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    • So I shoot with an A7R, and I know I should shoot raw but often I don't. The JPEGs that come off the sensor are so good and preserve so much dynamic range, that it feels like there isn't much reason to shoot anything but JPEG. The RAW files slow my computer down and take up lots more space too.

      But it seems everyone else shoots RAW. I figured you all have good reasons, and I'm interested in what benefits come with shooting RAW. Why should I?

      Photo credit: CamFi

    • When you set your camera to record only JPG files you are still shooting RAW images. It's just that you are trusting the camera to understand what options you want for the scene.

      Todays cameras can record much, much more tonal information than a JPG can hold, so the camera makes some assumptions based on the way the camera is set up.

      The biggest problems occur during the best part of a day. If you accept standard processing for "Golden Hour" pictures, the white balance and color balance may be way off your intentions and wishes. Perhaps your camera has a mode to help compensate, like forcing the camera to shoot daylight or tungsten WB, and that can be fine, but it can also be far, far off for your intention.

      Shooting RAW means that you get to defer the WB decisions until the post-processing session, with no loss whatsoever in color tonal options because of "baked in" WB which occurs during JPG in-camera processing.

      Similarly, indoor shooting can mean working with mixed lighting. There is no usable automation will will properly correct for that situation. If you want to achieve a proper final product you will need to take the reins yourself.

      I dated a woman for 4 years who had neutral painted walls and ceiling, but every piece of furniture, every rug and every accent piece was red. Correcting for the majority of the light sources still couldn't correct for the shadows, largely filled from reflected light off the furniture and rugs, etc.

      In that situation I developed a method for processing with separate workflows for highlight and midtones, versus shadows. After getting the two image results, I could merge the images according to relative brightness, and achieve pretty desirable end results. I developed some automation which allowed pretty quick processing, and I developed keyboard shortcuts to allow further speedup, so there wasn't too much additional time added to the whole project (family pictures during the major holidays, for instance).

      A couple of churches in the area have similar issues, and require a similar regimen to correct.

      Shooting outdoors in daylight in a garden environment can yield green-tinted shadows, which can be treated in a similar fashion.

      Many people just accept the automated results, either from the camera or even from their RAW software, but I know better, so I do better.

      Ultimately, I found a Photoshop plugin to help with the situation: Pictocolor iCorrect Portrait allows you to rapidly color correct white balance, black balance, skin tone balance (including skin tones in shadow areas) and other "memory colors", which you define and save in separate profiles, as you wish. It sometimes fails to work properly, but it's easy to revert back to a previous version and resample different regions.

      Disclaimer: I am just a happy user of PicPictocolor and I paid full price for the product. Period!

    • I have a confession to make: I shoot jpegs when shooting action sports or weddings. I rarely admit that in public because all the people like Ziggy who expound on the value of RAWs are right.

      At weddings, I almost never have dynamic range problems, I know how to get the white balance right and I'm trying to capture moments so I want to shoot fast. Same with action shots, even photojournalism when something is going down.

      If I'm shooting landscapes with high contrast lighting I'll shoot RAW for the dynamic range. Having said that, I admire people who shoot everything in RAW. But nothing I hate more than a buffer filling up and the camera bogging down.


    • I suppose it depends on what your goals are. If you are just trying to capture moments as a personal reminder--what are usually called snapshots--then JPGs may be fine for you. But if you are interested in photography as an art or craft and spend any time at all doing post-processing, then raw gives you far greater control over color balance, exposure adjustment, tonal balance and noise reduction. If none of those terms apply to what you do--and you're quite sure they won't in the future--then just keep doing what you are doing. But as was stated above, shooting JPG only effectively burns the negative. Even if today's post-processing software isn't worth the hassle to you, tomorrow's will probably be a lot better, but its benefits will be limited if you only have a JPG.

    • To me, raw simply gives me flexibility.

