Raw Capture Confusion


Today’s Question: Once a raw capture has been edited in Adobe Camera Raw and brought into Photoshop (by clicking the “Open Image” button), what type of file is it? On my PC, when the file is opened in Photoshop, the file name is shown with an extension of NEF [Nikon’s raw capture format]. Does that mean that Photoshop permits one to further edit a raw file?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When you open a proprietary raw capture in Photoshop via Camera Raw, the processed raw capture you see in Photoshop isn’t a file at all. Rather, it simply represents the pixel values that were rendered based on the original raw capture. You aren’t directly altering the source raw file, but are instead creating a new image file that simply hasn’t been saved yet.

More Detail: Photoshop does not enable you to directly edit an original proprietary raw capture. Instead, you must use Adobe Camera Raw to process the original raw capture, with the result being a rendered image in Photoshop that has not yet been saved. In other words, when you open a raw capture in Photoshop using Adobe Camera Raw, what is open in Photoshop as a result is not an actual file on your hard drive. However, Photoshop presents the open image with the filename of the source raw capture, which can be confusing. That “filename” is simply a placeholder until you save the file in a supported image format (such as PSD or TIFF).

If you choose File > Save from the menu after opening a raw capture via Camera Raw, Photoshop will present the “Save As” dialog. That is because the image you are currently working with has not actually been saved yet. This is similar to what you might see if you create a new empty document in Photoshop using the File > New command. A new document will appear to have a basic filename (such as “Untitled-1”), but until you use the Save command there isn’t actually a file representing the image.

Even after processing the original raw capture with Camera Raw, the original source capture file on your hard drive remains unaltered. Furthermore, you can’t save an updated version of your image in a proprietary raw capture format from Photoshop.