I have had my Canon 50D for a year and a half now. It has taken a while to learn all of the camera controls - in fact there is still so much I don't know. I have heard how so many photographers shoot in the RAW format, but I never really understood why it is supposed to be so much better than JPEG.
SO, I took a course to learn about it. And I find it amazing!
I always knew that RAW files were so much bigger than JPEG, so I figured I didn't want to take up so much room on my memory card. Then I didn't really know what to do with the file - since it is not a JPEG. It is a CR2 file. What's that? JPEG seemed so much easier and safer to me.
Now I understand why RAW files are so big. It's because they have SO MUCH MORE information on them. When you don't shoot in RAW, your camera pre-processes the image before you even see it on your camera lcd. And the camera gets rid of a lot of information as it condenses the image to a smaller JPEG image. It gets rid of good stuff that often can make a huge difference in your photos.
I use Photoshop CS5 to make corrections to my photos. To process RAW files, I needed to download free software to convert the CR2 files to DNG files (digital negatives). Then I open them in Adobe Camera Raw (which is part of CS5). Adobe Camera Raw is a program which allows you to process the image, and it is very powerful. Since you have so much more info than a JPEG file, you can take a bad photo and make it look good by just moving a few sliders around.
I'll give you an example. Here is a pretty bad photo of Adam and me taken by Kerry this fall.
The sun was really bright and we were standing in the shadow of the sculpture. The picture is way too blue - the white balance is not correct.
Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) has a handy little tool that shows you places in your image that have lost detail due to being too bright or too dark. The things that are too bright show up in red. The things that are too dark show up in blue. This picture has a LOT of red. The sky is blown out and the reflection of the sun on the stones too.
If you click on the "Open Image" button, it will take you out of ACR and into Photoshop if needed. Photoshop can do some things that ACR cannot. When you are done, you can save the photo as a JPEG. It will be compressed and much smaller.
There are so many aspects of ACR that make photo processing easier. One of my favorites is batch processing. If you take 50 pictures in the same lighting that need the same corrections, you can correct one of the pictures and then apply the corrections to all 50 pictures at once, with the click of a button. It saves so much time!
Working in the RAW is great! Try it sometime!