Raw or No Raw

There’s been a lot of debate about the use of raw processing (including some in the Jones-Phillips household) and whether its benefits outweigh the storage burden. After some early raw trials on my Nikons, wherein I determined that for all but the completely failed shots raw was superfluous, I have to admit I was firmly in the no-raw camp. However Maria, being a get-your-hands-dirty artist (which I find very sexy, btw) was not about to let some damned camera decide how her photos should turn out. I decided to try raw again, mainly because it was fun trying it with her. It turns out that a lot has changed in the few years since I put raw on a shelf.

For one thing, raw-processing software has improved a great deal. M uses Aperture, which she swears by, but it won’t run on my 4-year-old iMac, and I know better than to “upgrade” computers. So, in order to process my Fujifilm x100T and X20 raw files, I was forced to use freebie software. I tried RawTherapee (which I’ll review at a later time) but its habit of injecting processing files added too much clutter in my file system, and annoyed me to the point of stopping. Fortunately, Fuji endorses a product which has served me well, and is also for free via download. It’s called (cleverly) Raw File Converter EX 2.0 (RAW 2), and is released under the Fujifilm name, created by Silkypix. The software runs on the Mac and Windows, although if you’re one the suckers that bought the most recent version of the Mac, I can’t guarantee Apple’s SS guards will let you run it on your their computer.

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 1.55.53 PMThe software has more than a few quirks, including the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to save files initially as there’s nothing that says “SAVE.” Instead, it’s called “one scene development.” It also offers a batch saving mode so you can do all your saves to jpg after you finish (“batch development” for reserved or selected scene) which you probably will want to as 1) saves are slow and 2) automatic filename changing is only available in batch mode. As you can see from the screen shot above, it offers a number of tools, all available via sliders and most of which can “pop out” of the window or stay anchored. The beauty of this software (and probably any camera manufacturer’s raw processor) is that many of the choices you make on the camera, via its firmware, can be changed here.

For instance, files shot in black and white will come up in RAW 2 as black and white, but one click will change it to Provia color, Velvia vivid color, etc. You can do the same in RawTherapee. In fact, in RawTherapee, the raw file ignores all the changes you make, like color, size, etc. and brings up a full-frame, color, raw file. Remember, the .jpg file is your camera’s interpretation of a print or a slide. The raw file is the equivalent of the negative. In fact, it’s a level up from an analog negative. The raw file doesn’t even require you to choose the film type. You shoot, and then decide if it’s Kodak Tri-X (b&w) or Fujifilm color film.

For those of you are interested, we’ll spend some time in the future stepping though raw processing steps. It’s not as daunting as you think. Importantly, if you ever shoot under complicated conditions — say heavy shadows and strong light — or, like me, miss a key shot because you had the camera set for different conditions, you will love what raw can do for you. Now, there is a price to pay — the raw files for my 16mp Fuji are 33-34 megabytes each. You’ll quickly fill up your hard drive if you shoot a lot. I recommend (in all cases) having an external drive just  for photos. For those tight like me, you can process your files and then delete the raw ones. Frankly, I don’t expect to ever change my prints significantly once I get the exposure right and changing to b&w or sepia can done via the jpg.

To illustrate raw processing’s advantage over jpg only, here’s an actual photo I screwed up. I was shooting in bright daylight and saw a woman standing in a shaded alley. I forgot to change the settings and probably would’ve missed the shot if I had. Here’s what I got:

1-DSCF8183-001Nice bit of sunlight, huh? You may barely be able to make out there’s a human in there. She has a knife, and you’ve one second to react. Kidding, but what if she were naked? You clicked, and now she sees you and if you shoot again, she’ll stab you in the eye. What to do? Well, for the past 10 years, the normal thing to do was to pull up your trusty photo editor and “push” the shot as much as you can. Here’s what you’d get using Picasa.

1-DSCF8183Now, to be perfectly frank, when I saw it I liked it. It’s artsy and you can still see the woman more than I would have expected. However, the jpg stores very little information, and what it needs to do to extrapolate the digital data into a brighter shot adds a lot of “noise.” You can use a noise reduction software, but it’ll not make a huge difference. In addition, the tones are distorted, with the woman’s skin fading into the yellow of the door behind her. If you have a little more money and patience, you can try “better” software, in this case Photoshop, and you might get something like this.

1-DSCF8183psNow, the choices you make, and even the order of steps you take in processing determine the resultant output, but this is probably fairly representative. In other words, your kilometers may vary. The Photoshit … er, shop print is significantly less noisy, but it still can’t read that her skin and the door are different colors. I can make them both yellow or both skin tone. I elected for jaundice. Sorry baby, go see a doctor. Since my experience is that Photoshop eats doggy droppings for photography, I can run this print through Picasa to see if I could improve it, and I did, to a degree.

1-DSCF8183ps-001Adding “fill light” evens up the tones, although it’s now less artsy and less moody. I could tweak the colors to make her look less like a refugee from the Simpsons and this might pass for a decent print (violet tones from the Photoshop processing aside). However, there’s an easier solution: Here’s what the raw file looks like after two minutes of editing.

1-DSCF8183_1I exaggerated. All I really did was click on “Auto SILKYPIX Evaluation” to see the exposure, tweak that a bit, play a tad with the contrast, and save it. Took probably 90 seconds. I can then run the resultant .jpg file through any photo editor, here Picasa, and fix the exposure a little more. (I could also do it in the raw processor, but I like how Picasa handles contrast better than all the other editors I have.

1-DSCF8183_1-001Et voilá! Quite a bit of difference from start to finish, and even from “normal” .jpg processing to raw file conversion:

If that doesn’t sell you on “raw,” you’re probably a better shooter than I am. I’ll be stopping by your blog shortly. 🙂 More on raw to come, especially some “how-to’s” as we stumble on them. Between M and I, we have 4 different raw processors. A head-to-head in the future might be interesting.

— Bill out.

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8 thoughts on “Raw or No Raw

  1. Very much in the RAW camp here, and you are correct that the tools have greatly advanced from where they were just a few years ago. There have been a few times I’ve gone back to photos I tool in the early 2000s and was able to bring out a lot more detail. On a couple of occasions, I went back and retrieved the original backups of photos I had discarded as unusable and marveled at just how much I could salvage.

    And, I too did a post trying to explain a bit about RAW and what you can do with it:
    http://dispersertracks.com/2013/01/05/the-raw-deal/

    I use mainly Lightroom for the initial processing om my photos and only then send them to other processors (usually onOne, but sometimes Topaz or Nick Collection. If I’m not using Lightroom, my processor of choice is DxO Optics. It offers amazing control over the processing of RAW files, but it’s a lot more time intensive (unless you can batch process a bunch of different photos using one saved preset).

    Liked by 1 person

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