Which Camera Settings Affect RAW Photos?

It seems common sense to assume that we are well-versed in the settings of your camera that can affect your RAW images. This topic is complicated, however, the more you study it. You may have some misconceptions about how your camera settings affect RAW photos, regardless of how much you know. How does high-ISO noise suppression affect the way your camera saves a RAW file? How about long exposure noise reduction Color space? For Nikon users, Active D-Lighting? Yes to the first two examples. This article will discuss all of the notable camera settings that can affect your RAW files.

Before you start learning about RAW photos, make sure to check out our guide on RAW versus JPEG. This article is a little technical.

1) Lens Settings and Focusing

Your RAW photos are affected by every setting you make to your lens, including vibration reduction, focal distance, focal length and aperture. This is also true for all in-camera autofocus settings. They affect where and how your camera focuses.

2) Shutter Speed and Aperture

It is obvious that the choice of aperture or shutter speed can have a significant impact on your RAW photos. These concepts are still being explored? Check out our guides on aperture and shutter speed.

3) ISO

This section is more difficult than you might think. Skip to the end if photography is your first hobby.

Can I brighten the darker photos by using different ISO settings? Your ISO setting simply amplifies data your camera records. This is also true when you post-produce a photo brighter. You simply amplify the data you have captured.

This is true in theory but it’s not always the case in practice. Some cameras are “ISO-less”, or ISO invariant. This means that it doesn’t really matter what ISO setting you have in your camera as long as the highlights don’t get too bright. This includes modern Nikon and Fuji cameras. Some cameras, such as those made by Canon, are ISO-less. Olympus and Sony are in the middle. They tend to be ISO-less but there will be a slight difference in ISO 6400 and ISO 100 after-production. This slight difference can sometimes be seen even in Fuji and Nikon cameras. ISO invariance can be a sliding scale.

Although this is not an article on ISO, it is safe to assume that things are getting more complicated. You don’t have to adjust your ISO settings if you own a Fuji or Nikon camera. Why not?

One, ISO can affect your metering. For example, if you set ISO 100 in Aperture Priority mode, you may end up with terrible shutter speeds. The meter can guide you incorrectly even in manual mode. However, it won’t alter the settings for your camera. You can also make your photos brighter in post-production by using only base ISO. If you choose a value that blows out your highlights, ISO will affect your RAW photos.

With some reservations, however, it is safe to say that ISO can affect your RAW files even if your camera has an ISO-less model.

4) Long Exposure Noise Reduction

If you use a slow shutter speed to take photos, it can cause increased noise and brighten the image with hot pixels. This is what long exposure noise reduction attempts to correct.

This setting will enable your camera to take two pictures every time your shutter speed exceeds one second. You don’t have to hold your camera still for the entire time. Only the first picture actually captures the scene in front you. Your camera records a second photo using the shutter closed. It will record a black image, minus any noise.

The camera subtracts the noise and hot pixels from the black image, using it as a reference. This is a great feature! You’ll notice a significant benefit if you take photos at night.

This setting doesn’t have any effect on your RAW photos. It is a great tool for Milky Way photos.NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1.8 @ 20mm, ISO 1600, 15/1, f/1.8

Spencer-Cox Moonset

Image Area

Image Area is another name to describe the in-camera cropping of your photos.

You may be familiar with the DX crop option on a full-frame Nikon camera. The Nikon D800e has a 4×5 crop setting. This changes the standard 24x36mm sensor to a 24x30mm sensor, by disregarding data at the right and left extremities of the frame.

This crop will change the way the photo appears on your back camera screen, just as your Picture Control settings. Is it possible to retrieve the Image Area data from your computer after you have imported files?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. You won’t be allowed to recover missing pixels on the right- or left-hand-hand sides of your image if you select the 4×5 in camera crop.

This is in some ways a good thing. You can save some time and file size by switching to DX crop if you know you will need to crop photos in post-production. You won’t be allowed to recover the data if you accidentally take 4×5 photos in an afternoon.

Some cameras don’t have built-in crop options. If you shoot RAW, for example, the Canon 5D Mark IV will always record a photo measuring 6720×4480 pixels.

If your camera has a built-in crop function, it doesn alter the RAW data your camera records.

6) Live View Versus Viewfinder

Here’s one that’s fun.

Did you know that the metering of your camera is different in liveview than in the viewfinder when it is in live view?

Just to give it a try, I pulled out my DSLR. The meter suggested a 4 second exposure, and then recommended a 3 second exposure. This is not a problem — the correct exposure was likely somewhere in between, and it’s not unusual for the camera’s meters to move around a little.

