There is a longstanding trade-off in digital photography: If you want the freedom and flexibility of shooting in RAW, you have to contend with large, unwieldy file sizes that take up lots of space. A typical RAW file is often dozens of megabytes, which means that photographers who shoot in RAW need to spend more money on memory cards, not to mention storage space and backup plans.
Of course, you can always use the much smaller JPEG file format instead, but the decreased file sizes generally aren’t worth the loss of editing flexibility. So if you want to save on storage without significantly reducing your image quality, what can you do?
That’s where Rawsie comes in. It’s a program that aims to provide the best of both worlds: The flexibility of RAW files with the size of JPEG (and with no data lost along the way). But can Rawsie live up to these lofty goals? Let’s find out.
Reducing RAW file size
I have shot in RAW for over ten years both personally and professionally, and I appreciate the many advantages the format offers for both me and my clients. The ability to manipulate colors with pixel-perfect precision, lift details from the shadows, recover overexposed highlights, and edit every possible element of each image is well beyond what I could do with a JPEG. However, the storage demands of RAW do present a problem, especially when you have hundreds of thousands of images to manage.
Rawsie solves this by using complex algorithms to reduce the file size of RAW files for specific cameras based on processes that are designed to take advantage of the unique characteristics of each camera sensor. It’s not the one-size-fits-all compression process; instead, Rawsie employs a more subtle, nuanced approach where the compression is applied differently for each camera model. (Rawsie creates a model of the image based on the properties of light and the camera sensor; the program detects information and noise, then compresses the information losslessly and the noise lossily.)
As a result, not every camera is supported, but if you do use one or more of the 50 cameras that Rawsie does work with, you could gain incredible benefits for your overall post-processing workflow and storage solution.
Rawsie’s promise is simple: It will significantly reduce the size of RAW files without any loss in quality. The program follows the old adage of “Do one thing and do it well,” and in my experience, it fulfills that promise quite nicely. While it’s impossible to test a program like Rawsie with every type of image created in every single camera it supports, the results I got were impressive. I shot and edited many images in a variety of challenging situations, and in every scenario, the files processed in Rawsie showed virtually no differences from their original counterparts.
Rawsie claims that it applies up to 5:1 compression, and while I never got quite that level of size reduction in my images, I did see a huge improvement over the original RAW files. (According to Rawsie, the larger the original file, the greater the compression; the Sony a1, for example, creates 100 MB files, and Rawsie compresses them to around 20 MB).
The Rawsie workflow
I had a handful of reservations when I started using Rawsie, mostly because I am highly resistant to change in my photography workflow. I use a process I have refined over many years, and I don’t like introducing new and unknown elements, especially when those elements involve altering my original RAW files.
Thankfully, most of my fears were unfounded. Rawsie does not delete any of your files; it simply moves the original RAWs to another directory that you specify after the compression process is complete. It also backs up your Lightroom catalog so you can revert everything to its original state any time you want.
While Rawsie’s compression algorithm is proprietary, the results are not. All your compressed RAW files are saved in DNG format and can be opened, edited, copied, and shared without any additional software. There are no limitations on your newly-reduced RAW files, and even if you uninstall Rawsie, you can still access the compressed files without any worries or limitations.
Using Rawsie is fairly straightforward, but upon launching the program for the first time, you will be prompted to install the Adobe DNG converter (if you don’t already have it on your computer). The DNG converter is used to convert proprietary RAW files into DNGs before Rawsie applies its unique set of compression algorithms. Rawsie handles the entire process and it won’t affect your normal photography workflow at all, but it might throw you for a bit of a loop if you aren’t expecting it. I promise that nothing nefarious is happening; Rawsie is simply making sure your computer has the software needed to properly perform its conversion process.
After you finish installing the Adobe DNG Converter, you will see the normal Rawsie interface. You can either have the program compress specific Lightroom catalogs, or you can convert files manually by dragging and dropping individual files or folders.
If you’re a bit nervous at the thought of handing all of your carefully culled RAW files over to Rawsie, you can always take things slow and put the software through its paces before pulling the rip cord and compressing tens of thousands of images. Just remember that nothing is destroyed or deleted when you run Rawsie. All your original images are kept intact; they’re just moved to another location for you to delete or keep backed up at your leisure.
The actual compression process happens fairly quickly. Rawsie handled several hundred RAW files on my M1 iMac in under a minute, though if you are compressing an entire Lightroom catalog with thousands of images, you might want to get yourself a coffee and find something else to do while you wait. (That said, you can speed things along by selecting the “medium-size previews” option!)
Editing the images
Rawsie’s compression claims are admirable, but the editing process is where the rubber meets the road. It’s not until you load your pictures into Lightroom, Luminar, Photoshop, or another editing program that you can learn if Rawsie is truly as effective as it sounds or if it is simply too good to be true.
