About camera raw image files

In digital photography, a picture is captured by a camera's image sensor in an image file. An image file is generally processed and compressed, before being stored on your camera's memory card. However, cameras can also store a picture without processing or compressing it—as a raw file. Think of camera raw files as photo negatives. You can open a raw file in Photoshop Elements, process it, and save it, rather than relying on the camera to process the file. Working with camera raw files lets you set the proper white balance, tonal range, contrast, color saturation, and sharpness.

To use raw files, set your camera to save files in its own raw file format. When you download the files from the camera, they have filename extensions like NEF, CR2, CRW, or other raw formats. Photoshop Elements can open raw files only from supported cameras.

Photoshop Elements does not save your changes to the original raw file (non-destructive editing). After processing the raw image file using the features of the Camera Raw dialog box, You can choose to open a processed raw file in Photoshop Elements. You can then edit the file and save it in a Photoshop Elements supported format. The original raw file remains unaltered.

Process Versions

A Process Version is a method of deciphering the raw file format. The default version used is Process Version 2012. This method of deciphering the raw file format provides you with ways to work with the most recent and improved features in the raw file format. Photoshop Elements contains three Process Versions (one current, and two legacy versions). The complete list of versions is:

  • Process Version 2012 (default, used from Adobe Photoshop Elements 11)
  • Process Version 2010 (used in Adobe Photoshop Elements 10)
  • Process Version 2003 (used in Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, or earlier)

What Process Version is applied to my raw image?

When you open a raw file that has not been opened in an earlier edition of Photoshop Elements, the default Process Version 2012 is used. However, if you open a raw file opened in an earlier version of Photoshop Elements, an older Process Version is used.

To check the Process Version applied to your raw image, in the Camera Raw 9.1 dialog box, click the Camera Calibration tab. The Process field displays the current Process Version being used.

Note: If not using Process Version 2012, an icon displayed below the raw image indicates that an older version is being used.

Can I switch between Process Versions?

Yes. In the Camera Raw 9.1 dialog box, click the Camera Calibration tab, and select the Process Version you want to use from the Process drop-down list.

Which version is best for you?

Process Version 2012 enables you to work with the latest enhancements in the raw format. However, if you have many raw images that were opened with previous editions of Photoshop Elements (and hence using older Process Versions), you may choose to apply an older Process Version to your newer raw images. This helps with consistency while processing past and present images, and helps maintain your older workflow.

What are the differences in the Process Versions?

  • Basic tab. In Process Version 2012, the Highlights, Shadows, and Whites sliders replace the Recovery, Fill light, and Brightness sliders.
  • Detail tab:
    • In Process Version 2012, the Color Detail slider has been introduced. This slider remains disabled until the Color slider is modified.
    • In Process Version 2012, Luminance Detail and Luminance Contrast have been added. These sliders remain disabled until the Luminance is modified.

Note: When switching to an older Process Version, the newer sliders compatible with the latest Process Versions are disabled.

Camera Raw dialog box
Camera Raw dialog box

A. View options B. Click the Basic or Detail tab to access different controls C. RGB values D. Histogram E. Image settings F. More menu G. Tools H. Zoom levels I. Bit depth options 

Open and process camera raw files

  1. In the Edit workspace, choose File > Open.
  2. Browse to select one or more camera raw files, and click Open.

    The histogram in the Camera Raw dialog box shows the tonal range of the image at the current settings. As you make settings adjustments, the histogram is updated automatically.

  3. (Optional) Adjust the image view using the controls, such as the Zoom tool, and options, such as Shadows and Highlights, which reveal clipping in the preview area. (See Camera raw controls.)


    Selecting Preview displays a preview of the image with the settings changes you make. Deselecting Preview displays the camera raw image at the original settings of the current tab combined with the settings in the hidden tabs.

  4. To rotate the image 90° counterclockwise or 90° clockwise, click the Rotate Image buttons  .
  5. To apply the settings used in the previous camera raw image or the default settings for your camera, choose an option from the Settings menu (Settings menu > Previous Conversion). Using the same options is useful, for example, if you want to quickly process images with similar lighting conditions. (See Set custom camera settings.)

  6. (Optional) Set options to adjust the white balance. (See White balance controls for camera raw.)


    You can monitor the RGB values of pixels in your image as you adjust them in the Camera Raw dialog box. Position the Zoom tool, Hand tool, White Balance tool, or Crop tool over the preview image to display the RGB values directly beneath the pointer.

  7. Make tonal adjustments using the Exposure, Brightness, Contrast, and Saturation sliders. (See Tonal and image adjustments in camera raw files.)

    To undo your manual adjustments and make the adjustments automatically, select Auto. To restore all options to their initial settings, press Alt (Option in Mac OS) and click Reset.

  8. Do one of the following:
    • To open a copy of the camera raw image file (with the camera raw settings applied) in Photoshop Elements, click Open Image. You can edit the image and save it in a Photoshop Elements-supported format. The original camera raw file remains unaltered.
    • To cancel the adjustments and close the dialog box, click Cancel.


