Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Why I shoot in RAW

There is the constant debate of shooting in JPEG format vs. shooting in RAW format. I wanted to share my personal preference on this topic with the group.

I should probably start with "What is the difference between RAW and JPEG?"

With JPEG, the camera is producing a 'finished' photograph based on all the parameters set on the camera at the time the shutter release was pressed. With RAW, you are doing the following:
  • Saving the raw data collected by the cameras imaging sensor
  • Saving the parameters that were used at the time of capture, including Picture Style, white-balance, saturation, contrast, Exposure compensation, etc.
  • You can then 'tweak' all these parameters on a computer before you produce a 'finished' JPEG or TIFF file.

I shoot in RAW because:

  • I can change Picture Style, white balance, exposure compensation, contrast, sharpness and noise reduction all after the photo has been taken. These are very easily changed when processing the RAW file. When shooting JPEG I find it more difficult to 'mimic' various white-balance and picture-styles using Photoshop (or something similar.) Although you can't change shutter-speed or aperture in the RAW converter, you can 'tweak' most of the significant parameters related to the photo in your RAW converter. Very handy in my opinion.
  • Sometimes, using a new technique or new RAW tools I can do a substantially better job processing a RAW file now, then at the date I capture the image (perhaps years ago). I find my post-processing skills improve significantly over the years (I cringe when I look at some of my early post-processing -- why did I feel the need to over-sharpen and over-saturate everything?). In addition, RAW processing tools improve over the years. I suspect that in the future I will be able to do a superior job processing the RAW files I capture today.

There are additional reasons other folks choose to shoot in RAW, but these are the reasons I shoot in RAW.

There are a bunch of different RAW conversion tools, including: Adobe Photoshop, ACR, BreezeBrowser, Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP), Adobe Light Room, Apple Aperture, Capture One, etc.

I use Canon
Digital Photo Professional (DPP) because:
  • You can change picture style during RAW conversion (not all RAW tools allow this. 'Picture Style' is a very Canon specific parameter.)
  • It does a good job
  • It's free with most (if not all) Canon DSLR's

I concede that I have not tried all the different RAW converters. I found one I like (which is free) and I have stuck with it.

Most RAW converters also allow you to crop the image.

Once I process an image from RAW to JPEG, I don't typically do any additional modifications in Photoshop (a 'fine art' photograph being the exception.)

Converting files from RAW to JPEG one at a time is a slow process. I typically 'tweak' a bunch of photos from a 'shoot' in DPP and then 'batch covert' them from RAW to JPEG. In most RAW converters, you can also easily apply the same 'settings' to many photographs easily (example: exposure compensation of -1/3, Picture Style = 'standard', white balance = 'shade'.) The batch conversion of RAW to JPEG takes about 15 seconds per photo (depending on the speed of your computer.) While DPP is batch processing files, I can browse the web, grab a snack, etc.

While there are benefits to shooting RAW, there are also some negatives to shooting RAW, including:

  • larger file size than JPEG (approx. 10 MB vs. approx. 3 MB)
  • requires larger memory cards
  • requires larger hard drive
  • requires larger backup medium
  • RAW photos must be 'processed'. Depending on your work-flow, this may increase your post-processing time per photo.

Here are the different file formats that modern Canon DSLR support:

  • RAW
  • JPEG
  • RAW + JPEG (the camera saves the file in both RAW and JPEG)

I've shared why I shoot in RAW, but others may find that shooting in JPEG or RAW+JPEG works better for them. I concede there are many different ways to manage a digital photo work-flow, mine is one of many acceptable work-flows (with it's own pros & cons.)

If you have any questions, please post them.


joyj811 said...

Clint: Thanks for the clean explaination without all the fuss you see elsewhere. As a newbie I have used DPP as well but it does not seem to crop... am I missing something?

joyj811 said...

Another Q for you: What does a 5D guy like you do for a flash? The 30D built in flash makes fill in nice for me on sunny days (my main use-- I dont care for the results of flash photog in the classical sense). I linked from your site to strobist -- do you get into those techniques? I'm just courious what no flash on the 5D means to you...

Clint Bogard said...

Joy: You can crop in DPP, by going to 'tools'->'Start trimming' (I'm running DPP version 3.0.2). I use a Canon EX420 external flash on my 5D. The 420EX has been replaced by the EX430 flash (approx. $250 $US).

swimlappy said...

I started shooting in RAW when I discovered you could change the white balance, among other things. It helps though, to try and get your settings correct when you take the shot. But its also nice that if you do make a mistake, shooting in RAW allows some post processing clean up, so to speak.

joyj811 said...

C: I was using "Raw Image Edit" rather than DPP. I downloaded it from Canon and the cropping works fine. I just wish it had a rotate function to fix the horizon on my shots... Thanks!

Clint Bogard said...

Joy: we think alike... rotate is also on the top of my feature 'wish-list'. Second on my list would be a better way to remove sensor dust (like the Photoshop 'heal' tool.)

Rasidin said...

Excellent blog....
Keep up the good work.

Need some advice here, what sort of resolution do you normally use for the output from raw to jpeg conversion.

Thank you