I took lots of photos to see how Rawsie performed in three specific editing tasks where the RAW format is highly useful, and I came away impressed. Even though the Rawsie-compressed RAW files were about 1/2 to 1/3 the size of their uncompressed Nikon RAW counterparts, the results were quite good. Whatever secret sauce the Rawsie imaging experts and developers are using, it sure seems to work.
First, let’s take a look at how Rawsie handles a traditional editing operation. For this example, I took a picture of a red hat sitting on a table, then I looked closely at the fine texture detail in the fabric to see how Rawsie-compressed files would fare after undergoing subtle edits that closely resemble what most photographers do on a normal basis.
The original image was fine but needed a bit of cleanup, and if Rawsie’s algorithm softened the textures in the fabric or lost important color information from the white and red folds, it might be a deal-breaker.
Fortunately, Rawsie fared very well. The original Nikon RAW file was 21.9 megabytes, whereas its compressed counterpart clocked in at 9 megabytes (a space savings of more than 50%). Despite such an extreme reduction in file size, I didn’t detect any loss of data that interfered with my edits.
A closer look at the original Nikon RAW file and the compressed Rawsie file, with the same edits applied to each one, shows two images that are virtually indistinguishable from one another:
I performed similar tests with other images and came away with the same results each time. In fact, I never encountered a situation in which the Rawsie compression affected the texture detail in any significant way – or at least in any way that I could detect. Texture detail is essential, especially when shooting for clients, and if Rawsie is tossing out data that degraded the images, it wasn’t anything that I could notice.
One of the most practical reasons for shooting RAW is that it allows for nearly infinite flexibility when working with the colors of an image. Since RAW gives you access to literally all of the color data captured by your camera’s image sensor, you can edit and manipulate that data as much as you want. To test Rawsie’s effectiveness, I took several pictures of a basic landscape scene, edited the original Nikon RAW files, copied the same edits to the compressed Rawsie files, and compared the results.
The original image is fine but needs a lot of processing before posting, sharing, or printing:
I used Lightroom to mask the sky and applied several edits to the compressed Rawsie file, including exposure and white balance adjustments. Then I inverted the mask to perform additional edits on the foreground. I adjusted highlights and shadows, used the color grading tools to change the color balance of the midtones and shadows, adjusted the tone curve for a bit more contrast, and increased the saturation of the entire shot. This is the kind of editing most photographers do on a daily basis (as opposed to raising the exposure by +5), and the results were exactly what I would expect with any RAW file.
I then copied the edits to the original Nikon RAW file and compared the two. They looked virtually identical in a side-by-side comparison:
To examine the images more closely, I zoomed in to 300% and compared several regions of both shots. Even at this intense level of comparison, I did not find any instances where the edits produced different results. As far as I could tell, everything was exactly the same.
I didn’t see any compression artifacts, and these nature shots are representative of the kind of editing I – and most photographers – likely do on a daily basis. In this regard, Rawsie essentially performed flawlessly.
I did want to see how well Rawsie handled another editing situation that involved a great deal of color. I took a close-up shot of an eye in order to see how well the Rawsie file held up next to its original Nikon counterpart when doing some intense color grading.
I used the Brush in Lightroom to create a mask for the iris, and then I used a Hue adjustment to change the iris from brown and hazel to an intense green. I also adjusted the sharpening, contrast, and texture to give the eye a more visceral and impactful appearance.
As with the landscape scene, Rawsie’s compression algorithm left plenty of room for editing. At no point did I feel like the integrity of the image had been compromised, and I was very pleased with the sheer amount of editing headroom I had available. When I copy/pasted my edits over to the original Nikon RAW file, the results were basically identical.
As before, I zoomed in to see if I could detect any differences between the two files. If differences were present, I certainly couldn’t tell. Even upon very close inspection, I found no issues with the compressed Rawsie image. Colors were clean, eyelashes were sharp, and the reflected sky was clear with no visible compression artifacts.
My tests with color grading the Rawsie images were extremely promising. At no point did I feel as though the Rawsie files gave me less editing freedom than the normal Nikon RAW files – despite their smaller size.
One of the most challenging tasks when editing images is recovering shadow detail. It’s the type of operation that makes JPEG images cry, and it’s where you can really see what the RAW format has to offer. It’s also where you can start to see the cracks in the foundation of some compression algorithms, which tend to toss out shadow detail in order to save file space.
To find out how Rawsie fares in these situations, I shot a variety of images with -5 EV exposure compensation, converted them in Rawsie, and brought them into Lightroom along with the original RAW files. I then edited the original RAW images, synced the edits to the Rawsie versions, and compared the results.
My first test involved a Christmas ornament, photographed with my Nikon D750 and 105mm macro lens. The original image was so dark it was nearly unusable, but this is where RAW files really shine.
