« Hate Mail | Main | More Thoughts on Raw and JPEG »

Thursday, 12 June 2008


I'm an untalented hack but shoot RAW only. Disk space has become close to free so image size doesn't concern me. If I need jpegs for immediate use, I use a batch raw converter. Easy!

I thought that one of the big advantages of shooting RAW is that you could then process the files in 16 bit mode. But no one has mentioned that. More information equals a better image does it not?

I have trouble duplicating the look I can get from camera-created JPGs when I process RAW files in ACR. I've tweaked the on-camera "recipe" for color, contrast, etc. and found something that I like. I used to process 95% RAW and now probably use 95% JPG. I do, however, use RAW+JPEG, and I appreciate RAWs when the camera makes a bad decision (or I made an error in exposure? Perish the thought). Using a Canon 5D, btw.

Shoot JPEG? What's JPEG?

Would you ask a Hassy shooter, 20 years ago if he would shoot Polaroid instead of high-res neg film?

Ctein wrote:

"To the less kind among you, who are dissing other participants... please play nice? I asked the question - essentially, who was eating vanilla ice cream and who was eating chocolate."

Um, pot, kettle, black, etc. Rereading Ctein's initial post reinforces the assertion (somewhere above!) that the initial presentation of this subject was extremely arrogant. In fact, one might even say (to use Ctein's words) that Ctein was "dissing" "non-serious" photographers, i.e, anyone who dares to use jpgs for anything other than "casual, non-important stuff."

If Raw is the defining factor, then yes, maybe amateurs are more "serious" than pros. Reading all of these posts (and I have) suggests that more working "pros" (bread-and-butter, at least, if not "fine-art") shoot jpgs while those for whom photography is a hobby (albeit a serious one) are more likely to shoot Raw. It's the old Ansel Adams vs. Galen Rowell debate: if you don't like to spend hours in "post" massaging your photographs, you ain't a "real" photographer.

That bias is no surprise: Ctein's career has been defined by his supreme post-processing skill, and he is rightly and widely respected for that. But his words at the top speak volumes, and to me his start to this dialogue sounded like a question of who is eating chocolate ice cream (Raw) and who is eating dirt (jpgs).

Wow. Lotsa comments. Here's the thing: I don't always do anything photographically: I don't always shoot digital, I don't always shoot RAW, I don't always independently white-balance my shots, I don't always expose to the right, left or center, I don't always make portraits of small children, I don't always eat my greens. With film, I tend to shoot the largest format that I can get away with and with digital, I tend to shoot RAW . . . but the mind reels with the number of exceptions to those statements. Mostly these exceptions are born of exigency, but really: who needs a 12 MB snapshot of the kids? Well, I do, sometimes and you can always make them smaller later. And actually, I do always eat my greens.

Ben Marks

Dear Robert,

Do not read your own interpretations into other people's posts. Take what I said literally; do not look for hidden antagonisms that are contrary to my explicit statements.

Reread the first paragraph. Reread the last paragraph. Take what I said at face value, becaus that's how I wrote it and that's how I meant it.

Even if you remain convinced I wasn't playing nice, deluded as that belief may be, it's still not an excuse for failing to follow good advice, yourself, regardless of the source.

You might also learn what the word arrogant actually means instead of just unthinkingly tossing out the epithet of the moment.

(Yes, people who cannot use invective accurately are a pet peeve of mine.)

most sincerely yours / Ctein

Dear Jay,

There will either be a full review in PHOTO Techniques and a short review here or a full review here (I'm waiting for a decision on the PT end of things). Won't happen before the end of July, though.

You're not seeing what you think you're seeing (chromatic aberration). The online reviews I've read have gotten this wrong; it is not lateral chromatic aberration.

It's worse. A lot worse. Chromatic aberration is fixable. This is severe coma in the blue. I don't know of any way to fix that in Photoshop.

I took a very small section of the photograph about 90% of the way to the corner and scaled that up to 200% so that you can clearly see what's going on:


The figure on the left is the full-color image. The three black and white figures are the red, green, and blue channels respectively. There is almost no lateral chromatic aberration in this lens, at least at that particular focal length (100 mm equivalent), aperture (f/4) and subject distance (I don't remember). The three channels align almost pixel-perfect. It's the comet-like tales on the specular detail in the blue channel and the way normal blue detail is simply smeared out into oblivion that's causing all the color problems. Personally, I find the severe yellow-blue color crossover that this introduces into the fine detail on the rock even more objectionable than the color fringes along boundaries.

If someone knows of some tricks or tools for fixing this stuff, I would very much like to know.

