Every file extension has different properties. But, in the end, each extension is here to tell us the information it contains and what software supports it.
The Sony Alpha RAW, or ARW, is just one of the many unique file extensions on today’s digital cameras. But, it’s been the standard option on their mirrorless cameras since 2014, with the release of the a7. So if you have a camera even remotely newer than that model, your pictures will indeed come out as ARW files if you shoot RAW.
So in some ways, there’s no escaping this file at some point.
Thankfully, working with ARW files is easy regardless of whether you’re a Windows, Mac, or even mobile-first photographer. And today, there are many tools to open, edit, and export your ARW photos.
So in today’s post, let’s cover this file extension in-depth, plus how you can open and convert it to better suit your workflow. And, ultimately, let’s help you unlock the high-quality images available from your Sony camera.
Table of Contents
What is an ARW File?
The Alpha RAW (.ARW) is Sony’s proprietary RAW image file exclusive to their digital cameras. And this file indicates that the image on your device is a RAW file created by a Sony camera.
Important note, though, the ARW file isn’t the first RAW format Sony has used so far. They also previously used the Sony RAW format (.SRF) and the Sony RAW Format 2 (.SR2), the second-generation version of that file. However, all of their recent mirrorless cameras, starting with the original Alpha 7, released in 2014, use the ARW file format. And this file is currently the standard on their cameras today.
Like other RAW formats, though, the ARW file captures all of the unprocessed data from your camera’s sensor. And it, too, records this data without manipulating the information in any way. The result is that you get an accurate reproduction of the scene where the original picture was taken. Also, like other RAW formats, ARW files retain the original metadata during exposure. This includes the camera model, location, date, exposure settings, lens used, copyright, and more.
From here, the camera’s processor combines all this information into a single file that it writes to your memory card without adding compression. And it simultaneously creates a JPEG preview, which you can review as a thumbnail to see the image in-camera.
Advantages of ARW files
Like other RAW formats, the ARW file provides enormous creative freedom to photographers. So much so most photographers would recommend it completely without even questioning that decision.
Now, we do have a detailed blog post discussing the advantages and disadvantages of RAW files in general. So feel free to check that post out if you want the whole story. But let’s quickly recap the main advantages here.
Since ARW files capture all of the uncompressed data directly from the camera’s sensor, these files will give you the most information available for post-processing. And in turn, they let you produce the best images possible from your camera and lens combination. Unlike JPEG files, which will generally lose quality as you edit them.
ARW files, unlike TIFF and JPEGs, also don’t apply in-camera processing like white balance, contrast, tone, sharpening, and noise reduction permanently into the file. Instead, these settings are stored separately as instructions, which we’ll adjust later in editing to change the onscreen interpretation of the RAW data. So your in-camera effects never compromise the original RAW data, and we always have a way to undo our changes. And this kind of functionality is key to creating a non-destructive editing workflow.
ARW files also offer better color, which is usually 14-bit for many Sony cameras. The result is that these files create images with a wider tonal range and softer color gradations than an 8-bit JPEG file.
Together, the ARW file gives you substantially more freedom to post-processing your images. And the added image data, better color, and dynamic range let you squeeze every last bit of detail out of your photos. All the while never losing image quality.
How to Open ARW Files
Given that we live in a highly digital world today, opening most extensions is very straightforward. And mostly gone are the days of downloading a dedicated editing program merely to open an ARW file. Instead, you’ll be happy to know that most computer operating systems can open this file without issues.
The easiest way to open an ARW file on macOS is through Apple Preview, which is the default image viewer on Mac. However, I want to point out that this process may not work if you have an older Mac from 2010 and below. Also, it doesn’t work with ARW files created by Sony’s newest cameras, such as the A7 IV. It actually takes Apple several months to update this application to support RAW files. So in either of these situations, you’ll want to refer to the section on Editing Software below. But, try it, either way, to see if it’ll work.
Simply right-click on the ARW file, then select Preview.app in the “Open With…” category.
The easiest way to open ARW files on Windows is through Microsoft Photos, which is the default viewing application on Windows PC. However, I want to point out that this process may not work on older versions of Windows, namely Windows 8 and earlier. Microsoft Photos is a relatively new addition, and it wasn’t available on these older systems. So, in that case, refer to the section on Editing Software below.
Simply right-click on the ARW file, then select Photos in the “Open With…” category.
Unfortunately, it’s possible you may find yourself in a situation where the default options on your computer don’t work. Thankfully, plenty of third-party photo editors can open this file. Below is a shortlist of some of the many options.
- Sony Imaging Edge Desktop
- Corel AfterShot Pro
- Corel PaintShop Pro
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Lightroom
- Capture One
You can also open ARW files on Android and iOS easily since several major editing apps support it. Below is a shortlist of just some of the most popular options.
- Sony Imaging Edge Mobile
- Adobe Photoshop Express
- Adobe Lightroom Mobile
- Adobe Photoshop
How to Convert ARW Files
As great as ARW files are, they’re tough to work with as is since each Sony camera uses a slightly different file and they’re not particularly easy to share online. So you’ll want to convert them to an easier to use and more web-friendly raster format most of the time. Thankfully, there are many editing tools that can convert this file to something more universal like JPEG, PNG, or TIFF.
The easiest way to convert ARW files on a Mac is by using Apple Preview, and it is super quick too.
1. Open the image in Apple Preview.
2. Then navigate to the top menu and select “File” then “Export.”
3. In the next dialogue box that appears, change the format from HEIC (.HIEF), JPEG, PNG, or TIFF.
The easiest way to convert an ARW file on Windows is using Microsoft Photos, and it’s very easy.
1. Open the image in Microsoft Photos.
2. Then right-click and select “Save As.”
3. In the next dialogue window that appears, change the format in the “Save As Type” dropdown. Here you can export the file to JPEG, PNG, or TIFF.
You can even convert an ARW file online, perfect if you don’t want to download another program or editor. And many tools can do this. Below are just two that work.
Lastly, you can even convert an ARW file on your smartphone or tablet. The easiest tool to do this is using Adobe Lightroom Mobile, which is free. But, the other applications I mentioned earlier will also work.
If you use a Sony camera, it’s fair to say you can’t avoid ARW files forever. And, at some point, you’ll have to deal with this file format. So you must become familiar with them eventually.
That said, these files are generally easy to work with, and they’re definitely helpful since they give you better images and more flexibility. Thankfully, you now understand how to work with them and use them in your workflow.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I open an ARW file?
The easiest way to open an ARW file is by using Microsoft Photos or Apple Photos on your computer. These applications are the default viewing tools, and each works perfectly for opening this file so long as your computer is updated.
Can I convert ARW to JPG?
Yes. You can convert this file to JPEG, PNG, and TIFF with many programs, including downloadable software or online converters.
Last Updated on May 7, 2023 by Photography PX Published June 1, 2022