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06-16-2010, 12:37 PM   #1
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In-camera RAW processing the best?

Hi All,

You might say that I am new to photography, just some ~2 years of more or less hobbyist shooting. Only a year with my first DSLR which happen to be Pentax K20D. During this time I have been reading lots of posts on internet about how good is "shooting RAW" and how it can save lots and lots of problems in post processing. I have been trying to adopt this myself e.g. shooting RAW. Here are some of my humble thoughts about the subject (be warned though, this is totally biased and from hobbyist point of view).

Generally speaking I am disappointed in shooting RAW and here is why:

1. None of the PP software delivered results I was hoping to see. I tried Lightroom 2 and 3 betas, RawTherapy, Capture One 5 (PRO), DxO. What I was hoping to see was something substantially better than what my camera delivers in JPEG. In most cases I was disappointed either by demosaic algorithm (Lightroom actually does it very well) or by loss in details or by tonal color transitions (out of camera these are usually smooth, compared to harsh transitions in JPEGs exported from RAW in PP).

2. Sure you can save otherwise seemingly lost shot by correcting exposure or white balance, but result will not be great. You should have made the shot right in the first place by choosing correct settings. Save yourself time and just discard the lost shot. Learn from mistakes and do it right next time! Relying on RAW PP will not teach you anything.

3. I do not understand how my little camera can process RAW file to JPEG in less time and deliver better results than my Dual core PC with latest RAW PP software. I mean, to make RAW -> JPEG conversion in camera it takes what - 2-3 seconds, in Lightroom 5-10 seconds, in Capture One 10-15 seconds. What is wrong here?!

4. The only case where I would shoot RAW is high ISO images. Lightroom does a really nice job producing pleasant looking results. But at the cost of lost details. This is compromise anyway. Out of camera images are noisier, but at the same time details are preserved better.

Sorry, that this was a bit lengthy, but I am really frustrated that I have lost so much time trying to shoot RAW and have gained absolutely nothing in terms of image quality. Apparently this is not for me. I really dislike PP.

But I still wonder, how it is possible that tiny little camera does the job better that a modern PC?

I hope this can be helpful to some who are exploring subject of RAW vs JPEG and are reading only how good is shooting RAW. Of-course, I realize that there are people who only can afford shooting RAW (pro photographers?), but for hobbyist ... I would think twice.

06-16-2010, 12:55 PM   #2
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Because probably in camera, the RAW algorythm can take the whole processing power and run in real time mode for the time it is doing conversion. No need to render pretty GUI at megapixel resolution, calculate curves, histograms, play music in packground and manage network connection.

Still, even if the camera DSP (processor) is tailored to do image processing, the huge power of desktop pc's processor should do it fast enough. It is indeed interesting.

One thing that might speed things up a lot is hard coding. Maybe there are even some hardwired programmable logic for certain operations. The flexibility that computer software RAW converter gives you, does not allow it to be optimized for single or few, previously known cases (like freely adjustable curves etc). If you know your'e multiplying 3*4, you just write z=12 in that place.
If you give the choice to user you must write z=x*y, manage user input, convert variables from human readable to mathematically meaningful, do the multiplication.

Talking about quality. I think camera manufacturer might known some exact "problems" that need to be dealt with, that generic raw software don't know. For example, IR stop filter, anti-aliasing filter, anti reflective coatings. They all have characteristics, that manufacturer should know precisely. It can exactly correct for minor colour dis-balances, make de-blurring filter that has exact inverse response to anti-aliasing filter, not just some generic unsharp mask sharpening.

Last edited by ytterbium; 06-16-2010 at 01:06 PM.
06-16-2010, 01:29 PM   #3
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Well, I would never say there's anything "wrong" with shooting in JPEG, but I shoot almost exclusively in RAW, mainly for two reasons:

1) WB can be tweaked after the fact. Too cool? Too warm? No problem. All the data's there. Adjust as needed. Yes, I could set it manually at the time of shooting, but that's a hassle that I want to forego in favor of dealing with it in post.

2) Shadow-recovery ability with RAW files. I find that I can pull many more details from shadows in RAW than I can in JPEG.

