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I am trying to understand the reason that some camera can't shoot in RAW. Initially, I thought was a matter of buses. It's easier to handle all the computation by the processor and transfer a lighter file to the memory card. Looking at smartphone cameras, it seems that's more a matter of software actually — with camera2 API for Android, now you can shoot in RAW. So I was thinking that probably they don't want to add RAW format in some lower-market-level cameras to avoid added complexity for the user.

Why don't the manufacturers make all cameras able to shoot in RAW?

  • @xiota ok edited the qeustion – G M May 30 '19 at 10:27
  • Pretty much all digital cameras shoot in raw format. That is, the data coming off the sensor has to be converted to a viewable image. Some cameras don't store image files in raw format. – Michael C May 30 '19 at 23:10
  • @MichaelC thanks I am asking about the camera that can't do that, I am trying to understand the reason why the meaufacturer did not make the camebra able to store the raw photo – G M May 31 '19 at 12:20
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    @GM Only those who designed the camera can answer that definitively. – Michael C May 31 '19 at 13:45
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Talking about digital cameras the reason is no so complex. Manufacturers target different markets in sense of simplicity of operation, size and cost. P&S (Point and shoot) cameras are much smaller compared to semi-pro or pro cameras, much cheaper and much sample to operate. They are mostly for people who want to take photo for memory w/o thinking about exposure details and so on.

For the phones it is a bit different case. The space in mobile phone usually is limited, users normally do not have bunch of microSD cards so the size of RAW image matters. Also in some cases phone manufacturers do not want to compete with own cameras. Also some manufacturers (I have no proof) cheat for the megapixels and use interpolation to provide bigger images to the user.

  • Thanks, I was wondering if it could be more expensive to implement (e.g. need more buses or different protocols) or it's just a feature that they could actually switch on-off changing the firmware – G M May 31 '19 at 12:25
  • @GM, for the phones it is mainly firmware. In new f/w you need implemented camera2 interface. But be very careful with third party f/w. For cameras is (almost) the same. But change there is IMHO bigger and camera processor can be heavy loaded because of the amount of information to transfer. – Romeo Ninov May 31 '19 at 13:04
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There is only one reason that any camera is unable to save raw data: The manufacturer did not make the camera able to save raw data. Anyone not involved in the design and manufacture of digital cameras can only guess the manufacturers' motivations. (Why didn't your favorite sports team make your favorite play? Because the coach or whomever decided against it. Why did they decide against it? You'll have to ask them.)

  • Some cameras may be incapable at the hardware level to save raw data. I suspect this is the case with early digital cameras. Webcams and devices that deliver already-demosaicked data are also unlikely to be able to deliver raw data to the user.

  • It may be simple oversight during firmware development. Some cameras are able to save raw files after being updated with hacked firmware.

    In the case of Android APIs, I suspect exclusion of raw capture was an oversight. Android developers did not have the foresight to expect anyone would want to process raw data on their phones. Since the capability was not included in the API, it made no sense for manufacturers to include the ability in drivers. Now that Camera2 supports raw capture, some manufacturers will include support for raw capture.

  • Manufacturers may actively choose not to support saving raw files. They may see it as not economically viable.

    • They are unlikely to add the ability to basic cameras that function only in Auto or Program modes. People who purchase such cameras don't care about raw, so why spend resources developing it?

    • Even though Camera2 API supports raw capture, almost no one makes purchasing decisions based on the ability. Contrast that with interchangeable-lens cameras, which no one would purchase if known to be unable to save raw files. Higher-end compact cameras started being able to save raw when manufacturers figured out it was a feature that affected consumer behavior. (OpenGL and DirectX have demonstrated that API does influence hardware development.)

  • Saving raw files wasn't always in vogue.

    • Early (Kodak and FujiFilm) DSLRs from the 1990s saved JPEG and TIFF. Raw appears to have been available in DSLRs from Canon and Nikon in 2000.

    • mattdm indicates that some early cameras may have deferred processing of the sensor data until after transfer to the computer. However, the "raw" data did not appear to have been exposed to the user.

