Raw (NEF) on the Nikon D3300

By Julie Adair King

The Nikon D3300 can be used to take regular .jpg images which are compressed and saved. The other picture file type you can create is Camera Raw, or just Raw (as in uncooked), for short.

Each manufacturer has its own flavor of Raw. Nikon’s is NEF, for Nikon Electronic Format, so you see the three-letter extension NEF at the end of Raw filenames.

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

  • Greater creative control: With JPEG, internal camera software tweaks your images, adjusting color, exposure, and sharpness as needed to produce the results that Nikon 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. Nikon ViewNX 2, which ships with your camera, offers a Raw converter, and the D3300 also has a built-in Raw converter.

  • Higher bit depth:Bit depth is a measure of how many distinct color values an image file can contain. JPEG files restrict you to 8 bits each for the red, blue, and green color components, or channels, that make up a digital image, for a total of 24 bits. That translates to roughly 16.7 million possible colors. On the D3300, Raw images are captured using 12 bits per channel.

    Although jumping from 8 to 12 bits sounds like a huge difference, you may never notice any difference in your photos — that 8-bit palette of 16.7 million values is more than enough for superb images.

    Where the extra bits can come in handy is if you adjust exposure, contrast, or color in your photo-editing program. When you apply extreme adjustments, the extra bits sometimes help avoid a problem known as banding or posterization, which creates abrupt color breaks where you should see smooth, seamless transitions. (A higher bit depth doesn’t always prevent this problem, however.)

  • 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 Raw isn’t without its disadvantages:

  • You can’t do much with your pictures until you process them in a Raw converter. You can’t share them online or put them into a text document or multimedia presentation.

    You can view and print them immediately if you use the Nikon ViewNX 2 software that ships with the camera, but most other photo programs require you to convert the Raw files to a standard format first, such as JPEG or TIFF. Ditto for retail photo printing.

  • Raw files are larger than JPEGs. Unlike JPEG, Raw doesn’t apply lossy compression to shrink files. In addition, Raw files are always captured at the maximum resolution. 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.

Whether the upside of Raw outweighs the down is a decision that you need to ponder based on your photographic needs and on whether you have the time to, and interest in, converting Raw files.

You do have the option to capture a picture in the Raw and JPEG format at the same time. You can take this route when you’re shooting pictures you want to share right away with people who don’t have software for viewing Raw files.

Upload the JPEGs to a photo-sharing site where everyone can view them, and then process the Raw versions when you have time.