Using RAW format - my experience

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by BJMRamage, Oct 17, 2013.

  1. BJMRamage macrumors 68020


    Oct 2, 2007
    to preface: I have been shooting photos since film days and am on my second DSLR (D7000). I have tried using RAW once before and didn't see the benefits at the time. (they seemed pretty much like the JPGs I was shooting and didn’t understand the post-production aspect of them...was using Photoshop at the time.)

    Fast forward to today. I have decided over the past year to take some more “risks” and try different things, one of them was going back to RAW format as many photogs say how awesome it is. My first attempts (month ago) were pretty good. But I was shooting/importing both the RAW & JPG files. I decided for my recent trip to Disney to just force myself into RAW and some manual shooting.

    I corrected these RAW images in Aperture. Similar to my method now-a-days for JPG shooting. It seemed to me the import took longer but since I almost ALWAYS edit my photo the post production wasn’t too big an issue.

    Anyway, I want to show (sort of) the difference in using RAW vs JPG.
    *for starters, I know that the Original file here is not the same as if it was a JPG Original (JPGs are saved with certain presets from the camera...sharpening, color saturation, etc) but this at least gives you a pretty close idea and knowing that I have shot similar mistakes before with JPG that I can only correct so far before tossing it out. OH, and the shot was taken with 1600 ISO, I think I had it that way the night before and forgot to change it...the next few shots of Spaceshipp Earth I shot at 100 ISO.

    OK, so the Original is based off the Untouched RAW file. (this is the BRIGHTEST image)
    Then I corrected the RAW and corrected the JPG (as best I could).
    Normally they say you have better results bringing light into an underexposed RAW file but also have leeway with overexposed shots too.

    I was shocked at how much I was able to get out of this shot. especially seeing detail where i thought it was white/overexposed
    And yes, this isn’t the greatest shot or correction but I figured I’d take a stab at editing it anyway.

    Original* (based off untouched RAW file, not original JPG)

    Edited JPEG "fix"

    Edited RAW "fix"

    anyway, take what you will from this. I know RAW is not a fix for everything. but it seemed to hold more depth to work with.
  2. Zeiss macrumors member

    Dec 18, 2006
    RAW, what is it good for (Absolutely everything!)...:)
  3. Apple fanboy macrumors Penryn

    Apple fanboy

    Feb 21, 2012
    Behind the Lens, UK
  4. firedept macrumors 603


    Jul 8, 2011
    I shoot RAW because I have read of the added advantages it provides. Not that I understood what I was reading, as I am a real amateur at photography. But I do like working with RAW better than jpg when touching the photos up.
  5. Evil Spoonman macrumors 6502

    Jan 21, 2011
    A trick that I always appreciate with RAW:

    If you are shooting against the limit of your camera's dynamic range. Meaning you can get the brights overexposed or the darks underexposed, but you can't get both darks and brights within exposure in one frame. What you can do is pick a point in the middle where you have both underexposed and overexposed regions and take the shot. Then use RAW processing to lift the shadows and pull down on the highlights. Usually you have enough headroom in RAW files to do this if you're only exceeding exposure by a bit. Digital cameras are capable of somewhat more dynamic range than our JPEGs reveal.
  6. AlanShutko macrumors 6502a

    Jun 2, 2008
    Also, underexposed if you need to instead of overexposing. Digital can blow highlights very easily but the raw files will have a lot of shadow detail to pull out.
  7. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    Work backwards on this -

    What is your output? Print, screen, web etc.

    If you have a good camera that provides quality jpg files, its fine for most screen and web purposes. If you are going to print, you might want to consider RAW.

    A great example of jpegs that are outstanding come from the Fuji X series of cameras. High end users for these cameras ( X-100s, X-1pro and X-E1 as exmaple) often switch back and forth depending on their task at hand.

    I prefer to shoot RAW for more serious work where I need the flexibility of the data to be post processed (Capture 1 and Photoshop). For snap shot type of images, jpeg works brilliantly.

