RAW data

21May08

Yesterday, Wired’s Gadget Lab published an article on why you should shoot RAW, if your camera supports it.

I’ve always thought shooting RAW made sense for my shooting style. I don’t shoot professionally, I don’t shoot for photojournalism, I have all the time in the world to get my photos just right before displaying it to the public (although my wife sometimes wish I didn’t…), and mostly I’m rather anal about getting the best out of my shots.

After buying my first DSLR in a new Nikon D200 for my trip to Europe in 2006, just to cover my bases, I shot both NEF (Nikon RAW) and fine JPEG. That became a logistical mistake as I needed to manage twice as many files and the JPEG photos always seemed to influence my final vision. So since then, I’ve only shot NEF.

Back to the article. It pointed to these three main reasons:

  1. Dynamic Range
    This is definitely one reason why I shoot RAW. There have been sufficient times where I’m able to expose shadow detail by increasing fill light in Lightroom, and RAW provides additional headroom for that. This goes beyond just getting a good exposure the first time. Sometimes you just need to take a photo where the dynamic range is beyond the 8 stops provided by JPEG, and sometimes even beyond the 10 stops provided by RAW. Having the extra headroom gives you more flexibility in the creative process. This increased dynamic range has also saved several underexposed photos from the delete key.
  2. No In-Camera Processing
    Yep. For example, your camera isn’t the best for figuring out white balance for anything beyond the regular sunny days. You can do a much better job post processing the photo for accurate white balancing. Also, technology keeps improving. The processing engine today isn’t going to be as good as the one tomorrow. With the RAW file, you can reprocess the image again when new technology emerges to better reduce noise, etc.
  3. Adjust later
    This is true for me but not for others. I have the patience to work on each photo because most of my photos aren’t your typical photos of family or friends. I spend time taking each shot, and I want to get the most of it. For others, this is more work than needed, and what the camera can produce is more than sufficient.

The article also pointed out a couple of reasons not to shoot RAW:

  1. RAW capture is slower
    If you’re shoot lots of sports and need maximum frame rate without slowing down, then maybe you should shoot JPEGs.
  2. RAW files are bigger
    If you underestimated the number of photos you were taking and are running out of space, switching to JPEGs is a good idea to extend your shooting time. If you’re out of hard drive space, get another one. Storage is cheap. But don’t forget to backup!

There is another one that isn’t mentioned:

  • Instant printing
    The convenience of popping the CF or SD card from the camera and dropping them off at your local Costco or Target, or printing from printers that can directly read those cards cannot be understated. Some don’t want to hassle of handling digital files and just want the hardcopies.

Wired isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, to talk about the advantages of RAW.

Here are some links from around the web on why to shoot RAW:

And the mother of all “Why shoot raw?” articles by Bruce Fraser, the Photoshop man himself, in a NINE page article:

For the contrarian view, and some entertainment, there’s Ken Rockwell’s article on why NOT to shoot RAW:

So, do you RAW?

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