For me, those two reasons alone justify the added time/hassle/disk space that comes with shooting in RAW. For you, obviously, not so much. To each his own, even if we're just "hobbyists."

I will also say this: Even if my K20 only shot in JPEG, I'd still use it over a P&S because of the big sensor. Image quality is much better with the bigger sensors.
06-16-2010, 03:45 PM   #4
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now I know what to tell to my wife who wonders how come that she herself can get her NA/auto subaru from A to B faster than Turbo/manual... of course... it is a firmware, stupid !

06-16-2010, 05:23 PM   #5
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Just as there are a lot of settings in a camera, there are even more in RAW software.

Of course we all want to "make it right in the camera the first time" - and some even say they do - but it is pretty hard to really judge an image on a screen measuring 3" or less.
06-16-2010, 05:46 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by georgis Quote
1. None of the PP software delivered results I was hoping to see. I tried Lightroom 2 and 3 betas, RawTherapy, Capture One 5 (PRO), DxO. What I was hoping to see was something substantially better than what my camera delivers in JPEG
Why would have hoped for that? If you don't do make any changes to your image, then the best you should hope for is results that are about the same in quality as what the camera did. If you happen to consistently prefer the default conversion done by the camera in a blind test (this would be very rare), you can always tweak the default processing in most RAW processing programs (different pre-processing curves, etc). But you should expect to see RAW do better than JPEg until you need to push exposure, dramatically alter WB, apply significant sharpening or NR, etc.

QuoteQuote:
2. Sure you can save otherwise seemingly lost shot by correcting exposure or white balance, but result will not be great. You should have made the shot right in the first place by choosing correct settings.
Not always an option. If the correct exposure would have required an aperture your lens doesn't support, a shutter speed too slow to stop action, or an ISO level higher than the camera supports, you've got no choice. And if you're dealing with constantly changing lighting (eg, colored stage lighting), changing WB for every shot is simply impossible - even assuming there was a WB setting for each of those colors, which there isn't.

In any case, this is a bit of a red herring. The advantage of RAW is seen not just in "correcting" exposure or WB that could have been set in in camera, but also in making changes to curves or other adjustments that *cannot* be made in camera.

QuoteQuote:
3. I do not understand how my little camera can process RAW file to JPEG in less time and deliver better results than my Dual core PC with latest RAW PP software.
Hardware (firmware) processing is almost always faster than software. Nothing new there. As for "better", see above. This stuff is subjective, and in general, the camera does *not* produce results that the average person would consistently call better. If you've done the many blind tests necessary to convince yourself that you do happen to be in the minority that has a consistent preference for the camera, fine - such is the law of averages. But absolutely no way can it be claimed the camera does a "better" job in any objective sense.

QuoteQuote:
4. The only case where I would shoot RAW is high ISO images. Lightroom does a really nice job producing pleasant looking results. But at the cost of lost details. This is compromise anyway. Out of camera images are noisier, but at the same time details are preserved better.
I'd say if you haven't figured out how to finesse the NR controls in your favorite NR program to get results that have both more detail *and* less noise, or at least a more pleasing balance, you haven't really mastered the controls yet.

QuoteQuote:
Apparently this is not for me. I really dislike PP.
Then I could have saved you the trouble befor starting. If you have no intention of doing PP, then there is no advantage to RAW whatsoever. The advantages are *only* apparent if you intend to do PP. For some reason, people don't seem to understand this, so your experience is not atypical.
06-17-2010, 01:21 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
I'd say if you haven't figured out how to finesse the NR controls in your favorite NR program to get results that have both more detail *and* less noise, or at least a more pleasing balance, you haven't really mastered the controls yet.
Apparently you are right on this. But as a hobbyist I simply don't have that much time to kill sitting at my computer and fiddling with each and every image I shot over the weekend. i understand that there are peapole who earn for living with photography, and they have a luxury to kill whole 8 hours just PP their images. This is all OK. But me, I simply have 2 days over weekend and evenings after work. And not all of that time I can dedicate to my hobby. In the end, what is left is very little and I prefer to spend that time actually doing photography instead of sitting at computer ... again .