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    On early digital cameras, FWIW, my first digital camera, the Casio QV10, could only capture RAW files. Proprietary software was required to convert to JPEG. – Please Read Profile May 30 '19 at 12:25
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    Pretty sure. I think the limitation was compute capacity on the camera. Storage was also limited to exactly 96 images regardless of image content, which also implies no compression. – Please Read Profile May 30 '19 at 12:37
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    @xiota A lot of products were "incomplete" by today's standards when they were first introduced. The earliest Ford automobiles, for example, did not have electric starters. They had to be manually hand cranked to start them. – Michael C May 30 '19 at 23:07
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    Pretty much all digital cameras capture images as raw data, they just don't all provide the ability to access or store that data in raw, unprocessed form. The only type of cameras unable to capture raw data at the hardware level are analog film (or glass plate, or tintype, or daguerreotype) cameras. – Michael C May 30 '19 at 23:12
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    In the Android case, raw wasn't usually available. Capture and JPEG encoding were (and still are) done on the chipset instead of the general-purpose CPU, and Camera was based around that. – Blrfl May 31 '19 at 11:11
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Just a guess, but it depends upon the customer base the specific camera is aimed at. RAW files cannot be viewed without specific software that can interpret the file and every camera model's RAW format is different from every other camera models' RAW format (i.e., RAW is not a standard. Or even an acronym). RAW files (obviously) take up more space in storage.

So for a casual snapshot photographer that doesn't want to do further processing in a RAW converter, would prefer their phone/camera card not run out of storage quickly for photos, or just wants to text a picture, and above all, who doesn't want spend time dinking about in post-processing, then not having RAW capability is desirable.

For a camera manufacturer, JPEG shooting actually offers them more control over the final image. JPEGs are always processed through the camera's image processor, and that's where they can add tweaks like lens correction, color correction, dynamic range manipulation, sharpening, etc. And that, in turn, can make the camera's capabilities look better than the RAW files. Nearly every newb, the first time they shoot RAW, are disappointed at how the files don't look as nice as the JPEGs they used to get.

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I would like to integrate the excellent answer of @xiota. In fact, there are different reasons the manufacturer don't make some camera able to save raw data.

There could be some marketing reason that a camera that could potentially shoot in RAW can't. This could be for reducing the complexity, hiding defects visible in the unprocessed acquisition etc. etc. So if it's a marketing reason could be a firmware limitation.

However, often in case of old cameras, it's not always a matter of convincing the manufacturer to release a firmware with this feature. Some times the camera architecture does not allow to shoot in RAW. This is due to the location of the image buffer, which is where the data is stored before being written in the memory of the camera. If the image buffer is located after the processing unit, the camera will be able to store only already processed images and there is no way you can change this feature changing the firmware. The advantage of this solution is that a smaller image buffer is required and hence the manufacturer can lower the price of the camera.

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There are probably plenty of reasons.

If you give the option to shoot raw then they need to supply the camera with a software to read the files with.
That will make it more expensive.

Raw files are larger and means the camera can't take as many pictures in a burst, ("lower" specs) for mainstream consumers.

Most cameras that can take raw pictures also have a raw file converter in the camera. That makes the camera more expensive.

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    "Most cameras that can take raw pictures also have a raw file converter in the camera. That makes the camera more expensive." No it doesn't. Any camera that produces JPEGs must have a raw convertor in the camera in order to convert the raw data coming off the sensor into a viewable image. – Michael C May 30 '19 at 23:05
  • @MichaelC there is a big difference between raw converter with no options/does it automatically and a raw converter that you can change the sharpness, colors white balance etc. Sure the software exist but I'm quite sure it has to be ported to any new device with a new screen size/touch feature/ other buttons etc. I stand by that statement. And I really find it odd that it was enough to trigger someone to downvote. Can you who downvoted please step out of the dark and explain if there is more to your downvote that this statement about raw converter in camera? – Andreas May 31 '19 at 7:39
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    "probably": conjecture. in-camera software is only a miniscule cost-factor and cameras display only the thumbnail jpeg anyway. burst speed can be and is given for raw and jpeg separately so having an additional raw burst rating will not deter jpeg shooters. a lot of raw capable cameras come without in-camera post-shot conversion capabilities, so if they don't want to provide those, they don't have to. – ths May 31 '19 at 13:41
  • The downvote and my comment above were made within 30 seconds of one another. You should be able to do the math. Since any digital camera that converts raw data to jpeg already has a raw convertor in camera, there need not be any additional raw conversion software included to be able to allow the camera to save raw data. – Michael C May 31 '19 at 13:42
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    @Andreas The vast majority of digital cameras do not offer in-camera post conversion after the fact. Dedicated cameras that do rarely offer any option that differs any from the in-camera options selectable before shooting the photograph. In terms of phones, many of them that can save raw data have no manufacturer provided raw conversion software. Third party software, often open source, provides reverse engineered algorithms to process the raw output. – Michael C May 31 '19 at 20:45

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