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I read so far about RAW converter programs. I downloaded LightZone for Linux, but have not used it yet. When people write about raw converter programs they mention the raw format of a picture, and tell how much benefit there is in taking photos in raw format with respect to the postprocessing. What about non-raw-formats like jpg — is there some benefit in using a raw converter program on them, or is it pointless ?

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    As written, this question doesn't make sense. A RAW converter takes a unprocessed image data (commonly known as a "RAW file") and converts it into a processed format (typically JPEG, but potentially also TIFF etc). You can't use a RAW converter on a JPEG, because the data has already been processed. However, most RAW converters are part of a larger piece of software which also does image processing - is that what you're asking about? – Philip Kendall Sep 9 '15 at 14:20
  • @PhilipKendall Yes, I'm reading the question that way too. – mattdm Sep 9 '15 at 14:56
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Programs like LightZone, Darktable, or RawTherapee — or proprietary software like Adobe Lightroom — have RAW conversion as a centerpiece function, but they're more than that.

They're also (to greater or lesser degree depending on the program) photo library management tools, with functions for sorting, labeling, and publishing images. This aspect can generally work on JPEG files as well as RAW originals.

And, in addition to simply loading and converting RAW images, they all have editing functionality. These editing functions can usually also be used on JPEG files, with some limitations inherent to not starting with a much data as RAW provides. (See "the value of RAW" answer to Good examples of RAW's advantages over JPEG? for details on what exactly that means.)

There are two reasons you might do this:

First, these programs are focused on photography, while general-purpose image editors aren't.

For example, on Linux, Gimp is the premiere image manipulation program, and its feature development recently aims for graphic design and image creation as primary tasks. So, it's nice to use a tool which actually is centered around photographs. See What are the key photography-related features from Photoshop that are missing in GIMP? for some things Gimp doesn't do — many of these aren't missing from LightZone, Darktable, or RawTherapee.

Second, and in general rather than just on Linux, these tools have non-destructive editing as a fundamental design — the "edits" you make don't change the actual image file, but are recorded as a series of steps to apply. This can actually be particularly good for JPEG files, because if you (for example) spend some time doing photo touchup, save the image, and then later realize you also wanted to do some color correction, your normal choices are a) do the touchup over again or b) accept extra quality loss from recompressing the JPEG a third time. With a non-destructive editor, you simply add in the new adjustments and re-export. (Compressing a second time is inevitable, but two is better than three, and if you start from a very-high-quality JPEG, is usually a non-issue.)

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    Very good answer, lossless edits for JPG, etc, but one more advantage is that the raw editor offers the good camera-oriented raw tools too. Most photo editors are really just graphic editors, not camera oriented. For example, even Photoshop has miserable tools for white balance. Whereas Adobe Camera Raw (provided by Photoshop, Elements, and Lightroom for Raw) provide greatly better, easier WB control, specifically oriented for camera images, which are also used for editing JPG. – WayneF Sep 9 '15 at 19:26
  • Thanks @WayneF. I thought I kind of covered that, but I did so from a Linux-tools perspective. I'll edit to expand that point. – mattdm Sep 9 '15 at 19:28
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Photoshop added "Adobe Camera Raw as a filter" so it can be applied at any time. So, it's useful for the adjustments that are easily made (White Balance, exposure), not just for its ability to read the raw photo. I assume that's what the program offers if it can be used on a file other than a raw photo.

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