I'm only a short time into working with this camera, so I haven't decided if this problem puts the whole package into the category of "recommended with severe reservations" or "do not buy." Whatever, this lens is an embarrassment on a camera this otherwise good and to Fuji, who have a reputation for making decent optics. This lens reflects as badly on them as the M8 reflects on Leica. It should never have been let into production, not on a camera that costs this much.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Chad,

Don't worry about working in sRGB. Unless you are printing your photographs on high-quality printers, there won't be any visible difference between that and Adobe RGB. Press and newspaper reproduction, monitors, and web browsers, taken as a whole won't render much more than sRGB. So you're not losing anything working that way.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Robert L.,

You misparsed the criteria. I never said, implied, nor do I believe that using RAW is a requirement for being considered a serious photographer. If I thought I actually knew which they used, RAW or JPEG, instead of just imagining (as I said in my post) I would never have asked the question. I asked in order to find out what serious photographers do, not to define who was a serious photographer.

I limited the query to serious photographers because that's my typical audience. I don't care what the casual snapshooter uses, for the simple reason that I'm not writing for them. And if they're not likely to be reading my reviews, what they're doing is of no concern to me.

This was also not framed as an argument about which was better, nor was it a rhetorical question.

I realize it's the norm online for everyone to have an ax to grind and to often do so in the passive-aggressive manner of claiming to ask for a discussion simply so that they can bludgeon people with their point of view. That's not me. When I bludgeon you, you'll know it. When I ask for information, I will do so explicitly. This is not the first time some readers have made this mistake and I'm sure it won't be the last. But, really, take what I say at face value. As I would hope would be pretty obvious from my collection of columns so far, when I want to beat up on someone, there's nothing oblique nor hidden about it.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Stephen,

I think there are maybe a modest technical misunderstanding to your post. When you manually adjust the white balance in your camera, you're doing absolutely nothing different than if you do the correction later in Photoshop (or whatever). You're just substituting the camera's white balance controls and its little LCD screen for ACR's controls and a bigger LCD screen.

It may be a valid test of whether or not you can do it on the fly, but it's not more or less "lazy" And it doesn't give you better or worse quality.

Now, if you really want to do it the right (and difficult) way, find out what the optimum color temperature is for your camera sensor (usually that will be daylight, but I won't swear to it). Then get a three color temperature meter and a set of decamired filters and filter the light to the correct color balance BEFORE it gets to the sensor. That will give you superior tone and color rendition.

It's also a royal PITA. I'm not really recommending it to you, unless you love fiddling.

But what you're doing with the color balance controls on the camera is merely manipulating a post-sensor RAW data stream in-camera instead of in-computer. It's neither a vice nor virtue.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Donovan,

While I am certainly a wholehearted devotee of 16-bit over 8-bit practice, the visible differences are frequently exaggerated by writers. In practice, I haven't noticed any visible posterization problems unless you're expanding or compressing part of the tonal scale by at least 50%. (If you're working in curves, locally changing the slope by + or -50%).

It's extremely rare that you would do that to the image as a whole (that is a huge contrast change, like jumping from grade 1 to grade 5 paper or vice versa) but you might do it locally. A common situation would be when you want to improve the tonality and gradation in the extreme shadows and the extreme highlights. I'm not talking about stuff that's outside the JPEG exposure range that would be clipped, I'm talking about the stuff that's within, oh, 5% of the 0 or 255 points. You can do a lot digitally to bring out the tone and detail in those areas, but the contrast changes are so extreme that if you do it in 8-bit mode you'll definitely have quantization problems. Although they won't necessarily be objectionably visible in a print. But if you do the same kind of manipulation on a 16-bit file, you'll get much, much better tonality and separation of detail.

But for normal, everyday, even-pretty-serious manipulation of local control? You'll be hard-pressed to see a huge difference between 8-bit and 16-bit.

My personal opinion is that this is a lot like the noise issue-- more important at the extremes than the norm. At high ISO settings, noise processing of RAW files in computer will almost always beat the pants off of in-camera processing to a JPEG. You can just throw a lot more time and giga-flops at the problem. But if you're photographing at ISO 200, and you're not playing pixel-peeper, are you really going to see the difference in noise and detail quality between a fine-quality JPEG and a RAW image? I very much doubt it.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

I too shoot mostly RAW. I shoot jpeg in some circumstances, usually for casual snapshots.

I find that's RAW's quality is noticeably but not amazingly better than the out of camera jpegs. My choices to use RAW are based mostly on three things, in order of imporance:

1) Slightly greater dynamic range. I often shoot far enough to the right of the histogram that jpegs have blown out highlights, while the RAW files are fine after exposure compensation.

2) The ability to color correct without degrading the image.

3) Higher bit depth, which is important when using wide gamut color spaces in a color managed work flow (to prevent banding).

There are other benefits as well, such as that RAW is uncompressed (although I can rarely see the difference without making major contrast edits).

