Still Trying to Convince Myself on RAW

Started Jun 29, 2013 | Photos thread
Draek Senior Member • Posts: 2,028
Re: Still Trying to Convince Myself on RAW

Perfection? I'm not a pixel-peeper, but that's hardly how I'd describe such images; it's likely an effect of shooting a primarily black image partially underexposed at ISO6400 under awful artificial light, but still; knowing why hardly makes it look any better.

Still, from my experience post-processing ISO800 and 1600 shots from my Samsung EX1's 1/1.7" sensor, a few tips that could help:

  • First, get rid of that awful purple color cast in your RAW editor. It's fairly common with tungstens and halogens due to having to boost the blue channel beyond its nominal ISO6400, and it'll cause serious problems in our later steps so correct it first; probably by messing with the WB tools until people look natural and the background looks roughly black.
  • Then, attack the noise. If your RAW developer doesn't have Noise Reduction functions (Lightroom does), use a separate tool such as NoiseNinja or Neat Image. You'll probably want Chroma Noise Removal at the maximum, but adjust Luminance to taste; in my experience, higher settings look better in smaller prints (noise resizes poorly on some print drivers), but lower ones are best for larger prints (where it takes on the appearance of 35mm film grain). Don't worry about the noise present in the darkest areas, focus on people's faces and such; you'll see why in a minute.
  • Then, adjust the contrast curve (or the RAW developer's black point setting) so the shadows are a solid black; this will get rid of most of the shadow noise, which is the most problematic of all. This is also one of the foremost ways your camera's hiding away the noise; if you compare the two shots side by side, the musicians' shirts look just as bright in each, but the JPEG's background is noticeably darker than the RAW's.
  • Finally, sharpen to taste; but be aware any noise remaining from step #2 may be brought back up in this, so experiment with the settings carefully. If all else fails, though, grain/noise subjectively adds to one's impression of sharpness already, so there's not much need to go as far as you'd go with a regular ISO100 shot.

Done correctly, you should be left with a photo that looks just as 'clean' as the JPEG one, but more pleasing and 'film-like' instead of the vaguely watercolor-ish appearance of the in-camera noise reduction routines.

Oh, and next time, I'd shoot at a slightly lower shutter speed, and preferably with a faster lens; a manual 135/3.5 can be found for peanuts on eBay, same for the M42-to-alpha adapter you'll need to attach it to your camera, and if shooting at f/4 and 1/200 you can drop the ISO down to a much more manageable 1600. Using manual lenses can be a pain sometimes, but with the A77's focus peaking you should be able to get perfect focus, and since classical musicians typically don't move during a concert, you don't need to readjust every other shot as you would in motorsports or the like.

 Draek's gear list:Draek's gear list
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR Samsung TL500 Canon PowerShot A1200 Sony Alpha DSLR-A390
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