OK, just a little example from life here. Suppose you are a RAW shooter. You get home with a memory card full of images. Some of those images are really special and might need that special PP touch. No problem here, you just do that PP magic on those images. BUT, you still have the rest 90-80% shots that need to be processed from RAW to something ... well not RAW. As I have learned and people in the thread have mentioned, default setting in RAW converters will not get you far. So, you do that PP magic you did on those really special keepers on the rest. Going through each and every image and carefully tweaking settings. You could say, well there is a great feature where you can copy/paste your PP "recipe" from one to multiple images. But in most cases this will hold true only four couple of images, because others - they are bit different and requite different tweaks.
Guess what, it is Monday morning 4am you are done with PP, go to bed because at 8:00am you are off to work.
06-17-2010, 09:36 AM   #8
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@georgis: Sounds like your mind is already made up. Fine, stick with in-camera processing. But your arguments in your last post are specious. I shoot RAW but there is no way I convert each and every photo I take from RAW to another image format. Only those that I wish to save/convert are touched. The rest are filed away for potential conversion later. I do agree that there are only 24 hours in a day. But there will come a day when you wished you had shot in RAW, whether it be from a wrong WB setting or some other user error.

Jack

06-17-2010, 12:57 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by georgis Quote
But as a hobbyist I simply don't have that much time to kill sitting at my computer and fiddling with each and every image I shot over the weekend.
nor do I. Most I accept the default conversions (or apply my own customized preset which I find does better) - this takes all of a couple of *seconds* of my time. Then if there are certain images I wish to improve, I'll spend maybe as long 20-30 seconds each on them. I do this for only a small percentage of my shots. And even of those, most would probably have done just as well in JPEG (and make no mistake - I'd have been *just* as likely to want to improve them had I shot JPEG). But each week, there will be a handful (or more if I've shot a concert that week) in which shooting RAW saves the day.

So the bottom line is that shooting RAW costs me a couple of *seconds* of my time for the vast majority of my images. For 95% of my pictures - the ones that receive no custom processing, and at least half the ones that do - it provides no advantage at all. But it's the 5% of pictures for which RAW saves the day that makes those couple extra seconds of my time worthwhile. And when I say RAW "saves" the day, i don't mean cases where there was some magic setting I could made in camera to avoid this. Cameras don't provide curve controls, nor do they handle WB for changing colored stage lighting, and they come with built-in limits on aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Anyhow, for some people, those few of shots saved by RAW are not worth the couple of extra seconds of their time per day, the few minutes of their computer's time doing the conversion, and the increase in disk space. But you're *completely* misrepresenting the amount of work involved in shooting RAW. It really is only *seconds* of your time over and above JPEG. Literally *seconds*.

QuoteQuote:
OK, just a little example from life here. Suppose you are a RAW shooter. You get home with a memory card full of images. Some of those images are really special and might need that special PP touch. No problem here, you just do that PP magic on those images. BUT, you still have the rest 90-80% shots that need to be processed from RAW to something
Indeed. Batch conversion takes but two seconds of my time. And even if I shot JPEG, I'd be doing this anyhow. I don't have enough room for every image I've ever shot on my laptop - at least, not if I keep them full size. And they're a pain to share full size, too. So whether I shoot RAW or JPEG, I would want to run a batch operation to generate smaller size JPEG's to keep on my laptop.

QuoteQuote:
As I have learned and people in the thread have mentioned, default setting in RAW converters will not get you far
Why would you say that? The majority of the time and for the majority of people, they'll do at least as well as the camera. If you happen to have unusually specific tastes and in a blind test find you consistently prefer the camera's processing, create a preset to mimic this (a few minutes of your time once in your entire life), then apply that preset during your batch conversion (and this can be automated in most software).

QuoteQuote:
So, you do that PP magic you did on those really special keepers on the rest. Going through each and every image and carefully tweaking settings.
Some people might be foolish enough to do this for images that don't need it, but for most us, a default conversion or applying simple preset is fine. If what you say were actually true, hardly anyone would shoot RAW. But what you say above is simply wrong.

