Even if you're a new photographer, chances are that you’ve already heard of the RAW file format that your fancy camera supports. Many photographers prefer this format over compressed formats like JPEG or TIFF for many reasons.
If you’ve ever had the chance to take photos with a film camera, you’re familiar with the process of submitting negatives to a lab that takes days to generate prints from your negatives. Developing negatives takes so much time because these negatives contain a lot of information about the scene that was captured, and it’s a long process to develop prints by making changes to all that embedded information. A RAW file can be understood as the digital version of those negatives. A RAW file contains all the information that has been recorded by the sensor for any given shot, which means it can be processed to pull out details in your photos that you may not get with other formats.
Why RAW photo editing is important
In order to be viewed on any device, a RAW file needs to be processed and compressed into a more traditional image format. That’s why you need to be familiar with the various RAW image editors available. Yes, you read that right: a RAW file cannot be edited or processed in just any image editor.
RAW editors allow you to edit almost everything conceivable about your images. You can control exposure, sharpness, colors, noise, and more. So unlike with a compressed format, if you happen to take an underexposed photo in RAW, you may very well be able to save it by pulling out more detail from the shadows. And the best part of a RAW file is that the edits you make don’t hurt the quality of your photo!
So, with that understanding of how RAW photography works, let’s take a look at some of the best RAW photo editing software.
A new entrant into the world of RAW photo editors, Luminar has a unique way of handling photo editing. It has an interface unlike other major editors and is more intuitive and smarter than many others, too. Additionally, it’s inexpensive and even comes with a free trial!
Luminar puts so many controls at your fingertips that both beginners and professional photographers are satisfied. With Luminar, you can make edits including adjusting brightness and contrast, pulling highlights or shadows, adjusting the white balance, removing noise, and so much more before converting RAW files to JPEG. Luminar even has excellent filters and presets that you can use if you’re running short on time and wish to achieve a certain look.
The best part of using Luminar over rivals like Photoshop or Capture One is that developers have made the program easy to use. There’s no need to spend days or weeks getting used to the interface like with other programs. Even if you’re already invested in a program like Lightroom, you can use Luminar as a plug-in. And if you don’t want to download the whole program as a standalone solution, just add it to Photos for Mac Luminar extension!
In a world where image editors for serious users are usually difficult to use and intimidating, Luminar is truly a breath of fresh air. It’s an almost perfect blend of simple and complex tools that beginners and experts alike can make use of. So, we highly recommend giving Luminar a try.
Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop
It seems like almost everyone who has even the weakest of connections with photography or design has heard of Photoshop. That’s because Photoshop has ruled the world of photo editing for a very long time. It’s the go-to editing solution for most people thanks to the amazing amount of control it provides. However, Photoshop isn’t really designed to be a standalone editor for RAW files, which is why it’s best used in combination with Lightroom, the other giant in Adobe’s family.
Lightroom has been around for a long time and is the king of the hill when it comes to processing RAW images. It can do everything that Luminar does, but it isn’t quite as easy to use. Still, Photoshop is an excellent editor with a very capable processing engine that can handle all kinds of formats, including RAW, with ease.
The best part about the Lightroom and Photoshop combo is that they can be used together; you can make basic adjustments to your RAW files in Lightroom and then bring the files over to Photoshop if you want to go pixel-deep with your editing. It’s a great combo that works well, and when you consider that both of these programs can be had for a reasonable price in the Creative Cloud Photography bundle, it’s hard to argue with the value.
Phase One’s Capture One Pro
If Luminar is too simple for you and Photoshop is too feature-packed, then Capture One Pro is probably the one editor that you’ll like. It has a robust processing engine that is usually deemed even better than Lightroom’s, plus a slew of features that pro users around the world are content with. Capture One has become a direct rival to Lightroom and Photoshop when it comes to RAW processing thanks to its straightforward interface, depth of controls, and amazing image quality.
Capture One also has a very capable cataloging system so that all your files are stored in a systematic way and can be accessed with ease whenever needed. The software also comes with built-in presets and styles that can give your photos a new look with just one click.
If you’re a photographer who shoots in RAW or if you’re new to photography and want to know how to work with RAW files, this article should have enough information to help you make a decision as to which RAW image editor you’d like to work with. This decision, of course, depends on what kind of photos you take and how you plan on using software to get the best out of your images. That’s why we suggest that before making any decision you give various programs a try and see for yourself which one works best for you. Maybe you prefer a simpler interface over crazy amounts of control, or maybe you don’t mind spending time learning the software if it gives you all the control you can imagine. But no matter which software you choose, make sure it’s also a dedicated RAW converter because otherwise you might not be able to work with the RAW files your camera captures.