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DPChallenge Forums >> Photography Discussion >> RAW -- why? Beggered if I can see
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09/08/2005 11:53:49 PM · #1

I've seen a lot of comments like "God I love shooting in RAW mode!" and figured I better do some due dilligence.

Now, I was biased from the start not being able to see how it could help. And *that* probably didn't help.

But I spent a good hour taking test shots of bright light, low light, long and short exposures (on my Nikon D70) and comparing the results.

I just can't see ANY perceivable difference. Even after messing around with different level adjustments in Photoshop or the Nikon Cature program it all amounts to the same to my eye. And I think I have a pretty darn good eye! Maybe I don't?

I was especially hoping for low-light shots to come out with less grain or be somehow easier to filter out the noise. Nadda. Nope. No perceivable difference. Gradual gradients like the evning blue sky etc was tested too. Nothing notice there either. (Actually, the "remove noise" feature in Nikon Capture doesn't seem to do anything at all. Nothing!)

OK... this is *not* intended as the bitch session it reads like. *smiles*

In your experience (no theories please) what *exactly* is RAW mode good for that Photoshop can't do to the same quality? Why are some so convinced RAW is better? Are you able to post any evidence of this?

(I was comparing RAW to the highest quality JPEG compression setting in the camera of course.)

09/08/2005 11:56:19 PM · #2
well just one thing... there are a lot more colors in a raw file than in a jpeg file. There's also more dynamic range.
09/09/2005 12:00:12 AM · #3
Maybe it's cuz you use a nikon? dunno. The raw my canon shoots looks much better...

...but seriously, jpg captures 8 bit color depth where raw captures 12 bit. That's a lot more color info to work with. If your only shooting for yourself and printing at your local lab, then shoot sRGB jpg's. It will be much faster and easier. Just make sure you nail the exposure since you won't have the lattitude that raw gives you (in emergencies)
09/09/2005 12:47:58 AM · #4
Originally posted by MeThoS:

... raw captures 12 bit.

Interesting. That might explain why the "Send to Photoshop" button puts me in 16 Bit RGB. But it doesn't explain why all the Nikon Capture adjustment sliders, etc. have ony 0 to 255 (or less) being an 8-bit range.

I started my tests with the assumption that RAW must surely have higher colour depth, if nothing else. But by the time I was done, it seemed to me that even RAW mode was also only 8-bit RGB. So your post is a definitely positive!

Trouble is, in PS you get a much reduced set of tools in 16-bit RGB mode. So I guess anything RAW gives you has to be taken advantage of before it hits Photoshop.

09/09/2005 12:53:43 AM · #5
Originally posted by kyebosh:

well just one thing... there are a lot more colors in a raw file than in a jpeg file. There's also more dynamic range.

Gotcha! Didn't know that.

It certainly sounds good in theory having 4,096 levels of R,G and B to play with. But given a minimum equivalent ISO rating of 200 for the D70's CCD I would suggest the extra dynamic range is more than lost in the noise. Or at least the noise has more colour range too. Not much help.

09/09/2005 12:57:22 AM · #6
Does anyone happen to know the equiv. minimum ISO rating for the Canon 20D and Nikon D2X?

Not "comparable" cameras I know. But I doubt I can stretch my pocket to a D2X. The Canon might be better in this regard than my present Nikon D70.
09/09/2005 01:06:45 AM · #7
Originally posted by gruvin:

[ But given a minimum equivalent ISO rating of 200 for the D70's CCD I would suggest the extra dynamic range is more than lost in the noise. Or at least the noise has more colour range too. Not much help.

Don't let the number fool you. I shot the same scene with the same settings with my D70 and my buddies 10D - mine on 200 ISO, his on 100. We both under and overexposed trying to see how "superior" his Canon was.

Looked pretty much the same to both of us. When speaking with a guy at B&H and a guy at a local camera store both explained that there is a difference in the way the sensors are made. I don't know why if 200 on Nikon is the same as 100 on Canon - why doesn't Nikon just call it 100?

When I first found out about the 200 ISO minimum I was ready to pack up the old D70 and send it back. I'm glad I stayed.

And BTW, RAW rocks! If I'm going to shoot one shot for a client, no matter how many takes we do, I want them all in RAW so I can tweak the exposure, WB, etc to perfection. I find that it frees my mind for more compositional, creative interpretation of what I'm shooting, knowing that pretty darn close on location can be tweaked to perfection later.

