JPEG vs. RAW - An experiment

Started Jun 16, 2013 | Discussions thread
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knickerhawk
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JPEG vs. RAW - An experiment
Jun 16, 2013

As a follow up to the recent heated thread about JPEG vs. RAW  (aren't they all?), I decided to try an experiment with a throw-away image I had from my EM-5 that exhibits the common problem of dealing with wide DR scenes.  The out-of-camera JPEG has unsatisfactory shadow issues with the fir tree in the foreground and a sky that's nearly burnt beyond recognition.  The JPEG histogram features a small amount of clipping at both ends with major humps at both ends as well.  In other words, changing exposure would have only exacerbated the problem at one end or the other for jpeg output.  This is a typical scenario I encounter and the main reason I always shoot JPEG+RAW.  I know that I have a chance of rescuing images in RAW that are otherwise throwaways in JPEG.

The experiment was to try to rescue the shadows/highlights without changing the look of the midtones.  This proved to be a challenging exercise because I found that ACR (my preferred RAW processor) handled the DR issues easily but its overall look including the midtones is different from what the OLY jpeg engine generates.  When you add the DR tweaks to the different "personality" of ACR relative to Oly's native processor, you'll find it's really tough to get anything that looks like the best of both worlds.

I also experimented with OLY's own RAW processor application built into the Oly Viewer.  Obviously, it ouputs a file that looks very close to the in-camera JPEG, but it struggles to deal with shadow and highlight adjustments as well as ACR does.

Eventually, I found that the only way to get something reasonably close to the in-camera JPEG "look" with the DR issues addressed was to process the image in both RAW processors, combine them in Photoshop by bringing in the Oly version as a 16-bit TIFF and then using the history brush to manually define which portions of the two images to show.  My other attempts at HDR'ing and blending weren't nearly as successful.

Here are the three versions of the image.  The first is the JPEG produced by the camera.  The second is the ACR-only version and the third is the OLY+ACR hybrid.  So, how close did I come to succeeding?

In-camera JPEG

ACR version

OLY+ACR Hybrid

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