QuoteQuote:
You could say, well there is a great feature where you can copy/paste your PP "recipe" from one to multiple images. But in most cases this will hold true only four couple of images, because others - they are bit different and requite different tweaks.
if you're picky enough about the specific processing of your images that a simple preset or default conversion isn't good enough, then thats not going to go away just because you shoot JPEG. That's a complete and utter myth. If an image needs custom processing when shot RAW, it needs it when shot JPEG. And if it doesn't need custom need custom processing when shot JPEg, it won't magically start needing it if you shoot RAW.

Your inexperience with how RAW processing works is leading to you to assume all sorts of completely false things about it.
06-17-2010, 12:57 PM   #10
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If you personally prefer the quality of in-camera JPEG but occasionally want the flexibility of raw, why not shoot raw + JPEG?

I can say this: I've later regretted:

1. Whenever I've only shot in JPEG;

2. Whenever I've shot in raw, converted to JPEG or TIF, then deleted the original raw file. Later on, when I've come back to try another idea or my PP skills have improved and I want to try something on a favourite image, no raw = no joy.


Dan.

Last edited by dosdan; 06-17-2010 at 03:09 PM.
06-17-2010, 02:04 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by dosdan Quote
If you personally prefer the quality of in-camera JPEG but occasionally want the flexibility of raw, why not shoot raw + JPEG?
exactly
06-17-2010, 02:16 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by georgis Quote
Suppose you are a RAW shooter. You get home with a memory card full of images. Some of those images are really special and might need that special PP touch. No problem here, you just do that PP magic on those images. BUT, you still have the rest 90-80% shots that need to be processed from RAW to something
may be somebody already mentioned that - but you do not need to process everything... storage is cheap - for example I delete only complete failures that do not present any value even as examples, process only some that I consider worthy (based on subject and available time and tools) and most just seat w/o any final processing w/ just some previews to be able to see what that shot was all about (people can also tag and rate all images for their DAM purposes) - may be (may be not) I will have a need for them later or may be there will be some raw conversion wunderwaffe that will allow me so get something extra - but I do not process most of shots... I can't claim that I have 80-90% of shots worth of my time - if you do then you are a master of photography
06-17-2010, 05:01 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by georgis Quote
Apparently you are right on this. But as a hobbyist I simply don't have that much time to kill sitting at my computer and fiddling with each and every image I shot over the weekend. i understand that there are peapole who earn for living with photography, and they have a luxury to kill whole 8 hours just PP their images. This is all OK. But me, I simply have 2 days over weekend and evenings after work. And not all of that time I can dedicate to my hobby. In the end, what is left is very little and I prefer to spend that time actually doing photography instead of sitting at computer ... again .
I'm in the same situation and feel the same about PP. I would rather have the time to take pictures then the time to PP them. The nice thing is you have the option to do as much or as little to suit your needs. While I shoot RAW+, my photography/PP skills will need to improve drastically before PP becomes useful for me.
06-17-2010, 07:01 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
(or apply my own customized preset which I find does better)
I always read about doing this, but whenever I get in front of the computer, I forget. I've REALLY got to do this one of these days. Thanks for the reminder Marc.
06-18-2010, 10:16 AM   #15
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I went about three years of shooting RAw without my own customized preset, then finally last month on a whim created one. Very first batch of pictures I posted here with that preset, jsherman commented, "wow, are you doing something with PP different than usual? those look great". I considered the matter closed at that point.

Of course, I should mention that jsherman is an staunch JPEG advoctate, and I tried to carefully word my previous posts in terms that didn't overstate my case, as he is really good on calling me on this here :-). I stand by my assertion that shooting RAW takes only a couple of additional *seconds* a day on my part, but as I acknowledged, it does take a few additional *minutes* a day of the computer's time - those downsized copies I generate to keep on my laptop and post online take a few seconds longer per image to generate from RAW than from JPEG, so batch generating 100 of these might take an additional 5 minutes. I can live with that, but if you're not already committed to generating those downsized copies, this whole step might seem unnecessary. Also, storage costs do go up. In my case, for the amount I currently shoot (~10,000 images a year with a 10MP camera), the difference in storage cost is about $5/year if I shot JPEG to about $10/year for RAW. I can live with that, too.

Last edited by Marc Sabatella; 06-18-2010 at 04:40 PM.
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