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Definition by Workflow 


  1. Point camera at subject, change settings and fire.

  2. Raw data bits are stored in camera memory.

  3. If RAW-capable, these data bits are copied to a file on removable memory.

  4. If not, data is processed. White balance, exposure and focus data processed and stored in JPEG format on removable memory. Original data 'bits' are lost


Definition by "so the f'kwot?"

Step 3 is the important one for RAW capture and is currently the most contentious. This is like the exposed but still undeveloped negative in a photographic film.

(So, you can understand that ALL cameras take images in a RAW format, but most process this data into a JPEG format, write it to memory card and then ditch the RAW data.)

Each camera manufacturer records this data in a proprietary format.
Nikon has NEF
Canon had CRW and now CR2 (what next?) etc

This is different from film, where (after Kodak got chewed out by the feds) film was NOT proprietary.

Nikon has recently decided to add some encryption to the stored white-balance data in there already proprietary format. Nobody seems to know who (apart from Nikon) will benefit from this. Thomas Knoll (co-author of original Photoshop) has an opinion. (See panel right.)

Proprietary formats (for files of any type) can create challenges and headaches for everyone. Each application will need to be able to correctly read and interpret the data held therein. That also assumes that the proprietary owner accurately publishes the file format. Camera manufacturers seem not to like that for some (marketing/financial?) reason. An alternative is that some independent philanthropic reverse-engineer investigates the format and publishes that. For RAW formats found in digital cameras, we have to thank Dave Coffin for freely publishing his format-reading code.

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