Monday, November 15, 2010

Is RAW just Digital Hype?

Every once in a while, someone asks if RAW is really such a big deal as a digital capture format. And in threads like that, there are always people who post images that they are absolutely certain will underscore how great jpeg is as a format, rendering RAW unnecessary.

That happened today on a forum I frequent. Someone asked the question, someone else posted with the subject “Who needs RAW?” containing no text at all and several images that pretty much proved that jpeg has issues …

Then someone posted the classic “Apparently you share my opinion that RAW is just more digital hype, like more and more megapixels.” This is an opinion that is somewhat common on forums frequented by small sensor users who have not been exposed to what can really be done with appropriate tools, both camera and editing software.

One does not have to shoot and process many images in jpeg and RAW to see the difference. And even if one shoots only small sensors without RAW capability, one can always do a bit of research. (Channeling the Bicentennial man in case one was wondering :-)

There are two superb articles on the advantages of the RAW format, written by Bruce Fraser, one of the foremost experts on digital processing who sadly passed away a few years ago.


Understanding Digital RAW Capture

RAW Capture, Linear Gamma, and Exposure

And here is a longer paper showing how to use Camera RAW in a color managed work flow, written by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe. Jeff is another expert in the field.

image A Color Managed RAW Workflow – From Camera to Final Print

Hopefully, those will give you some insight into the value of maintaining the image data in linear space while the heavy lifting is performed. It makes a real difference to the results.

This is not to say that jpeg cannot make stunning images. It can. But RAW offers leeway for error recovery and much stronger processing without posterization or nasty artifacts being exposed. Again … it makes a difference.

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