RAW Myths & Facts
As the endless debate of RAW versus JPEG continues, more and more people appear to be confused as to why these two formats exist, what each is good for and when to use one or the other. First time DSLR users often wonder which format to choose and make a choice based on some random fact they heard. It does not help that a large number of incorrect information exists on the internet about the RAW and JPEG images. This feature dispels common myths encountered around the internet and in digital photography books.
Get it right in the first place is the mantra of those who advocate JPEG and Shooting JPEG is like throwing away the negative is the motto of RAW advocates. As usual, both sides are right and it is therefore very important to understand the facts before choosing sides.
RAW Myths & Facts
Myth: RAW IS AN IMAGE FILE FORMAT
False. RAW files contain data which includes some information for each pixel but not enough to represent a digital image. Even in cases that actually store full color information for each pixel, such as in cameras which use a Foveon sensor, the stored information is not in the same color-space or scale as normal computer images.
Myth: RAW IS BETTER THAN JPEG
False. RAW has advantages over JPEG but so does JPEG over RAW. There would not be so much debates on the subject if it was not! The same JPEG as the camera would produce can be obtained from a RAW file using the camera manufacturer's RAW development software or in-camera RAW conversion on select models. This means that a RAW can at least produce an image of equal image quality.
Myth: IMAGES PRODUCED FROM RAW HAVE MORE DYNAMIC RANGE
False. Once a RAW file has been converted into an image, either explicitly by someone or implicitly by an image browser, it is limited by current display technology which cannot display more dynamic range or colors than a JPEG can hold. Nearly every display in existence uses 8 bits per channel (24 bits per pixel) which is what JPEG files store. All common operating systems are also incapable of displaying more than 8-bits per channel, even for the two monitors that can support more.
Myth: RAW FILES ARE DULL AND LOW CONTRAST
False. With all the hype about RAW quality, a huge number of people's first observation about RAW is that they look bad when compared to JPEG images. They only do by accident. As mentioned earlier, a RAW file contains data not an image. Therefore when a preview is for a RAW file is shown, software must produce an image from the RAW data. If it does that poorly, which is commonly the default for many image browsers, what is shown is a poor quality image. Usually the image looks dull and has low local contrast because it shows the entire tone curve uniformly.
Myth: RAW LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE JPEG
False. Several RAW files actually include an embedded JPEG. This embedded data allows fast previews and obviously looks exactly like a JPEG. Additionally, using the default conversion from camera maker's software normally does the exact same RAW to JPEG conversion as the camera. So there are cases where the RAW is converted into the exact same JPEG. However, the benefit of RAW lies in its ability to produce different results. Shooting RAW and then using the default conversion defeats its purpose. Benefits of shooting RAW are only seen when there is time to apply different processing.
Myth: JPEG IMAGES ARE SOFT AND LACK DETAILS
False. All DSLR cameras have settings that influence sharpness and noise reduction. Manufacturers seem to believe people prefer soft images over noisy images because the defaults are often high noise-reduction and middle sharpness. Those are only defaults and most digital cameras can produce images with finely tuned characteristics. Take the time to set up your camera to produce the most pleasing images possible.
Myth: JPEG FILES HAVE HORRIBLE ARTIFACTS
False. JPEG uses something called lossy compression which means some information is removed to make the file smaller. In practice the highest quality setting affects less than 2% of pixels by less than 0.4%. The data removed is also chosen to be the least perceptible to the human visual system.
Myth: EDITING JPEG DEGRADES IMAGE QUALITY
True. Anytime a JPEG is modified and then saved, compression may reduce image quality by a tiny amount. If done repeatedly it can add up to a substantial loss of image quality. The trick used by film artists to work with lossy formats is to do all the work in a lossless format and then save back the final version in a lossy format once all the work is done. Therefore it is better to do repetitive edits in PNG, TIFF or PSD and then save a final JPEG for printing or online use.
Myth: SHOOTING JPEG WITH A DSLR IS LIKE USING A POINT & SHOOT
False. DSLR cameras have a huge number of advantages over point & shoot digital cameras, including higher image quality and speed. Even DSLRs tend to shoot longer continuously in JPEG than in RAW.
Myth: REAL PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOOT RAW
False. The professional industry is just as divided on the subject as everyone else. They are pros that exclusively shoot JPEG, ones that exclusively shoot RAW, ones that always shoot JPEG+RAW and ones that use each format part of the time.
