After our recent semi-dustup about Raw and JPEG, I decided the other night that I should listen to Ken's point that my knowledge might not be up to date...because he's right, I haven't looked at out-of-camera JPEGs critically for half a dozen years or so. I figured I'd better go see for myself. So I grabbed my trusty GF1, set as usual on RAW+JPEG, and took it with me on my evening get-out-of-the-house drive*. Shooting at ISO 800, where this sensor is already a bit out of its comfort zone, I looked for some situations that might challenge the JPEG engine, and took a few shots around the neighborhood. Later, at digital command central, I fiddled around with two shots: the one above, and a lazy snap I took of the car at the gas station while I waited for the pump.
Before I relay a few impressions, a strict caveat: what I saw is true only for this particular camera and for the particular Raw converter I use, Adobe Camera Raw. Furthermore, I hasten to point out that I'm very used to correcting Raw files in ACR but not much accustomed to correcting JPEGs in Photoshop, at least not critically. It stands to reason I'd be better at the tasks I'm used to.
The out-of-camera JPEGs looked good in both cases. In the train-track shot, neither file held the color of the sun disk, which was a vivid orange. The camera chose a neutral color balance for its JPEG (right), far less orange than the scene looked. But I kind of liked it, and I could probably live with that interpretation. I corrected the Raw file to look more like what the scene looked like to my eye. That's what you're seeing at the top of the post. I'm not a fan of florid color, so I might choose something between the two if I were printing this.
However, when I tried to adjust the color of the JPEG to match the adjusted color of the Raw, forget it. Couldn't come close. Not enough there there.
In the second sample, the gas station shot, ACR let me recover all the highlight detail in the lit-up sign from the Raw version...which didn't matter at all to the picture, because the JPEG version looks fine.
This sign in the background (and thus out of the d.o.f., which is why it's soft) was the brightest large object in the gas station scene. ACR let me recover all the highlight detail in the Raw file...
Where that shot ran into trouble was that the mixed lighting in the scene included overhead fluorescents as well as the blue ambient light of late evening, and the JPEG looked too green in the areas lit by the fluorescents. The JPEG file seemed way too sensitive to the slider. With just small amounts of correction the color balance swung too far one way then the other. Just a few points of magenta corrected the greenish areas, but swung the blue-lit areas too far to magenta. Similar to the old "red-green cross" that was the bane of printing color negs. That would take a bit more work to correct than just a simple global color balance change.
With the Raw file, no such problem. A simple correction took care of it.
Finally, Carl's advice is not to look at files larger than 100% because you'll never see the difference in prints anyway, but I "cheated"—here are two small areas of the gas station picture at 300% (where you're clearly seeing jaggies in the 12-MP file). The camera is applying both noise reduction and sharpening to the camera JPEG, and you can clearly see the JPEG artifacts in the smooth-toned area:
And here's the same area from the Raw file with a modest amount of noise reduction applied:
The jaggies in the Raw version look more pronounced in the chrome bits, but that translates to crisper, cleaner detail throughout the shot at more normal magnifications.
And, consider that the GF1's Raw files have the reputation of not providing a whole lot of headroom. That is, they're supposedly not that good.
In both cases I concede that the JPEGs looked pretty good right out of the camera. But in both cases the Raw files with just a few rudimentary corrections look clearly better.
So I'm sticking with Raw...
...At least with this camera. Too late, I realized I should have taken the A900 along and made the same shots with it, to see how the larger file and a different company's sensor and processing engine coped with the same scenes. But it's really beside the point—I'm not proving anything here, and I'm not giving you any information you can use. For that, you'll have to get down to the railroad tracks with your own camera, and compare the Raw file and the JPEG your own camera gives you, with your own preferred software.
*It's 77 degrees here. Who needs Florida?
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.