      It gives me flexibility to explore the recorded images more fully in post-production, without any loss of fidelity. It gives me the chance to do what-if type exploration, and often when I do, I discover that my understanding of how the camera behaves is off a little, and that I settle on as most desirable is better developed in post than off the camera directly. Yes, if I'm in a rush, I will often take jpegs right off the camera, and share them. But then I will run through a post-processing workflow, prioritizing a handful that I'd like to explore, and then running through exposure, highlight/shadow manipulation, pushing my levels, getting creative with color balance, etc.

      And doing so gives me a better understanding of how my camera behaves.

    • Thanks for all the useful tips!

      I've taken a few raws on my last trip and decided to test out the difference between editing a JPEG export and the actual RAW in Lightroom CC. Wow!

      I noticed that editing a RAW versus JPEG doesn't make much difference with small adjustments. But with images that need big shifts in color and exposure, RAW wins!

      Here's an original image where I needed to shift the exposure by a couple stops.

    • JPEG left / RAW edit on the right.

      And zooming in, the JPEG on the left: severe color distortion. The JPEG really failed me here. It just didn't preserve enough data in the shadows to smoothly transition colors.

    • RAW (how come we always capitalize RAW -- it's not an acronym) because I want to chose what the final image looks like, not leave it up to the minimal choices the camera gives me for tweaking jpeg output. Then there is the fact that I'm not very good when it comes to estimating proper exposure. I sometimes need the latitude available with RAW files to make the image usable.

      A recent Lightroom update make the Auto button in the Develop module pretty good. In many cases clicking "Auto" then fine tuning the adjustments makes for a very quick edit; almost as fast as shooting jpeg.

    • Quote: RAW (how come we always capitalize RAW -- it's not an acronym)

      I would rather not hijaak this thread to explain, but yes, I am one of those who use the "RAW" - all-caps - spelling.

      Please look for a new topic regarding my justification.

    • When it comes to landscapes, I do what you did here alot. I expose the shot for the sky, which tends to be the brightest part of the image. That way, I retain as much of the blues in the sky as possible, and as much of the detail in the clouds w/o blowing out highlights. Then I lift the shadows in post to get the details that initially appear lost, depending on the dynamic range of the sensor to do its job. Excellent job on the post processing.

    • That's good to know. I've always wondered if it was an acronym but always just thought of it as raw as in unprocessed data, which is what it really is.

      So RAW is more than just color, right? It must preserve more data in the luminance or white channel as a means to increase dynamic range.

    • At first, it felt counterintuitive that I shoot RAW if my primary distribution of photos is on screens that most likely display colors in sRGB. I thought JPEGs suffice, but it's interesting that in the edit you can pull out the nuances in color and distribute them across the limited sRGB spectrum.

      Is printing a second reason to shoot RAW? Can printers print more colors / dynamic range than my monitor can display?

    • By habit, I've always underexposed to avoid clipping the highlights. Playing around with editing RAWs, I'm noticing that restoring the highlights is a bit better than doing it in sRGB; however, the same issue exists. I can recover way more from the shadows than from the highlights. Is this a perception thing or do you think it's a limitation of the technology?

    • The raw data contains everything that has been captured by the sensor. It is processed to create a viewable image. That includes in-camera processing to create a jpeg. As far as I know raw-to-jpeg processing is a one-way transformation. The original raw data can not be determined from a jpeg. So, yes, data is lost during the transform.

    • It's a limitation, or rather, just the characteristic of how signal processing works in photosensors. I'm probably going to butcher this explanation. It was explained a long time ago with awesome visuals, that I've long since lost. It goes something like this...

      When we clip highlights, what we see is the result of all the light wells (pixels) registering 1's. There's usually a pretty hard line cutting that off, because sensors exhibit strong clean signal strength going right up to its maximum capacity but will never register, for example, 1.001. But the black clipping is a softer number because it doesn't cut off sharply at 0.000. Before we get to 0.000 there is a bunch of line noise, that photogs think of as ISO, but engineers just think of as a increasingly muddy signal to noise ratio. Lifting the shadows amplifies the low signal and noise together, which means 1) there's lots of info down there that we can take advantage of...but 2) the more we rely on it, the more noise we introduce, which is why there's things look crappy if you try to lift extreme shadows w/o HDR techniques.

