Real Photographers Shoot Raw!

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nixda
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Real Photographers Shoot Raw!
11 months ago

Everyone is a raw shooter

Every digital camera captures light and then reads out the intensities at the photo sites and saves them in raw format. That makes every capture a raw capture. And thus every ‘real photographer', i.e., anyone who uses a camera to take pictures (a digital camera, for the sake of this post) is a raw shooter.

Everyone does raw processing

The raw data then need to be processed to obtain an image. That is true for ‘JPEG shooters’ and 'TIFF shooters', as well as, of course, for ‘raw shooters’. That means everyone does raw processing. Most ‘raw vs. JPEG’ debates are therefore silly and totally useless, because there is no ‘JPEG shooter’, nor is there a 'TIFF shooter'.

Differences between so-called ‘JPEG shooters' and raw shooters

  • ‘JPEG shooters’ use the raw converter built into the camera, whereas raw shooters usually use an external raw processor.
  • Whereas raw shooters save the raw data to a file for later use, the 'JPEG shooter' skips that step. Just because the final result is in JPEG format doesn’t mean there is no raw processing involved.
  • Whereas ‘JPEG shooters’ are happy and content with adjusting the handful of raw-processing parameters that the built-in JPEG engine provides, ‘raw shooters’ prefer to use raw processors that provide access to many more parameters as well as different methods for many tasks, e.g., noise reduction and sharpening, either because they want 'better' results, different results, or simply because they want to be in control over the whole process.
  • The ‘JPEG shooter’ decides about the raw processing procedure before taking the shot, the raw shooter decides afterwards.

To sum it up: a 'JPEG shooter' in reality is a raw shooter who uses the in-camera raw processor and saves the result as a JPEG file.

Similarities between digital and film

IMHO, it would be better if analogies between digital and film would be abandoned. The only aspects that carry over are artistic ones, that is, shutter speed and aperture, and they don’t little bearing on image processing. ISO, perhaps to some extent, can be considered as well.

But for all practical purposes, a digital camera is a totally different beast; it should be used differently than a film camera. Applying concepts from film cameras to digital cameras often abandons the advantages that digital cameras offer. The most important realization is that digital photography doesn’t require making decisions about image processing beforehand; in fact, it is better not to think about image processing and instead fully concentrate on the scene and how to capture it. Applying habits from shooting film, where decisions had to be made beforehand, actually hinders getting the best result from digital cameras.

Just a couple of examples: Choosing a film simulation, emphasis on shadows and highlights, and color saturation so much depend on the scene and the mode one is in. Who knows upfront whether an image would have more punch if it was muted, or high-key, or B&W? Perhaps all of these option give compelling results. Also, noise reduction and sharpening crucially depend on how an image is going to be viewed. Unless the photographer knows exactly, before taking the shot, that the image is going to be printed on 24 x 36” canvas, viewed in a web browser on a narrow-gamut LCD monitor, or printed 6x4 on glossy paper, the settings for noise reduction and sharpening can’t be optimally made.

Granted, some adjustments can be made to the ooc-JPEG images, but only within strict limits. If adjustments are being made, why not use the raw data that have much more latitude? The know-how required to make the adjustments is the same, so one might as well well work with the raw data.

I don’t want to address all the arguments that are usually presented by ‘JPEG shooters. That’s not the purpose of this post, but I’d like to address one of them:

I don’t want to spend hours behind a monitor; I want to go out and take pictures

That’s a valid concern, but it is based on the premise that external raw processing is a lengthy process. In the vast majority of cases it is not. Chances are that JPEG shooters import their images onto their computer, often into programs that are not only digital asset managers but also raw processors (e.g., Lightroom, Aperture, Capture1). It takes a couple of seconds to process an image using presets, which is hardly noticeable. True, some images require a few minutes of time to get the best possible result from raw processing, but these are the exception. Besides, these images are usually ‘worth it’. I am certain that even a 'JPEG shooter', when shown an ooc-JPEG and a superior version after expert raw processing would be able to appreciate the effort. Besides, not having to worry about setting image-processing parameters before the shot means one has more time to take pictures!

Final recommendation: Shoot RAW+JPEG. If you are happy with what the camera delivers, great, if not, you have the chance to fiddle with it.

 nixda's gear list:nixda's gear list
Fujifilm X-E1 Fujifilm XF 14mm F2.8 R Fujifilm XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS Fujifilm XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS Fujifilm XF 27mm F2.8
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