You see, I cleverly made the "RAW" all caps because that's how we typically refer to the digital photographic negative known as a RAW file. To illustrate the main reason I shoot RAW files on every job is developability. Never mind where I found that word. The RAW file captures so much data that the photographer can very often bring a useable photo to life from what looks at first glance like a loser.
These are called RAW because they are uncompressed. The JPEG files you see in your LED and may be offloading from your camera are compressed and developed in the camera, as some of us like to say, according to what somebody you don't know in Tokyo thinks looks good. That means some lost data and less variability in developing on your computer.
Here's an example of a RAW file in action. Recently I saw an unusual occupant of my back yard bed and grabbed my trusty Canon EOS 5Ds. I just turned the camera on and pressed the focus button (see previous post) and took this shot.
I hear you saying, "Cheese & Rice, Dan. How's anybody seeing that on "Next Door" going to tell what kind of bird that is? Well, take a look at this.
The RAW file always gives us the hope that a hastily made photograph will hold much more useable light data than initially meets the eye. This one took some cropping and developing in Adobe Lightroom but came out good enough for someone to identify this bird as a woodcock, the first I've seen in my yard.
Chances are your camera gives you the option of shooting RAW files. Search that menu. Each brand offers a version of RAW, like Nikon's NEF, and Adobe offers to convert your RAW files to something called DNG so that, when other RAW formats change over time, Adobe software will always recognize the DNG format. I keep my files in Canon's CRW format because history tells me that, the manufacturer changing the format will give us all the opportunity to convert our old files to the new format.
Full disclosure: my bodies have 2 card slots and I shoot JPEGs in one so I can quickly send some shots to my clients while on the job.