    As for differences - RAW ideally gives you everything your sensor can offer under a given set of conditions. Jpegs are compressed files that in their very nature are lossy meaning you give up something to get the smaller file. A well done jpeg under the right conditions and not overly compressed can yield very usable results and also can be post processed for further improvement.
  8. Laird Knox macrumors 68000

    Jun 18, 2010
    Um, no. There is much more data in the highlights than in the shadows.

    This is paraphrased from luminous-landscape:

    In a 12-bit file 1/2 of your image data is in the brightest stop of the exposure while the darkest stop contains a mere 1/32 of the total data. Of course this wont help you if your image is completely blown out but neither will shooting under exposed and blocking up the shadows.

    The JPEG on the LCD screen may show a blown highlight but they tend to be conservative. Opening up the RAW there is often a lot of detail in the "blown" area.

    This next one talks about the difference between 12 and 14-bit RAWs but also has good info on how the image sensor captures data.
  9. Mike in Kansas macrumors 6502a

    Mike in Kansas

    Sep 2, 2008
    Metro Kansas City
    Another big reason to shoot RAW - much easier to fix the white balance. There is so much more latitude in white balance adjustment in RAW compared to trying to correct a JPEG that it's not even funny.
  10. BJMRamage thread starter macrumors 68020


    Oct 2, 2007
    Thanks. I guess I researched RAW enough to know it is a good thing. I can see using jpg for snapshots.

    And for years I was using jpg and seeing good results. Sometimes great. But I figured to really get into RAW (after a 2 shoot tryout) I had to dive in head first. Perhaps using on a family vacation wasn't the best idea in case of something "catastrophic" but I did it and I am liking the results.
  11. MattSepeta macrumors 65816


    Jul 9, 2009
    375th St. Y
  12. Prodo123 macrumors 68020


    Nov 18, 2010
    My understanding was that the white balance value is only a metadata value for the RAW engine to read and interpret and doesn't affect the actual RAW sensor data in any way.
    So yeah, infinite headroom. So much better than having to deal with JPEG.
  13. Laird Knox macrumors 68000

    Jun 18, 2010
    One of the reasons you are seeing such a difference is because a JPG stores 256 shades per channel (red, green and blue) while a 12-bit RAW file would contain 4096 shades per channel and a 14-bit RAW 16384.
  14. Caliber26 macrumors 68000


    Sep 25, 2009
    Orlando, FL
    About a year ago, when I got my first DSLR, like everyone else in the beginning, I shot only in JPEG but quickly learned about the advantages of RAW and have only shot in that format ever since. You'll have greater control over the dynamic range, exposure, and white balance since RAW files aren't "cooked" in camera like JPEGs are.

    And by the way, I LOVE the fact that Spaceship Earth is your subject for this example!! You can tell from my signature that I'm a big fan of Disney World photography. :)
  15. BJMRamage thread starter macrumors 68020


    Oct 2, 2007
    Thanks all. Yeah in the past when i used it (this year, not the time a few years back) I noticed that a decently shot photo could be lifted nicely to become a much better photo.

    But with this example, Spaceship Earth, I really saw the WOW! potential of RAW.
  16. swordio777 macrumors 6502

    Apr 3, 2013
    Scotland, UK
    This is bang on! If you're use to shooting in JPEG then you've probably been conditioned to under-expose to retain highlight detail. This is very important with JPEGs, but there is FAR more information in the raw file than you can actually see.

    It's easy to get scared by flashing highlights when you look at the camera preview, but don't be. If you shoot your images a stop or 2 above where you think you should, you'll retain nice clean shadow detail and will be able to pull back the highlights in post. If you underexpose, the shadows will be crushed and will be very noisy when you try to recover them.

    The real trick is finding out just how far you can push your own camera. You'll learn through experimentation how "over-exposed" different situations will allow.

    In my experience, Canon cameras can pull more data back from over-exposed highlights, so you can push them further. However Nikon cameras generally have cleaner shadows anyway, so you don't need to push them quite as far.