    • Ah this is very interesting! Makes a great deal of sense that lifting the shadows lifts both signal and noise, leaving more information there than in the highlights.

    • I ran across this on DPReview.

      I found the difference between an 8-bit JPEG and a 12-bit RAW fascinating. Took a while to wrap my head around it. I thought a 12-bit would have 50% more colors than an 8-bit, but I was wrong. 8 bit is 2^8 values per channel, and with 4 channels, RGBA, that's 2^(8*4) = 4.2 billion combinations. But with 12 bit it is 2^(12 * 4) 2.8E14 (Is that 280 trillion??). So it's 66 thousand percent more information I think. That's crazy. Mind blown.

    • The math is more complicated than that article presents, so I suggest not spending too much time on the exact numbers. Rather, your conclusion is what's important; that there is a "massive" amount of data in RAW files, compared to JPG 8-bit files (plus including other 8-bit file types similarly limited).

      The other important point is that the "distribution" of image data is equally important, and all in-camera JPG files are produced from a data distribution algorithm defined by someone else, not you.

      In short, while you have some limited control over the RAW capture data conversion to 8 bit by using different "picture styles", or whatever similar might be available for different cameras, even if you have custom styles defined they will be rather coarsely defined.

      Significant too is that some of the highlight and shadow information is likely lost during the translation to 8 bits. Compare that to post-processed RAW files, generally processed in 16 bits and even 32 bits bits, and at your direction and discretion.

      Sure, you may still down convert to 8 bit files for image file distribution and publishing, but up to that point you have much finer control in the process.

    • Yeah, when I started running the numbers, I realized that was more so the design of the file structure. It's the upper limit to what can be stored, not a count of possibilities that the sensor can capture per pixel. That sounds complicated. I just found it interesting how a few more bits leads to exponentially more data.

    • Your comments are on point. Just to add my thoughts and recapitulate what many here have said: The flexibility afforded by RAW files is massive. I see it in every shot I take on my d810. If you have highlights and shadows in your image, jpg loses significant information that is only "recoverable" in a distorted sense in post. The RAWs just have it all there.

      I've got fast cards, a fast computer, and infinite storage through my work, so the extra processing time doesn't bother me. Especially since I started using multiple catalogues in Adobe Lightroom (my primary pp application)

    • One important thing that I think most people don't fully understand is that most photos will be viewed as 8-bit sRGB jpegs on the web whether you record them as RAW or not. Either the camera software converts them or a program like Lightroom does.

      In either case, I see a lot of photos converted from RAW to Adobe RGB, often in-camera. And then they have to be converted to sRGB with color loss, and people blame the jpeg format for the loss.

      The thing is, sRGB is pretty good in the reds and yellows so it can provide fine gradations in skin tones. It's biased toward colors that occur in nature. And I think that's why we get away with it so well on the web and on phones.

      But if the camera must convert from 12-bit color in RAWs to the selection of colors Adobe provides in their 8-bit color space, we have eliminated a lot of colors we could have represented in sRGB.

    • Absolutely correct. To elaborate, both sRGB and Adobe RGB 8 bit files have exactly the same amount of color data. It's the "distribution" of the data that is different between those two file formats.

      If you work in any of the programs which allow lossless editing from RAW files, and if you save the intermediate work in a format which preserves the original image data, you can still make any changes you want in a later post-production editing session.

      If you just save the original RAW file for the image (don't discard the camera's original RAW file after an edit session), you might have to start over, but at least you have the original goods.

      If you work with an editor like Lightroom or Phase One - Capture One Pro (my favorite), then just save the session in the application's native file format. Those applications don't affect the original RAW file in any way when you save the session; you are just saving the "directions" for working the image data. You can change the working color space at any time to sRGB, A-RGB or CYMK color spaces, for instance, and then output an 8-bit file (or 16-bit file) as needed for your use.