While I'm shooting my pictures as RAWs (or actually JPEG+RAW) for a while, I haven't really have ever worked with the RAW files so far.

When opening the RAW files, and playing with the options, I'm always scared of changing the “defaults” (i.e. the inherit settings of that particular image) for that RAW. As such I'm usually opening the file as a copy (i.e. the “Open as copy” function in CameraRAW).

What happens to the file when I'm opening it directly, without creating a copy first? Will the RAW be changed, and as such the change time touched? I've seen somewhere that the RAW file is untouched and instead some configuration file for that RAW is created. Does it always work like that?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Generally: it is a file, why should it be changed without you altering it. Specifically: that will depend on your software and the usage. See photo.stackexchange.com/questions/9854/… for my bad example how to make life difficult. \$\endgroup\$
    – Leonidas
    May 5, 2011 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Leonidas: Well, I do know that the changes I do in CameraRAW are somehow kept, so it's not that safe to assume that the file itself isn't affected in that process ;) And I will probably only open the files via CameraRAW (or some other Adobe software with an internal RAW processor). \$\endgroup\$
    – poke
    May 5, 2011 at 16:55

3 Answers 3


Using Adobe Camera RAW you are essentially just flipping switches that don't do much till you export the file to a format such as JPEG. Your original capture time, and the EXIF data associated with that original shot will not degrade due to you changing the EV value or similar.

Changes made to the RAW file are completely non-destructive. The only thing that changes is the metadata stored on how to render that image to an output such as JPEG. The original file is left unchanged and intact completely.

Technically Adobe Camera RAW as part of Photoshop has the option to store your camera raw settings in two places, either the Camera Raw Database or an XMP Sidecar File. The Camera Raw database is indexed by file content, so the image retains camera raw settings even if the camera raw image file is moved or renamed(on the same computer). The XMP sidecar file stores the settings in a separate file, in the same folder as the camera raw file, with the same base name and an .xmp extension.(ref)

If you edit a RAW file in an Application such as Lightroom, you have the option to store the changes to a sidecar XMP file. This not only preserves the original RAW file without modification, but frees your images from the Lightroom catalog. You can now move your files around and only bring along the XMP file instead of the entire Lightroom catalog.

Overall, go ahead and mess around with the Camera RAW settings, you aren't going to do any damage.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 this is one of the reasons I started shooting RAW in the first place: the reversibility in post-processing \$\endgroup\$ May 5, 2011 at 23:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this true in all programs? E.G. is this true in Nikon View? \$\endgroup\$
    – Josh
    Apr 2, 2012 at 21:14

Assuming the CameraRAW you refer to is Adobe's, so you're opening in something like LightRoom or Photoshop, it won't change the raw file itself. It saves you're settings in a sidecar file (same base name, extension of .XMP) or in a separate database, not in the file itself. When you go to save it, there won't be any option for just saving the original file, only for creating a new file with same base name (though if type in the original name, and tell it you want to overwrite the original, I suppose you could do so).

If you've messed up the settings for a particular picture so badly you want to get back to the beginning, you can just delete the whatever.xmp file. There are usually other ways, but that's a fairly dependable last resort unless you're using LightRoom and storing the settings in a database.


Generally, the RAW files are not really changed. The changes you perform are saved in an associated file and are applied to the raw data for viewing and conversion to JPEG.


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