Lastly, although I haven't taken advantage of it yet (don't own a decent enough color checker), there is another very real benefit to serious enthusiasts: making custom camera profiles which achieve very particular looks. Equivalent not only to picking a film stock, but making it yourself.

I have nothing to add that hasn't been said many times over. I shoot, exhibit and sell fine art photographs. I shoot 100% raw now because the software has become usable and I like the amount of data and control, but I shot and sold jpegs just fine also. And could again, if there was a reason.
Best wishes,

"At high ISO settings, noise processing of RAW files in computer will almost always beat the pants off of in-camera processing to a JPEG."

There's your reason (and its correlates, of course) for preferring RAW.



Thank you for your detailed elaboration on the s100fs color problems.
You said:
"It's the comet-like tales on the specular detail in the blue channel and the way normal blue detail is simply smeared out into oblivion that's causing all the color problems. Personally, I find the severe yellow-blue color crossover that this introduces into the fine detail on the rock even more objectionable than the color fringes along boundaries."

That is interesting. Coma (which I am familar with from amatuer astronomy :( can manifest in one color in a lens design? did not know that. So it is a lense defect, and not something in the sensor array's micro-lenses? Interesting, and looking forward to your full review.
I have a s6000fd also, and have been very pleased with it, considering the sensor size.
Perhaps there will be "A Bridge to Far" jokes soon? Hey, a good review title for...

I shoot RAW, but only because everyone keeps telling me I should. So far I can't really tell the difference. (wank wank.)

To elaborate on Ctein's reply to Stephen ... I think about all of those sliders in ACR and then I equate them to camera settings. Unlike exposure settings, WB, sharpness, contrast, saturation are all parameters which tell the camera how to convert raw to jpeg. Knowing how to expose properly is a basic photographic skill. Picking an optimal set of raw conversion parameters prior to exposure, rather than picking them (possibly through experimentation after) is a matter of workflow. I don't think it's important to know how to set (custom) white balance on my camera. I usually leave it on Auto, occasionally tungsten. Either way, I simply assume that I will manually convert any shots taken in dimly lit interiors.

Raw conversion tools also improve over time (as do in-camera tools). I can't go back and reshoot a high contrast scene with a camera with "dynamic range optimization" but I can go back and reconvert a raw file with the latest version of ACR that features highlight recovery and fill light sliders (absent in the version I'd been using until recently).

I also like doing b&w conversion on raw files. I don't know if this is an inherently superior (or theoretically superior) method, but I seem to get better conversions from raw.

I've just bought a Fuji S100fs so I'll be very interested in your impressions, Ctein. I bought it for a long overseas trip I'll be making in September/October and I expect to be taking thousands of shots.

Therefore the question of raw or jpeg has been much on my mind. The raws are 23MB each, but converting them to .dng brings them down to around 12 to 15MB in the computer.

Thing is, I like the idea of FSB and the Velvia look, and the dynamic range bracketing, but it's either/or. Can't have those AND raw. Hate that, Fuji. Sure, raw lets you do it in the computer, but with 1000s of shots, it's going to take a long time to process all that stuff. I wish you could quickly switch between jpegs and raw, but it's quite a few menu selections in this camera. I guess I'd better use raw, but I'm not looking forward to all the processing work.

Dear Jay,

All aberrations are wavelength-sensitive (because all lens element properties are), but I've never seen anything like this kind of a mismatch in correction before.

I overspoke-- I *don't* know where the problem lies in the optical chain. Could be the lens, could be the microlenses, could have something to do with the filter array, damfino.

I'm kinda lumping it all together because Fuji designs and manufactures the whole shebang. I do know that it's the whole system that gets modeled in the design phase. Regardless of where the quality is breaking down, Fuji's got no excuse for it.

If I hadn't read online reviews reporting this problem, I'd assume I had a badly defective camera. I'm going to write Fuji this weekend, just in case. Normally I don't go back to manufacturers mid-review, when I hit something I don't like (it risks meddling in the editorial process), but this is oddly and anomalously bad.

I really want to like this camera-- in other respects it runs rings around my S6000fd.

pax / Ctein

I love JPEGs and use the maximum compression setting 95% of the time. I have no need for each distant leaf and blade of grass to be free of compression artifacts. I don't need to hang on to accurate records of sensor noise and hot pixels.

If I need fine detail of something interesting in a scene, it's much easier to take a separate tighter shot instead of going for top quality wide coverage.

The benefits of JPEGs far outweigh the costs. It's satisfying to get the file right in the camera and be done with it.

Thanks again for your detailed post.
BTW:I think the lenses on the s9100/s6000fd series were, if not designed, contract fabricated by Tamron.

Certainly could be wrong though.

