A raw rant

2008, Photography

I know of all the benefits of RAW photography, but despite all the advantages I am still not always pleased with RAW. Larger file sizes, many RAW converters with different results, different RAW formats. And I wonder if RAW is really usable as an archive format.

Christmas bokeh

Many photographers want to believe that a RAW file is really raw, with no adjustments applied. But I honestly think that it is simply not true. Many manufacturers use a proprietary RAW file format instead of a standard RAW format. Either for selling more of their own RAW converters and some automatic software corrections, or for in-camera corrections on RAW files. Take Panasonic for instance. They worked closely with Silkypix to automatically apply barrel lens distortion correction. Now Adobe supports the LX3 RAW files and automatically corrects their files too, and now everybody rants of Adobe for supporting Panasonic instead of the consumers for keeping an untouched RAW file.

But how many people do really want to have an untouched RAW file. I personally think that the RAW files from most small sensor compact cameras are a lot more noisier then we ever see in our RAW converter. Many said that Panasonic applied some noise reduction even on their RAW files for the former LX2 and I think Ricoh does so too. Even RAW files can look mushy and smeary without any noise reduction in my RAW converter. Despite all automatic corrections many think that the Panasonic LX3 is currently the best small sensor camera for low light conditions. An incredible result indeed in my opinion. And I even don’t care that the ISO 800 of the LX3 isn’t really ISO 800, but more like ISO 400.

But honestly, do we really need to recover highlight or fill light for shadows? Is there no challenge to get the exposure and white balance right before taking the photograph? Are the processed files from RAW images really better then the jpegs? When my camera is set to RAW it also captures a jpeg image. Most of the photographs I posted originate from RAW files. For test purposes I chosen to edit the accompanied jpegs in Photoshop and compare them with the results for some of the processed RAW images and I was surprised. I thought it looked really good. So maybe I will try to keep the camera more in jpeg mode for a while. Life is too short for RAW.

Christmas bokeh

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

12 thoughts on “A raw rant

  1. …being the JPEG junkie that I am (as you well know) I receive this post of yours with surprise and pleassure…More time behind the camera and less time in front of my screen!!! Ah, life is good in JPEGLand!!



  2. First, love the pics. I like the sense of mystery behind them. We don’t know what they really are, but we have a general idea thanks to you.

    Second, when I first purchased my Canon 40D I shot only in JPEG. I knew all about the RAW option and the reasons for using it (as had been explained at length by the sales person and via my online research), but it sounded like a lot of extra work to me. And now that I’ve been using it for almost a year I have to say….it is a lot of work.

    I believe that I have been able to salvage some pictures simply because the tools I have to work with RAW allowed me to save a picture that had some issues, but on the whole I don’t think there have been many pictures whereby I made adjustments that couldn’t have been made to a JPEG in appropriate software.

    Maybe Henry David Thoreau’s mantra of “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” has some merit even in digital photography.

  3. I hear you. The proprietary” issue drives me crazy. When I do shoot in RAW, as I have been doing on the G10, I noticed the side Jpegs are very well developed so that I should just be using Silver Efex Pro and be done with it, especially when I have got it right in camera. I’ll also start studying that workflow for my GRD.

  4. To simplify is essential to me. And what I like is that I can use the LCD screen again for judging how the result will become. The LCD screen basically shows the in-camera jpeg, while the histogram shows the RAW capturing.

    I plan on posting about it soon.

  5. It is easy to debate a lot about all the benefits, advantages and disadvantages for RAW OR JPEG from a technical point of view… Endless discussions and threads have been spend on that (again PC time wasted?)

    However, one sentence of yours made the most impact: ‘life is too short for RAW”…

    We all remember a point in time where you are behind your screen adjusting pictures, and husband/wife, (girl)friend or children, smile at you because you are executing a hobby and you have he excuse hat you produce lovely pictures for them…

    But would it not be nicer to actually spend time with them? Would they not appreciate that even more?

    Best wishes!


  6. Best wishes too Ronald! That is it. We make it all too technical. And people don’t bother, do they? They see your prints and don’t ask you: ‘RAW or jpeg, what converter?’

    So lets celebrate Christmas holiday. Make a walk with your kids in the forest, make photographs (jpeg, because kids won’t stand still), and review the photographs in 2009.

    Best wishes to you all!


  7. All I can say is … I completely agree. I have used RAW in the past, when I had time and wanted to experiment. But in the end I can and have been able to get the same results in JPEG. Maybe it is because I am more of a purist when it comes to photography. I do not rely heavily on my Photoshop, because I still like to preserve the basic idea of the camera and not the software is used to produce the image. I am not sure if this is a naive or incorrect way of thinking but it is mine 🙂

    With being said I am all for JPEG and completely agree with your assessment, even though we may be in the minority these days. I say it’s a good that you have discussed this subject. So many articles out there on why to use RAW and Photoshop your images to get the desired effect. As you have pointed out here there is a better way. Thanks for sharing as always. John

  8. Thanks for your comment John. I think the entire RAW and jpeg discussion is horses for courses in my opinion. RAW and jpeg both have there pros and cons and I don’t want to debate about that. If someone likes RAW that is fine, if someone prefers jpeg fine with me too. I like RAW for landscapes, but jpeg for everything else. Although I posted quite some landscapes they are still the minority of my work.

    More about this later this week!

  9. My goodness. Having been persuaded to switch to Raw, I’m now re-thinking. On my Ricoh GX-100, the wait between Raw writes (8-10 secs.) was making me crazy, not to mention losing some shots. I’ve recently purchased a Nikon D40, and have been shooting in Raw, but it seems all the images need a lot of sharpening. And an intelligent reviewer of the D40 wrote, “I shoot mostly jpegs with the D40 and generally do very little post processing. Somehow I think it is in line with the character of the D40 – it is tuned to get good results with little work.” http://dslr-video.com/blogmag/?p=127#comment-71

    By the way, happy holidays, Wouter.

    Bob Yanal

  10. Thank you so much Bob and especially thanks for sharing the link. I personally think it makes sense to use RAW for something like landscapes, but for street, travel, and just snapping around I think it is perfectly fine to use jpeg. And believe me, there are enough professionals too who use jpegs for most of their work.

    These small sensor cameras do have flaws related to their smaller sensors, like more noise and less dynamic range. But do we always want to process our photographs to get the best results when it is not likely that those photographs will ever get printed larger then A4? I don’t think so.

    And congrats with the purchase of the D40.

    Happy holidays too.


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