What is a CR2 File?

As you become better acquainted with your Canon digital camera, you will start to learn more about the photo sizes and file types available.

Like me, you may be initially confused by the array of options. Within the Image Quality tab of my Canon Rebel XS T5, there are Small, Medium, Large, and RAW offered.

And while Small, Medium, and Large files are self-explanatory, you might wonder to yourself: what, exactly, is the RAW format? What is a CR2 file? Why should I shoot in RAW/CP2, and how can I access these images afterward?

In this post, I will further explain the CR2 file format, the benefits of shooting in RAW, and how to view these files on your computer.

Note: if your raw files are lost or corrupted, see this post how to recover CR2 files instead.

RAW vs. JPEG file format

RAW is an image file format; the CR2 file is Canon’s RAW format for Canon digital images. Keep in mind that different camera manufacturers use different raw file formats. (For instance, while Nikon uses NEF, Panasonic uses RW2.) In addition, Canon’s CR2 files are TIFF-based.

With limited processing, CR2 files will preserve more details from the camera’s sensor than JPEG. The RAW files record the original white balance, exposure, and detail, among other image components. This contrasts with the JPEG file, which will process, alter, and compress the images.

Put simply, with RAW, the camera captures data of the image as is; with JPEG, the camera edits and processes the image. Note that the RAW format can be converted to JPEG and TIFF files.

Because Canon’s CR2 files record so much unprocessed data, they are very large. This also means that they are of much higher quality than JPEG files. This brings me to my next point.

Why CR2?

Advantages + disadvantages of shooting in RAW

As a photographer, there are numerous benefits to shooting CR2 files. As aforementioned, these files are of extremely high quality. After all, they contain all of the image information provided by the sensor and afford you more options to create the end photographic result that you desire.

RAW is generally considered to be the “best” format to shoot in primarily because of the greater editing flexibility that they offer. Sometimes a JPEG shot comes out too bright or too dark, over-exposed or with posterization.

On photo editing software, it becomes more difficult to edit out already-processed JPEG files. On the other hand, with RAW files, you can easily adjust your images while preserving detail and quality. Furthermore, even as you edit RAW images, you are not altering the data, but simply deciding upon the data of the JPEG or TIFF file.

However, a downside to CR2 files is that they are very large and thus take up a great deal of memory card space. They also must be processed and viewed with certain software.

How to Open CR2 Files?

At the end of the day, CR2 files contain image data. That being said, they require software that can read said data.

Among the software available for reading CR2 files is Canon Raw Image Viewer. I use Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, which are not free but allow me to view and edit my CR2 files.

Final Words

Personally, discovering CR2 changed my post-processing world. All of a sudden, countless editing doors flew open, from altering white balance to enhancing brightness and so on and so forth.

There are certain situations, however, where RAW is not necessarily always the best option — if I’m running low on memory and have to take a large number of photos, I’ll usually use JPEG over CR2.

Nevertheless, it helps to be aware of the different photo file types that Canon offers.

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