Intresting though. I used to use a fuji medium format folder that had a superb Fujion lense. Also used (among other) their 4x5 format & enlarger lenses. All where excellent. Like you say, this is really too bad. But for the color problem, I would be intersted in this model.

It seems to me that the tradeoffs in raw vs JPEG are determined by the particular camera's hardware and processing. If the JPEG processing offers a very fine mode with little noise suppression, or if it offers a low-contrast mode with extra dynamic range, or if the camera is particularly low in noise, JPEG can be mighty close to raw when effectively post processed, especially now that Camera Raw accepts JPEG. Unfortunately most cameras don't offer as high a JPEG quality option as they could... and it would be for post processing, rather than printing directly.

I don't see JPEGs as a way to reduce post-processing, but they do in many cases make a camera noticeably faster shot-to-shot (not on the better dslr's though) and they do save space. I have not personally had much trouble with the 8-bit issue; I generally can't see it on prints, even when the comb looks scary.

I know I can't reliably distinguish 320kps MP3 sound from uncompressed raw in a blind test. But if the compression is lot greater, then I can. I feel the same about jpeg... it depends on the amount and quality of the compression. A low-compression, very high quality JPEG setting would be cheaper on a small camera than a fast raw buffer / processor, and could be almost as good as raw after post processing.

Yes, I use JPEG with point and shoot cameras. Even if they do have a RAW mode it is usually painfully slow on those cameras and I prefer to use JPEG, since I've been very successful in using that particular kind of camera for (color) street photography where speed is critical (although shutter lag in those cameras sometime leads to interesting creative accidents). I'm also using JPEG on my dSLR for fun shots (funny posters and so on).

When I started digital Photography i shoot JPG, because this lousy camera (Kodak/2MP) had no RAW. Since i got my first DSLR (Pentax), and now also with the G9, i only shoot RAW, even when i do shootings with hundreds of shots (weddings/holidays)...and even when i am sometimes execrate the time i have to invest do develop (with Silkypix) the files. For the results i get it's always worthwile.

I shoot raw 99% of the time, the flexibility and control it gives is just excellent. I agree whit Stepehn it makes you lazy but also gives you a lot of confidence, since you must only worry to not mess the exposure and get the shot in focus.
I also agree with the error of just reviewing jpg performance. My first digital camera was a Fuji S5000, lovely one. It got a bad rating in dpreview, and tis fine since its jpgs are really terrible, but if you use raw, as I did from day one (it was the only camera I can buy in 2004 with raw capability), it gives excellent, natural looking results. Its a true Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde situation.

My dentist often jokes that you should only floss those teeth you want to keep. I look at RAW the same way--you should only shoot JPG for those shots that will be perfectly exposed in perfect lighting.

Since I do a lot of fast people shooting in available light, I can't guarantee perfect exposure or lighting that won't require some adjustment in post-processing. So it's almost always RAW for me.

Dynamic range is the Achilles heel of digital--sometimes you have to choose between blowing a few highlights vs. bringing up shadows to the point where they will be noisy. RAW gives you a lot more leeway than JPG.

Capture One is very fast to work with. You can adjust one file, set the same adjustment on all the other files shot under similar conditions, tell it to process, and you're done. Version 3.7.x even has a "Quick Proof" function that produces Web-ready files in the blink of an eye. So RAW with C-One is not that much more of a pain than JPG, with a lot more flexibility.

My cameras are a Leica M8 and an Olympus E-1. With the E-1, the JPGs are very good, and the Olympus RAW converter piggishly slow and frustrating. And the E-1's metering is a bit unreliable. So I tended to use RAW most of the time. But for a family event where I was using bounce flash, I shot JPG and found that it was good enough--if a highlight blew occasionally, nobody was going to fire me.

With the M8, I shoot RAW exclusively. The detail you get from the M8's JPG engine is not as good as using a RAW converter afterwards. With the possible exception of high-ISO B&W, and even there, the need for some adjustment flexibility makes RAW a better choice.


I shot 140 photos today in JPEG instead of RAW on my Canon gear. Why, you ask? I just got my camera back from a professional sensor cleaning and they had changed my settings. I didn't bother checking anything before shooting. GRRRR!!!

Regardless, I try to expose correctly in the first place and Lightroom was able to salvage most of those where I exposed too far to the right of the histogram (which I do intentionally with RAW). Phew!

I might be in the wrong place seeing all you guys seem somewhat pro, but who better to go to than the ones who know, huh? I shoot with a Fuji S100fs ( I love it) in jepg or raw. Then when I download to my computer they are different colorwise. When I print they are different than both, my camera and my computer. When I post on the web They are different still than anything. I don't even know if my color is right. If I get a photo printed and then again at another time, they are different. How can I know if I am doing good? (I am not a pro and probably should not even be here, but this aggravates me bigtime).

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007