It is fascinating to note that the meter looked completely different in live view. Instead of fluctuating every three to four seconds, the meter remained constant at 2.5 seconds. This is a difference of approximately half a second. The video below shows the viewfinder of the camera, and then it switches to live view. You can see the difference between 3 and 2.5 seconds.

This is what’s going on? The underlying metering system actually changes when you switch to live-view! The camera’s dedicated light meter measures exposure when you use the viewfinder. Live view allows you to see the actual data from the sensor and calculates a reading for the meter. Sometimes, the readings may differ slightly.

This is not usually a problem. In almost all cases, the exposures will be identical or similar. If you’re in difficult lighting conditions, however, it is possible to have the metering system affected by the choice between live and viewfinder.

Another answer is yes. Your choice affects the RAW capture because it changes your camera’s meter. If all other settings are the exact same (e.g. manual mode), then the RAW data will not change when you switch to live view.

7) Active D-Lighting

You may have seen the Active D-Lighting setting on your Nikon camera. This setting appears to be a JPEG-only one. It is, in fact, a JPEG-only setting for most of the time.

If you don’t alter any settings, Active D-Lighting will not have an effect on RAW data. It’s more complicated than that.

Your Active D-Lighting settings will affect the camera’s metering. Although I’m not sure why Nikon decided to include a JPEG setting that would affect the metering of RAW photos, it is what it does.

My metered exposure was one stop darker at the maximum Active D-Lighting setting (Extra High) My exposure was 1/5 seconds without Active D-Lighting. The exposure was 1/10 seconds when I switched it on.

Active D-Lighting does absolutely nothing to RAW data. It does not affect your camera’s meter. The effect is so severe that it’s important to make sure you don’t ever set Active D-Lighting when you shoot in Raw.

8) Picture Control Settings

These settings have no impact on the RAW photo or your camera’s metering. The RAW photos will look identical regardless of whether you shoot in Neutral or Vivid mode.

However, there is one caveat. Your Picture Control can affect how the photo appears on your camera’s back, even in RAW. If you change to Monochrome Picture Control, your LCD will display black-and-white photos. After you import the photos into Lightroom and Photoshop, they will be restored to their original, color versions. If you use Nikon’s software, however, the default will be black and white (though you can always change it back to colour).

Your Picture Control settings can also have an impact on blinkies or the histogram on your camera screen. For example, the Vivid mode with increased contrast makes your highlights appear whiter than they actually are. If you want to Expose the Right, be aware of the Picture Control you use.

Picture Control does not have any effect on RAW images.

9) Noise Reduction at High ISO

This setting doesn’t apply to RAW photos, unlike long exposure noise reduction. The RAW photo will look exactly the same regardless of whether you have it set or not. The photo displayed on your camera’s back will be different, just like the Picture Control settings. This preview is not the actual RAW data.

10) White Balance

It works in the same manner as your Picture Control. While it does not affect your RAW data nor your metering in any way, it will change how your images display on the LCD of the camera (as well your in-camera histogram).

Non-Nikon software will default to the white-balance that you set in-camera. If you are a photographer who shoots a lot of photos (e.g., wedding photographers), you will save time later on by setting white balance in the field.

White balance does not affect the raw data your camera captures.

11) Color Space (AdobeRGB versus sRGB)

You can do the exact same thing as with your Picture Control settings. Contrary to popular photographers’ claims, you don’t need AdobeRGB or AdobeRGB in your camera for RAW images unless you are interested in the effects on your histogram, which are quite small.

My AdobeRGB is what I use. It doesn’t affect the histogram and sometimes improves it, but it makes almost no difference. Your color space does not have any effect on the RAW data. RAW files can capture more colors than those in sRGB and AdobeRGB.

12) Conclusion

How do these settings compare? Here’s the final result:

Directly affects RAW data:

  • Lens-related settings and focus
  • Aperture and shutter speed
  • ISO (with some caveats)
  • Long exposure noise reduction
  • Image area

This directly affects the meter reading of your camera, but doesn’t have any impact on the raw data.

  • Live view shooting with the Viewfinder or the live view camera
  • Active D-Lighting

This affects the preview on the LCD screen and in-camera histogram but doesn’t directly impact the meter reading.

  • Picture Control settings
  • Noise reduction up to ISO 100
  • White balance
  • AdobeRGB versus sRGB

This should have been informative and useful. Depending on the brand of your camera, the names of these settings might be different. All names are written according to Nikon.

It is possible that other brands of cameras may not be available at the moment so I cannot test their equivalent settings. There may be slight differences between brands. For example, Nikon might not have Active D-Lighting that affects the meter of your camera. This is something I do not have the ability to test, but it is possible to turn off this setting for raw photos with any camera.

If you have any questions regarding other settings, please let me know in the comment section.