I'm a convert of the digital age. 20 years shooting in the dark, waiting for developing to know what I got, 11 months of unbelievable creativity now with digital. Heck with the pure photography, if I can tweak in post, I'm tweaking! That's what RAW gives me.

I would love more unbiased (or biased) info on the difference between Nikon and Canon sensors if anyone knows of independent studies...
09/09/2005 01:20:58 AM · #8
I'm no expert on 8-bit and 16-bit, I'm pretty new to RAW myself in fact. I shot it a little with the Coolpix 5700 but it didn't seem worth the effort. Now I don't shoot nayhting else on the 20D. I can give you one, solid reason why: sunsets and sunrises.

In the beginning I shot RAW + JPG-fine, and bracketed. In EVERY case where the sun, or the area where the sun is, behind the clouds, I was able to pull highlight detail out of the RAW capture MUCH better than I could from the JPG. There's no question in my mind.

So I figure, if it's that good at the extreme, it certainly can't be a LIABILITY anywhere else, and I just went over to straight RAW. The simplified EOIS Viewer utility that came with the 20D does a perfectly workmanlike job of tweaking the RAW files and converting them to TIFF. These TIFFs need very little work in Photoshop, for the most part. Overall time drain is somewhat less working from RAW, in fact. JPGs seem to take me more time in PS than RAW does in EOS Viewer and PS combined.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

09/09/2005 01:25:28 AM · #9
its the adjustment after that I shoot in raw for..

if I accidently slightly under or over expose...its all there for me to play with.
no iso 200limit with mine, iso 100->3200 as usual
its also easier for adjusting white balance, and more dynamic range for adjusting colours (lessens banding)
09/09/2005 01:49:28 AM · #10
Originally posted by gruvin:

In your experience (no theories please) what *exactly* is RAW mode good for that Photoshop can't do to the same quality?

OK, take some more test shots in RAW+JPEG. But this time try this:

1. Take a shot with the White balance WAY off. Try to fix in Photoshop compared to any RAW editor.

2. Take an overexposed shot(aprox 2/3 to 1 2/3). See if you can pull the highlight detail back.

3. Take a high contrast shot. Something with both under exposure and over exposure. Try using the Shadow & Highlight contrast sliders in
RawShooter Elements. See if you can mimic that with JPEG's in Photoshop.

If you take perfectly exposed shots ALL the time Raw won't help you much. But if your like me and sometimes get things off, Raw can help.

I work for a Professional School Portraits company and even in a controled lighting situation we get slight variations in exposure so we shoot everything in Raw. We don't even bother with RAW+JPEG anymore.

I hope this helps you learn!
09/12/2005 07:54:37 AM · #11
Originally posted by aaronb532:

OK, take some more test shots in RAW+JPEG. But this time try this:...

I will do that -- just as soon as I find the time. I never even thought of using RAW+JPEG to make more accurate comparisons. Shessh! :P

Thanks for all your replies. I've certainly got a better understanding of what RAW good for now.

The exposure resolution at the extreme ends and in very subtle gradients -- like clear sky -- has always been an issue for me. I've not tested it yet, but I imagine those colour bands that show up in 8-bit JPEGs during gamma and saturation adjustments will not be such an issue working in 12/16-bit RAW.

Incidentally, I'm not at all impressed by the Nikon Capture program now that I've had other software demonstrated to me. The Nikon Capture seem to offer only the bare bones compared to the others.

If for no other reason than the white balance management in software like iCapture (I think?), I can certainly see real benefits for RAW mode now. Find one photo from the session with a good grey reference and use it to correct every shot near instantly. So simple -- yet so good!
09/17/2005 07:21:34 PM · #12
I did the RAW+JPEG comparison. But as soon as I saw what it's really called, "RAW+JPG-BASIC" I nkew it wasn't going to be a fair contest.

Sure enough, the JPG BASIC images were sorely lasking in clarity and cleanliness compared to the RAW images.

I still can't perceive any difference at all, even at 1-to-1 pixel zoom, between RAW and JPG FINE images as shot on the Nikon D70. But certainly do now realise the benefits of shooting in RAW for the ease of post white-balance adjustment and sometimes (rarely) exposure compensation. (I say rarely because tweak the EV slider doesn't seem any different to me than what Photoshop does, albeit with a theoretical finer quality.)

I also discovered that Photoshop CS has built-in abilty to read RAW format images (File, Open) and make the same adjustments the Nikon Capture software gives you, including vignetting compensation -- rarely needed but it's there. So now I have to save up for PS CS(2)! Damn! :P
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