  17. kingalexthe1st macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    Thanks for this. Conversely, I had always heard that RAW files have more detail in the shadows than the highlights, but those statements were never backed up with anything. I had always suspected that highlights were where the details were, but your articles solidify it. Thanks.

    I'm glad OP is seeing the benefit of RAW. It's so much more malleable in PP than JPG, and there are far more ways to be creative with it :)

  18. BJMRamage thread starter macrumors 68020


    Oct 2, 2007
    When I tried to pull underexposed shots some tended to be heavy on the grain. I guess in my mind, white overexposed highlights would be a wash...mainly from the years with JPG.

    The other thing I did this time around was push the ISO. especially indoors when i didn't want to rely on Flash. Overall, I am more confident in my shooting and post-production work now.
  19. kingalexthe1st macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    This isn't directed at you, OP, but does anyone know which of these methods produces less noise? In a dimly lit area, would it be better to ramp up the ISO, or deliberately underexpose and then pull back the shadows in PP? I'll try this out with my camera when I get a chance.

  20. Policar macrumors 6502a

    Nov 21, 2004
    Ramping up the ISO and exposing to the right is generally best, but it's much more important on Canon dSLRs, which have more read noise. Nikon dSLRs can be pushed pretty far. For all the talk of posterization, there's still enough noise on any camera that you don't really lose tonality from underexposing, just introduce grain.
  21. Laird Knox macrumors 68000

    Jun 18, 2010
    There are even more variables in that equation.

    When you ramp up the ISO you decrease the dynamic range. For example, say that at ISO 100 your camera had a dynamic range of 0-100 (these are made up numbers). As you increase the ISO the dynamic range lessens so that by ISO 800 the camera might have a range of 12-87. Same picture but not as much information.

    Another note: The reason you get more noise as you increase the ISO is because of they way ISO drives the sensor and electronics. As the ISO increases the camera turns up the amplification on the signal. This includes the noise.

    Again, using made up numbers suppose that your sensor has a noise level of 2 on a scale of 100. What I mean by this is that random noise will fluctuate between 0-2 while the signal (the image data) varies from 0-100. Only the darkest areas will show obvious noise. In other words it will impact an pixel that records as a 4 more than one that records a 90. If that makes any sense. ;)

    Now as you ramp up ISO the camera amplifies the signal. Your maximum is still 100 but the noise also gets multiplied. So if you increase ISO three stops (8x) then your noise would be in the 0-16 range. ISO 3200 (32x) would push the noise to 0-64 out of that 0-100 range.

    This is a gross oversimplification but I'm just trying to explain the concept of why pushing the ISO increases the noise.

    So the best practice is to use the lowest ISO you can to get a proper exposure. Would underexposing a stop be better than pushing the ISO a stop? I don't know and I suspect it will vary by camera model.

    Recent cameras have amazing sensor technology and electronics. I routinely push the D800 to ISO 1600 for star shots. I've used ISO 3200 from the back row at the rodeo (300mm, handheld) and been happy with the results. Figure out the highest ISO on your camera that you are happy with the noise. Don't be afraid to push the ISO that high to get a good exposure. Dealing with simple noise can be easier than recovering a poorly exposed image.
  22. kingalexthe1st macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    ^ This. Fantastic answer, Laird Knox. This is why I post on this forum :)
  23. Laird Knox macrumors 68000

    Jun 18, 2010
    Thanks, but I still don't know the answer to your question! :)
  24. chirpie macrumors 6502a


    Jul 23, 2010
    This is actually the biggest improvement area I've been watching in DSLRs. The jump from something like a D90 to a D7000 (D7100 now) is amazing when it comes to dealing with lower light situations.
  25. kingalexthe1st macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    Well I'm finding more that photography is something where there is no one way that is best, only best for a particular situation. Your answer gives an insight in to ISO that I didn't previously have, so I feel better informed to make a decision when I next take a photo and have to consider any low light.


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