    The Digital Negative (DNG) format is Adobe’s proposed standard format for camera raw files. DNG files are useful for archiving camera raw images because they contain the raw camera sensor data and data specifying how the image should look. Camera raw image settings can be stored in DNG files instead of in sidecar XMP files or the camera raw database.

Adjust sharpness in camera raw files

The Sharpness slider adjusts the image sharpness to provide the edge definition you want. The Sharpness adjustment is a variation of the Adobe Photoshop Unsharp Mask filter. This adjustment locates pixels that differ from surrounding pixels based on the threshold you specify, and increases the pixels’ contrast by the amount you specify. When opening a camera raw file, the Camera Raw plug‑in calculates the threshold to use based on the camera model, ISO, and exposure compensation. You can choose whether sharpening is applied to all images or to previews.

  1. Zoom the preview image to at least 100%.
  2. Click the Detail tab.
  3. Move the Sharpness slider to the right to increase sharpening and to the left to decrease it. A value of zero turns off sharpening. In general, set the Sharpness slider to a lower value for cleaner images.


    If you don’t plan to edit the image extensively in Photoshop Elements, use the camera raw Sharpness slider. If you do plan to edit the image extensively in Photoshop Elements, turn off camera raw sharpening. Then use the sharpening filters in Photoshop Elements as the last step after all other editing and resizing are complete.

Reducing noise in camera raw images

The Detail tab in the Camera Raw dialog box contains controls for reducing image noise—the extraneous visible artifacts that degrade image quality. Image noise includes luminance (grayscale) noise, which makes an image look grainy, and chroma (color) noise, which is visible as colored artifacts in the image. Photos taken at high ISO speeds or with less sophisticated digital cameras can have noticeable noise.

Moving the Luminance Smoothing slider to the right reduces grayscale noise, and moving the Color Noise Reduction slider to the right reduces chroma noise.

When making Luminance Smoothing or Color Noise Reduction adjustments, preview images at 100% for a better view.

Reducing noise in Camera Raw images
Moving the Luminance Smoothing slider to the right reduces grayscale noise.

Save changes to camera raw images

You can save changes you’ve made to a camera raw file. The Camera Raw dialog box saves the camera raw image with your changes in a .dng file. Saving the file does not automatically open it in Photoshop Elements. (To open a camera raw file, use the Open command. Then you can edit and save the file like any other image.)

  1. In the Camera Raw dialog box, apply adjustments to one or more camera raw images.
  2. Click the Save Image button.

  3. In the Save Options dialog box, specify where to save the file and how to name the file if you're saving more than one camera raw file.

    Additional options:

    • Embed Fast Load Data: Embeds a much smaller copy of the raw image in the DNG file, to enhance the speed at which the raw image is previewed.
    • Use Lossy Compression: Reduces the file size of your DNG file, and causes loss of quality. Recommended only for the raw images that are to be stored for archival purposes, and will never be used for printing or production (other use).
    • Embed Original Raw File: Stores all the original camera raw image data in the DNG file. 
  4. Click Save.

Open a camera raw image in the Edit workspace

After you process a camera raw image in the Camera Raw dialog box, you can open the image and edit it in the Edit workspace.

  1. In the Camera Raw dialog box, apply adjustments to one or more camera raw images.
  2. Click the Open Image button. The Camera Raw dialog box closes, and the photo opens in the Edit workspace.

Settings and controls

Camera raw controls

Zoom tool

Sets the preview zoom to the next preset zoom value when you click within the preview image. Alt-click (Option-click in Mac OS) to zoom out. Drag the Zoom tool in the preview image to zoom in on a selected area. To return to 100%, double-click the Zoom tool.

Hand tool

Moves the image in the preview window if the preview image is set at a zoom level higher than 100%. Hold down the spacebar to access the Hand tool while using another tool. Double-click the Hand tool to fit the preview image in the window.

White Balance tool

Sets the area you click to a neutral gray tone to remove color casts and adjust the color of the entire image. The Temperature and Tint values change to reflect the color adjustment.

Crop tool

Removes part of an image. Drag the tool within the preview image to select the portion you want to keep, and then press Enter.

Straighten tool

You can use the Straighten tool to realign an image vertically or horizontally. This tool also resizes or crops the canvas to accommodate straightening the image.

Red Eye removal

Removes red eye in flash photos of people and green or white eye in pets.

Open Preferences dialog

Opens the Camera Raw Preferences dialog.

Rotate buttons

Rotates the photo either counterclockwise or clockwise.

Set custom camera settings

When you open a camera raw file, Photoshop Elements reads information in the file to see which model of camera created it, and then applies the appropriate camera settings to the image. If you are always making similar adjustments, you can change the default settings of your camera. You can also change settings for each model of camera you own, but not for multiple cameras of the same model.

  • To save the current settings as the default for the camera that created the image, click icon choose Save New Camera Raw Default.
  • To use the Photoshop Elements default settings for your camera, click icon choose Reset Camera Raw Default.
  • To clear the previous settings, click icon choose Clear Imported Settings.

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