Monday, 5 February 2018

why should I bother with RAW?

A recent discussion on a forum (yet again) revolved around "why should I use RAW"

As always the arguments boiled down to:

  • I couldn't be bothered processing my images
  • Out Of Camera (OOC) JPG's are fine now
  • I am unable to make a RAW file look better than OOC JPG
  • It takes up too much space

To me these are the same arguments which see people years later resorting to taking shitty snapshots with their phones of faded pictures in their photo albums as their only way of keeping that memory or distributing it.

That may be fine for some, but as a photographer with a proper camera (no, not your phone, although some phones do include RAW such as this one) you may wish to revisit your images one day and find that not only has time moved on but that processing has moved on and you can pull more from your image than the OOC JPG delivered (as discussed here).

So as a result of that forum discussion I thought that this warranted another more detailed discussion.

Some years ago (2008) I was in India, and I had taken with me my Canon 10D and a couple of lenses as well as a compact Canon digicam. The Canon yeilded much better OOC JPG images than did the little Canon (surprise) but even still I always picked RAW to take the images. Back then cards were nowhere near the volume of today and (even without video) I would switch in and out of RAW mode if I wanted to save space. However as soon as I was photographing anything which I thought "I might want to go back to" I used RAW. This is one such shot:

This is the OOC JPG ... the astute may observe from the file name that its actually the JPG which is embedded in the RAW file, which is something I always feel needs mentioning: there is little point in shooting RAW + JPG because the RAW file always contains an embedded JPG ... which you can extract in a blink with DCRAW.

So, as you can see, blown highlights and inky shadows ... here are a couple of attempts (quick with no deep time consuming process loving given to them



... of course depending on your screen or how you output these you may prefer one over the other or indeed like a little more contrast or whatever ... the significant points about each are made in the image below (which you may wish to load full size in another tab for viewing - 

As you can see above, the rescue of the shadows was more than possible, but perhaps even a little over done for clarity of "the possibility" as well too as the rescue of the highlights.

Now of course a more careful exposure may have allowed the camera to make a better attempt of the highlights but as you can see it didn't. 

So what then is easier, to faff about with multiple shots, checking which JPG setting would be better or take the shot and move on?

My view is that under all circumstances the RAW will give a better "raw material" to work with in your post processing.

Considering the above points again then:

I couldn't be bothered processing my images

perhaps not now ... but for ever? Who knows how much better image processing will be in 10 years, I can assure you its leaps and bounds since I first took this image.

Out Of Camera (OOC) JPG's are fine now

and as observed by using RAW you'll still have that ... its not an either or proposition.

I am unable to make a RAW file look better than OOC JPG

perhaps ... or indeed perhaps in the future when you want to print something because you realise it was a "wow" shot there will either be an AI to help you or there will be some improvement in your own skills...

It takes up too much space

In a world of 4K video the extra 16Mbytes taken up by a RAW file is really quiet trivial isn't it....

Indeed as phones improve (mine's already an octa core 1.8 GHz device which is faster than my earlier desktops) you may be able to process your images while having a beer in the pub while on holiday, so that you can upload even better images to Facebook (or whatever). Such as any of these images below (which look heaps better than the OOC JPG's did)

So there's my view on this subject.

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