayscale data streams from the capture areas of the sensor of your camera. There are many RAW file formats, DGN, NEF, CR2 and ARW are examples. Those capture areas are defined as R, Red, G, Green and B, Blue with in general twice as many sensors dedicated to green as red or blue. To accurately give you any more information on the process is 3 pages in a book and is not going to help you decide if you want to shoot RAW and will bore you more then most want to be bored.

Below is a screen capture of the RAW file as shot in the camera, Nikon D3400, taken from about 35 feet. This is the image displayed as it appears with the default settings in my RAW editor, Corel AfterShot Pro 3. In the image posted below this one you'll see the results of the edits and then a discussion on RAW use for image editing.

To save you time and the boredom of my ramblings I'll make the one obvious statement that needs to be made now, in my opinion if you choose to shoot and edit RAW files you will have the absolute most control of your post capture image processing possible, any other process is a significant compromise . Think of the RAW work flow as the 1975 darkroom enhanced.


The image seen below is the TIF file that was created from the RAW capture after processing in AfterShot Pro 3.  You'll see obvious differences, saturation, sharpness and improvements in contrast are the most obvious. Less obvious in this image is the slight noise reduction that was applied to the image. 

A note on noise reduction: I started out in the graphics business as a pressman and I still think in many ways like a pressman. Using noise reduction filters is a great deal like mixing ink, especially ink that has a very dark base color in the formula. A very little amount of a deep color goes a long way and so does noise reduction. Do it in small increments, you can always apply more later, or with RAW go back to the begining anytime you desire.


The term RAW is an appropriate nomenclature for the file format, beyond the META data transferred from the camera in the file, the RAW data has zero color content, it literally is RAW grayscale data. In terms of color it's simply 3 grayscale data streams that are composited together in the RAW converting software to display as color. 

One grayscale data stream for each of the RGB color model and non destructive editing are the core aspects of the original RAW file and the RAW converter concept of work flow.

I've heard it said that different devices or software have flat RAW or poor RAW display.  It may be true that the first display you see of your RAW file looks bad but in my opinion it's simply an arbitrary set of configurations used by the programmers of the software. The program has to have to have some reference point to start with.

However part of the RAW converters base functions other then to allow you to adjust the color and other aspects of the image to suit your tastes is to immediately give you core information about the content of the RAW data, which is the other non color information in the RAW data stream.  That's part of the programmed default setting as well. 

Upon opening a RAW file you'll see a histogram for a quick exposure check, shutter speed, F Stop, focal length, a concept if the image is in focus and ISO data just to mention the core data required to make a judgement as to whether you want to continue editing or to place that image on the back burner. I suggest that you save your back burner files because as your skill level and technology move forward many marginal images may be able to be made into exceptional images.

I have tested many RAW converters and today many of those applications have blurred the lines considerably between RAW converter and image editor. A RAW conversion does not require these image editing features, all it needs to do is to convert the 3 grayscale data streams into a RGB data stream, provide non destructive editing and assign an ICC profile.

However these additional image editing features added to the RAW converters may have added value to the user, how you would measure that value depends on your work flow. The one key concept that I have found to all RAW editors and I can't stress this enough is that the edits are non destructive, you can always go back to zero and start again.

I regularly use AfterShot Pro 3, In terms of RAW converters I have used Lightroom, Capture One and DXO to mention a few. In my view the tell of the tape is, if it suits your work flow.  I would however suggest that you do not settle on one application without downloading and testing other applications for the entire free time period, test many different applications. It really takes a few hundred hours to get the feel of a RAW or any image editor.

I use AfterShot Pro because it is more atuned to my concept of RAW editors. It allows all the core RAW edits, it has RAW noise removal and perfectly clear as features as well as Denoise in the application, batch processing, tone curves, color management and image management to mention a few features. 

Like all RAW editors I've tested, I find they are all primarily RAW editors and not image editng applications designed to interface with a graphics suite, a process most of us need to deal with sooner or later. Some have really attempted to be both RAW converters and image editors.  Some have done better at it than others but in my opinion none fit the bill. Most likely it's because I'm like most image editors, a user gets used to using their image editing application of preference so for a RAW editor to fit the bill it would need to function as a completely functional RAW editing plugin to your favorite image editor/graphics suite.

I also use Corel Photo-PAINT 2020 and Corel PaintShop Pro 2021, GIMP, PhotoLine, Denoise,  Akvis and PhotoZoom Pro.  As shown in the images below on the left is the RAW conversion cropped for an up close view.  After the conversion in AfterSot Pro where some noise and many other  enhancements took place, the image went back and forth between 2 other applications for noise reduction, cloning and other enhancements. My advice is shoot RAW, test the RAW converters and remember that no one RAW converter or image editor is the do all application for image editing.