Myth: DNG IS A NON PROPRIETARY RAW FORMAT
False. DNG belongs to Adobe. Adobe grants a license to use its patents to those who wish to use the DNG file format. While it is not owned by any camera manufacturer, it remains a file format that belongs to profit oriented corporation.
One of the reasons for DNG is to have a standard format that can be processed by future software long after the camera maker stops making a particular camera or goes out of business. While with is true in principal, the interpretation of the sensor data is specific to each camera and therefore that knowledge must be built in somewhere and kept up to date with new generations of software for legacy support. The one hope for longevity is to process RAW to a commonly understood DNG interpretation. Adobe covers part of what is needed for that in its 2009 DNG update which supports embedded profiles.
Myth: DNG CAN STORE RAW DATA FROM ANY DIGITAL CAMERA
True today. The DNG format was updated in 2009 to make sure it can hold the data produced by any current digital camera. It does contain special information to treat the information differently if it comes from a Fuji SuperCCD since the arrangement of pixels is different than conventional images. If other new technologies appear that does not fit the current DNG mold, Adobe has to change the DNG format to support those as well. Therefore more than one type of DNG files will exist and software will have to cope with the difference, just like they have to cope with different RAW formats.
Neocamera Blog is a medium for expressing ideas related to digital cameras and photography. Read about digital cameras in the context of technology, media, art and the world. Latest posts links:
Nikon D5 XQD Review
Nikon flagship professional DSLR with 20 megapixels Full-Frame CMOS sensor. All-new 153-point Phase-Detect AF sensitive to -4 EV. ISO 50 to unprecedented 3,276,800! 12 FPS Drive for 200 JPEGs or 180 RAW. First Nikon DSLR with 4K Ultra HD video.
Olympus Professional Lens Roundup
Roundup of Olympus Professional and Premium lenses: M.Zuiko 7-14mm F/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 12-40mm F/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 40-150mm F/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 12mm F/2, M.Zuiko 60mm F/2.8 Macro.
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II Review
Olympus second generation base OM-D with an anti-alias-filter-free 16 MP Four-Thirds CMOS sensor mounted on a 5-axis in-body stabilization system. Speedy 8.5 FPS drive, full HD @ 60 FPS and a wealth of features in a compact and lightweight body. Offers a 2.4 MP 0.45" EVF with 0.62X magnification and 100% coverage, plus dual control-dials and a highly customizable interface.
Fuji X-Pro2 Review
Fuji flagship XF-mount mirrorless with 24 MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor. 273-Point AF with 169 Phase-Detect points. 8 FPS Drive, 1080p video. Dual control-dials, direct dials and a hybrid viewfinder in a weather-sealed freezeproof body.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100 Review
The only premium travel-zoom! 20 megapixels 1" high-speed CMOS sensor paired with a stabilized 25-250mm F/2.8-5.9 optical zoom. 50 FPS Drive, 4K Ultra-HD video, 1/16000-60s Hybrid Shutter, Post-Shot Focus, 4K Live-Cropping, Time-Lapse Video and more. Dual control-dials plus a built-in EVF with Eye-Start sensor.
Canon EOS Rebel T6s Review
Newly designed Rebel with dual control-dials and top status LCD. 24 MP APS-C sensor, Hybrid AF III with 19 all-cross points and on-sensor Phase-Detect AF. 5 FPS Drive and full 1080p HD video capture.
Canon Powershot G3 X Review
Ultra-zoom with a 25X optical zoom lens and large 20 MP 1" CMOS sensor in a weather-sealed body with dual control-dials, a lens ring and efficient controls. Captures full 1080p HD video at 60 FPS with internal or external stereo sound.
Best Digital Cameras of 2015
The best new digital cameras of 2015. Plus, find out which ones of 2014 still lead their category. Compact, Premium Cameras, Ultra-Zooms, Mirrorless and DSLR are all covered.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 Review
16 megapixels Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless. 2.4 MP 0.5" EVF with Eye-Start sensor plus dual control-dials. 4K Ultra-HD video, 8 FPS continuous-drive, hybrid shutter with 1/16000-60s shutter-speeds, ISO 100-25600 and Contrast-Detect DFD autofocus system sensitive to -4 EV.
Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR Review
Nikon constant-aperture super-telephoto zoom with 200-500mm range and the latest Vibration-Reduction effective to 4.5 stops. Built-in super-sonic AF in a sturdy weatherproof body.