Why Shoot Raw?

If your digital camera has the option, shoot RAW.
Some film fanatics complain that digital cameras don’t have the dynamic range of film and they are correct, under some conditions.

What it comes down to is this: A 14-but RAW image contains a 16,384 brightness levels while an 8-bit JPEG can only contain 256 levels. Well, OK. perhaps your camera only has 10 bits of RAW, but that’s still four times as much dynamic range a a JPG. You’ve just spent a couple of thousand dollars on a camera what offers a precision and decided to throw that precision away. Good for you.

So of course the images in the latter format look bland.
But that’s the default setting on many cameras, on cell phones.
That’s the setting that the cameras have for all those ‘interesting’ effects.

And that’s the setting that most of the on-line print services expects you to submit images in.

And it gets worse. There you are with your multi-megabit camera shooting what?
The regular APS-C set seem to be about 16Mpxls, that’s probably 4928 x 3264.
Unless you have a very modern 4K monitor you’re not going to be able to display that on your computer or TV. So you have a 24Mpxl full frame. ROTFLMAO! You’ve just spent a couple of thousand dollars on a camera what offers a precision and decided to throw that precision away. Good for you.
The only useful thing you can do with that is throw away more than half of them cropping in post production.

Lets face it, when you print, you don’t need all that much. A 10×8 print at 300dpi, which is typically all the eye can make out at normal viewing distance, only needs 8x300x10x300 = 7.2 Megapixels. Let’s be generous and say that you have the vision of a military sniper and want 600dpi print out. Double that and you are still within the capability of a 6 to 8 year old DSLR. Be a bit more generous and Canon had a some very nice 18Mpxl bodies of that era. in fact they had some very nice 10Mpxl models, Point-and-shoot, pocketable as well as the early interchangeable lens DSLRs. You’ve just spent a couple of thousand dollars on a camera what offers a precision and decided to throw that precision away because you can’t print to make use of that resolution. Good for you.

Yes, I know, 1200dpi inkjet printers are available and aren’t expensive, or at least not compared to the 40Mpxl bodies that you’d need to satisfy them, but we are now getting to the point where you probably exceed the capability of your stock of lenses and your capabilities of the camera are beyond your skills-set.
If you’re making these demands either you are a scientists and have the project funding but have not looked at other, more parsimonious approaches, or perhaps you’re a technology freak indulging in technology for technology’s sake. I doubt you eyes are that good.

The argument that more megapixels lets you crop your images is valid, but only up to a point. If you are doing this consistently then there is something wrong with your photographic technique. You need a stronger lens or, as many books advise, you need to get up closer.

But the ‘as the camera delivers it’ argument is, and always has, been weak, even in the days of film photography.

Today, digital photography moves more control into the immediate hands to the photographer. In the days of film, the photographer all too often sent the roll of film off to be processed and printed. Now, film processing shops are scarce, even print shops are scarce; you are better off submitting via the Internet.
In the days of film the photographer left decisions about processing to the laboratory technicians. You had no or little say in the matter. Even less when the processing was automated.

There is the tale of how Star Trek had problems with this.

Star Trek make up maestro Fred Phillips — who, together with Academy Award–winning prosthetic makeup ace John Chambers, had engineered Spock’s famous ears — painted the scantily clad Orion girl green for the first time.

Green as a clover, Oliver stepped in front of the camera to shoot her scenes and filming went on without a hitch that day.

The following day, the crew was full of anticipation to get the processed film back and see the green siren strut her stuff. However, when the film ran, Oliver was pink, close to her normal flesh color.

A reshoot was ordered. Perhaps the green body paint was too light for the film to pick up, they speculated. This second time around, nothing was left to chance. Oliver was heavily coated in shade akin to Kemit the Frog.

At the next footage screening, again the unthinkable happened — she was back to pink.

A frantic call was placed to the Star Trek film lab, Consolidated Film
Industries. On the other end of the phone, a frustrated color correction technician explained what had caused the issue.

When the footage with Oliver went through the machine, the lab reacted in horror, thinking that in its rush to process the segment, somehow they had turned actress green. Thus, using the high tech Hazeltine color-correction machine, the technician pulled out all the stop to make her look human.

The lab man was quick to point out how much effort was made to correct this terrible mistake. In fact, they had worked overtime on the second batch, because the problem had become far worse.

The Star Trek editors assured the overworked color corrector that Oliver was indeed supposed to be green. The next day, she finally turned up extra green on film, and the crew was tickled pink.

How do you know that the lab techs hadn’t altered’ your images?
You don’t, and I betcha they did.

Back in the days I did my own processing and I know how easily it is to tweak the process. And yes, it is a LOT easier with a ‘digital darkroom’, you don’t need the blackened out room, the nasty chemicals, the clock-watching, the fumbling in the dark… But if you want to get the image that you really want, this is what it takes.

Yes, your camera has all those neat ‘art’ and ‘scene’ settings, but pay
attention: they only work in JPG mode. And the conversion algorithm is out of your control. You can’t fine-tune it as you can on your PC.

I can replicate them all in the ‘digital darkroom’ starting with a RAW image but now I’m in control. This isn’t the Outer Limits.

And there are many techniques I can apply that you simply cannot do with the camera!

So what about the RAW+JPG setting?
Well, why bother?
If it comes down to it, when you get your RAW image uploaded to the computer you can extract from it the small JPG image that the camera displayed on the LCD. that JPG is embedded in the RAW.
if you use Windows then you can buy a dedicated tool for that but I just use the very capable command like EXIF too to poke around at the information in any image, RAW or JPG or PDF:
see example #12

But that JPG is only your camera’s idea of what the JPG should be.

But the bottom line is always this:
With RAW you are not throwing information away or giving up control over how the image has been processed.

As an example: I once forgot to reset the white balance when taking the camera outside, and all the image show in the daylight had a blue tinge. Easy enough to correct the RAW in post-processing.

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