It sounds like a bit of a racy title, but I’m not talking about photographing au naturel. The acronym-less RAW (think TWAIN had it hard?) versus JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) image format battle has been raging for years.
Shot from 20 feet away in RAW under cloudy conditions on one of the walking paths at Iona. Those shades of black would not come through otherwise; to say nothing of the red/yellow epaulettes.
Well before I owned a camera, I shot in JPG with loaners (some even offered shooting in TIF, which was a bit insane considering the prohibitive cost and upper limit of the (then) smaller capacity memory cards–remember 8MB and 16MB SDs?), but beginning this year, it’s been RAW all the way for me (no JPG; not even RAW+JPG).
Why the crossover to the RAW camp?
RAW is Huge, But
Initially, I found the larger size of RAW images to be a big putoff (pun intended): on a 20 MP DSLR camera, you have a 20-something MP RAW vs a 5MP JPG file. That’s because the former retains more information about the image than the latter, which has been enhanced (sharpened/saturated/brightened/etc.) in-camera. It was that “extraneousness” that I would eventually grow to appreciate.
You Can’t See RAW in the File Browser. Or Can You?
As a Windows 7 user, I couldn’t just pull up RAW images in the native OS file browser for a quick preview or thumbnail view (although a little more digging around led to this link — Windows 7 users just need to download the appropriate codec for their camera to see both; Mac OS X users have system-level support for select cameras).
At 35 feet away, my flashgun only goes so far in illuminating this mischievous American Robin in our cherry tree. With RAW, I can adjust the shadows without sacrificing image quality.
Conversion is a Two-Step PITA/PITP. Or is it?
Conversion to JPG (or another viewable format) was another time-consuming, two-stage pain in the patootie (from RAW to DNG (Digital Negative Graphic), JUST to be able to pre-tweak individual images attributes and open each file, one by one, in Photoshop), especially if I had been shooting all day and had a few hundred (or thousand) photos to process. Nothing saps the joy out of outdoor photography faster than to have to spend time doing conversions.
Enter DxO Optics Pro 8.5 Elite Edition with Native RAW Viewing and Non-Destructive Edits!
We were trading stories over lunch when a fellow photographer recommended DxO Optics. Coincidentally, earlier this year, DxO Optics Pro offered DxO Optics Pro 8.5 Elite Edition, an older version of their digital image conversion and enhancement software (a $200+ USD value), for free, so I decided to put it through its paces with a couple of (unintentionally) heavily underexposed RAW photos.
The difference was night and day. Not only could I open and natively view several RAW files without conversion, but I could also apply non-destructive (redoable) edits to Tone, Colour, Styling, Sharpness, etc. to my heart’s content, and compare my tweaks to the unadulterated (“before”) image.
I shot this Eight-Spotted Skimmer in RAW with fill-in flash, and adjusted the highlights and shadows individually, so neither got washed (or blown) out.
I have only had the most passing familiarity with Adobe Lightroom, and DxO Optics Pro looked to be every bit as powerful (with features like advanced noise removal and automatic barrel distortion correction) and dare I say, even more intuitive when it comes to usability and the workflow learning curve (sorry, Adobe!) You can even save adjustment/correction presets, and batch apply them to selected images to speed up the post processing process.
Note, however, that Lightroom does have one up on DxO Optics Pro, and that is in the area of support for tethered shooting. I have done very limited (no pun intended) tethered shooting myself, as I tend to photograph wildlife and the great outdoors.
Click on this link to trial a 30-day Windows/Mac version for free or to learn more!
Digitally Salvage that Over/Underexposed RAW Image!
I like to keep retouching to a minimum (post processing is a necessity, because today’s camera lens is not as sophisticated as the human eye), but RAW can be a lifesaver for that [overexposed or underexposed] image of a lifetime, since file information for that image has not been changed in camera; it’s also kinder to colours (in particular, red, which can be difficult to capture under even optimal lighting conditions) because it preserves the tonal range much better than JPG, which tends to oversaturate. ♠