I adjusted the exposure of the compressed Rawsie file in Lightroom and was pleasantly surprised to see the results. The image was clean and retained plenty of usable data in the shadows. I’m not sure I would print this and hang it on the wall, but it would work just fine to share online.
Comparing both the original Nikon RAW file and the compressed Rawsie file side by side showed very similar results. Clearly, the Rawsie algorithm did a great job and didn’t toss out any data needed for this kind of extreme editing situation.
It wasn’t until I examined both images at 400% magnification that I noticed anything different about the Rawsie file. In some areas, smooth color gradations were replaced with more uniform swaths of pixels, such as on the cheek of the figurine (as you can see in the comparison below). I also exported both images just in case this was an issue with how Lightroom was rendering the image previews, but the color artifacts were identical in the exported images, too. It might seem like a deal-breaker, but remember: This is an extreme editing situation, one that most photographers are not likely to encounter on a regular basis.
Another comparison yielded similar results and shows some of the limitations of the algorithm used by Rawsie to shrink file sizes. For this shot, I used a jar of pencils shot at -5 EV, then lifted the exposure in Lightroom. Again, the original image is almost entirely black, but thanks to the magic of RAW, there is actually a perfectly good image. It just takes a bit of work to find it!
Believe it or not, the image below is the same file as the apparently detailless image above. I adjusted the exposure by +5 in Lightroom, and – lo and behold! – the jar of pencils appeared. This illustrates just how much data the RAW format records and why it is so useful for photographers who require the most from their images. The picture below is the Rawsie compressed file, so the algorithm clearly retained a huge amount of data for editing.
Comparing the edited Rawsie file and the edited Nikon RAW side by side shows how well Rawsie can hold its own when pitted against the original uncompressed files. Both shots, with the exposure lifted by +5, are nearly identical. Whatever data Rawsie is discarding, it’s clearly not enough to affect the result. Almost.
Things start to look a little different when zoomed in to 400%, however. The finer detail is present in both images, but you can see some compression issues where the red transitions to purple and gray. Instead of a smooth gradient, the colors are a bit mottled and washed out, which indicates that some data has been lost in the Rawsie conversion. Once again, I compared the exported images just to make sure this was not an issue with the Lightroom previews, but the results were the same.
Before anyone decides to ditch Rawsie based on this comparison, I think it’s important to take a step back and really consider the scenario at play. Most people will never need to push the exposure by 5 stops to get usable images. Even if you did need to do this to salvage some shadow detail in your shots, you would still need to look really hard to find any issues with the Rawsie compression process. And in the meantime, the storage savings offered by Rawsie’s process are incredible, which might make the trade-off worth it for you.
While there is much to like about Rawsie, there are a couple of caveats to keep in mind before you rush to install it. First – and perhaps most importantly – Rawsie only works on Macintosh computers. A Windows version is being developed, but for photographers who want to take advantage of Rawsie’s features right now, the Mac-only nature of the program is certainly something to consider.
Additionally, Rawsie does not have mobile support. There is no phone or tablet app, and none are currently planned for release. This likely won’t matter to most photographers who use DSLR or mirrorless cameras with a traditional desktop-based workflow, but it is something to consider for those interested in what Rawsie has to offer.
Verdict: Who should use Rawsie?
Rawsie is an incredible piece of software. It does an amazing job of significantly reducing the size of RAW files while retaining nearly all the data required for all but the most demanding editing situations. It’s simple, easy to use, and performs its compression operation quickly and efficiently.
In almost every testing scenario I performed, I could not detect any notable differences between the Rawsie files and my original Nikon RAW files. Even when examined side by side at very high magnification, the Rawsie images held their own against their uncompressed counterparts very well.
However, for photographers who frequently shoot in extreme conditions and who regularly perform very demanding edits to their images, Rawsie might not be the best solution. Also, Windows users will have to wait until a compatible version of the software is available, and you need to make sure your camera is among the 50+ cameras that Rawsie supports (you can see the full list here!).
Despite these limitations, Rawsie is well worth investigating, especially for the price. The free version contains no functional limitations whatsoever but is limited to 30 RAW conversions a day. That’s plenty for casual photographers or those who just want to try out the program to see what it can do. The full version is available for a $79/year subscription and includes unlimited RAW conversions along with free updates and support for new cameras as they become available.
I can easily recommend Rawsie to casual and hobbyist photographers as well as enthusiasts and even some professionals, too. Storage space is less expensive than ever, but every hard drive, SSD, and cloud storage plan will fill up eventually; therefore, effectively increasing your storage capacity by up to 5x is a big deal. This makes Rawsie a practical and cost-effective solution to a very common problem – a solution that I think is well-suited to most photographers.
Rawsie is a paid partner of dPS.