What Is a RAW File?

How to open, edit, & convert RAW files

A file with the RAW file extension is a Photoshop Raw file, used in very specific circumstances like when transferring image data between different applications.

This format describes an image's color information in pixel by pixel binary text and has absolutely nothing to do with camera raw image formats that you might see created on digital cameras.

Photoshop Help and Adobe Communities have some additional information on Photoshop Raw files.

What's more likely is that you're interested, in general, in raw image files captured by digital cameras. These formats provide the best picture quality from a camera because all the data that the camera sensor can capture is saved in an unprocessed and uncompressed format.

Some examples of raw image formats include Canon's CR2 and CRW, Adobe's DNG, Nikon's NEF, Olympus' ORF, Sony's ARW, Panasonic's RW2, and Fuji's RAF file formats. There are many others.

Camera raw files allow an editor to make all the changes to the photo because there haven't been any modifications already made to it. Processed photos generally end up with a TIFF or JPG file extension.

A RAW file may also be a Raw Audio Data format file, in which case the same uncompressed, unprocessed concept applies.

Other files with the RAW extension may instead be Wii or GameCube Emulator Game Save format files.

How to Open a RAW File

Screenshot of several RAW files in Windows 10

Photoshop Raw files that use the RAW file extension seem to only be directly usable via certain command-line image processing software tools, none of which I'm able to find more information on.

Several image tools support camera raw formats, many of which also advertise support for files that end in the RAW extension, although I can't guarantee that they'll open the one you have. Some of these programs include Microsoft Windows Photos, Able RAWer, GIMP (with UFRaw plug-in), and RawTherapee - all free.

Although certainly not free, Adobe Photoshop also supports a number of raw formats. A 30-day Photoshop trial is an option if you think that's enough to accomplish what you need with that program.

Raw Audio Data files are much more clear-cut and will open with the free and very popular Audacity program through its File > Import > Raw Data... menu. NCH Switch, NCH WavePad, and FMJ-Software's Awave Audio can also play RAW audio files.

If this information isn't helping you open your RAW file, you might double-check that you're not misreading the file extension. RAR is one file type that's spelled very much like RAW but, being a compressed format, opens using completely different software. Adding to the confusion, you may have downloaded RAW files within a RAR archive.

Though not as common as RAW image/audio files, Dolphin Emulator uses the RAW format for emulator data files. Dolphin Emulator is a portable tool (i.e. you don't need to install it to use it) for playing GameCube and Wii games on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.

Though we assume that most RAW files are either uncompressed photos or audio data, it's possible that you have an unrelated file that's using the .RAW file extension. If you're not sure what program is used to open your specific RAW file, try using a free text editor to open the file. They let you view the RAW file as a text file, which may help you figure out what type of file it is and what program is needed to view it normally.

Considering the number of tools out there that open files that end in the RAW extension, you may find yourself in the situation of having more than one of these programs installed at the same time. There's nothing at all wrong with that, but only one program can open them by default.

How to Convert a RAW File

Given the supposed rarity of true Photoshop Raw files and the lack of programs that seem to open them, I'm not aware of any file converters or other utilities that can convert a RAW file to any other format. Zamzar is one free file converter that claims to convert RAW files but I was unable to get it to work.

Having said that, I do know that lots of image editors and viewers can save an open image to a new format, and the same may also be true for RAW files. If you're using Photoshop, for example, you may be able to open a RAW file there and then use the File > Save As... menu to convert the file to JPG, PNG, TIFF, or any number of other image formats.

If you're trying to convert a raw image file that's not actually in the .RAW format but instead ARW, CR2, or another camera-specific format, be sure to follow those links at the top of this page for information on converting them to other formats.

If your RAW file is an audio file, the free Audacity software can save it as a WAV, MP3, FLAC, OGG, or M4A audio file, among several other formats. This is done via Audacity's File > Export Audio... menu option. There's another option in this program that lets you cut just a section of the RAW audio and then export just that bit if you'd rather not save the whole file to a new format.

It's hard to imagine that a RAW file used with the Dolphin Emulator software is able to be converted to any other format since it appears very specific to that software.