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04-30-2011, 05:28 PM   #1
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Why do RAW my RAW images not look great...

I always shoot in DNG RAW on my K-7, importing and organizing my photos in Lightroom 3 (LR3).

However, the RAW images never really look all that good - in fact, they are sometimes disappointing. Yet when I export them at 90% quality JPEGs with absolutely no PP (sharpening, tone, literally nothing), they generally look fantastic!

You can see a bunch of my recent photos here that look great in JPEG -- they were also "fine" in the LR3 preview, but looked nowhere near as good as they do exported.

Why do images in RAW generally look so poor compared to their JPEG exported equivalents?

04-30-2011, 06:41 PM   #2
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That's because the RAW photo is just that, complete RAW data. All JPEGS have already had processing applied to them, either in camera or during the Photoshop conversion.
04-30-2011, 07:21 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by crf529 Quote
That's because the RAW photo is just that, complete RAW data. All JPEGS have already had processing applied to them, either in camera or during the Photoshop conversion.
Exactly! There is no such thing as an unprocessed jpeg.
04-30-2011, 07:56 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by pjthiel Quote
I always shoot in DNG RAW on my K-7, importing and organizing my photos in Lightroom 3 (LR3).

However, the RAW images never really look all that good - in fact, they are sometimes disappointing. Yet when I export them at 90% quality JPEGs with absolutely no PP (sharpening, tone, literally nothing), they generally look fantastic!

You can see a bunch of my recent photos here that look great in JPEG -- they were also "fine" in the LR3 preview, but looked nowhere near as good as they do exported.

Why do images in RAW generally look so poor compared to their JPEG exported equivalents?
The previews you get from RAW files tend to be properly balanced images with neutral color tones, which don't possess many of the characteristics we tend to consider high quality photos, like high contrast, saturated colors, edge sharpening, etc.

RAW doesn't mean your photos will suddenly look like NatGeo. It just means you'll get the data without in-camera processing or compression so you can play more with it later in PP without losing quality.

If you don't wanna learn post-processing software like Lightroom or Aperture it's better to just shoot JPG, the camera goes a good job at it already. On the other hand, if you do invest into learning, then you can achieve better and more varied results during post-processing, and it's certainly rewarding.

05-01-2011, 02:10 AM   #5
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With a RAW image you have the most control over the filters applied, so people that want to do extensive post processing shoot 100% RAW (I do). The JPEG applies things like contrast, brightness, saturation, with minimal input from you, RAW is the exact opposite, no filters applied so that the photographer can set and adjust them as he/she pleases.

If you do not plan on doing any PPing then you should absolutely shoot JPEG because as you have said the JPEG looks much better. I do suggest at least trying some post processing on a few photos to see if that is something you want to incorporate into your photography. At first I shot only JPEG because I thought I would not like PPing but after I tried it I now think it is as important/integral to photography as taking the photo itself. Try it and if you like it shoot RAW, if you find PPing is not for you shoot JPEG.
05-01-2011, 07:22 AM   #6
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Oh, don't get me wrong, I totally understand that exporting a JPEG from a RAW image "is processing". I guess I was just lamenting how marked the difference is. I guess I had an expectation that the RAW image previews in software like Lightroom (or similar) would be "better"--not better than say a JPEG (which we all agree is "processed"), but just better in general.

The only reason this matters at all is that I often go through the previews of my images in Lightroom and discount certain pictures as "not good enough". However, when extracted as JPEG alone (with no other user-controlled PP), the image is actually pretty good and perhaps even a keeper.

For me, at least, this was unexpected. I am fairly new to digital photography and just had a different expectation with regard to the RAW previews, that's all.

I am definitely interested in PP and maximizing the quality/value of hard-earned images; as a result, I will always shoot RAW, with my K-7 set to capture DNG as the default with the RAW button set to switch to JPEG for a single shot.

Thanks all for the clarification ... appreciate the input.
05-01-2011, 11:22 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by pjthiel Quote
Oh, don't get me wrong, I totally understand that exporting a JPEG from a RAW image "is processing". I guess I was just lamenting how marked the difference is. I guess I had an expectation that the RAW image previews in software like Lightroom (or similar) would be "better"--not better than say a JPEG (which we all agree is "processed"), but just better in general.

The only reason this matters at all is that I often go through the previews of my images in Lightroom and discount certain pictures as "not good enough". However, when extracted as JPEG alone (with no other user-controlled PP), the image is actually pretty good and perhaps even a keeper.

For me, at least, this was unexpected. I am fairly new to digital photography and just had a different expectation with regard to the RAW previews, that's all.

I am definitely interested in PP and maximizing the quality/value of hard-earned images; as a result, I will always shoot RAW, with my K-7 set to capture DNG as the default with the RAW button set to switch to JPEG for a single shot.

Thanks all for the clarification ... appreciate the input.
If the K-7 supports it, I guess you can also shoot in RAW+ mode (RAW + JPG). This way you have an easy-to-use JPG right out of the camera, but can still keep the RAW as a digital negative for working later. The only problem is the increased storage space necessary and slightly slower card write, so not great for burst mode.
05-02-2011, 12:07 AM   #8
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The K7 does support RAW+, I take RAW + a small JPG as there is no codec for viewing PEGs for W7x64.

05-02-2011, 01:38 AM   #9
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I'm afraid none of the responders understood the OP's problem. His problem is that LR's preview is worse than the LR exported JPG (without changing any sliders). In the preview you should see exactly the same as the exported JPG or TIFF result - if everything is set properly.

I guess it's a color management issue or some other issue in LR - I don't use LR so I can't really give any advice on what to check. I read that some people have a problem where LR shows a worse image in the catalog than in the development module. Do you wait for LR to finish rendering the preview in development module? Last time I used LR 2.3 on my pc it took several seconds to render the preview, until that LR showed a quite low quality image and "Loading" at the bottom of the screen.
05-02-2011, 11:22 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by simico Quote
I'm afraid none of the responders understood the OP's problem. His problem is that LR's preview is worse than the LR exported JPG (without changing any sliders). In the preview you should see exactly the same as the exported JPG or TIFF result - if everything is set properly.

I guess it's a color management issue or some other issue in LR - I don't use LR so I can't really give any advice on what to check. I read that some people have a problem where LR shows a worse image in the catalog than in the development module. Do you wait for LR to finish rendering the preview in development module? Last time I used LR 2.3 on my pc it took several seconds to render the preview, until that LR showed a quite low quality image and "Loading" at the bottom of the screen.
I would bet that color management is the issue too. LR is color managed and perhaps once the user goes to another software for viewing the image, that software is not color managed therefore it looks "better"?

I am only guessing as I calibrate my monitor. There are programs out there that don't use custom profiles or support my wide gamut monitor, and I end up with images that occasionally look bright and over-saturated. I know some people trend their likes towards the more saturated image, and it is easy when comparing images to think a saturated image looks better. Even I have to catch myself at times, and I usually don't care for a saturated look.

Some questions for the OP:

1. Are your JPGs looking better in Lightroom after exporting them? Are your JPGs looking different in another software? If so, which software?
2. Are you changing colorspace when you export from Lightroom?
3. Do you calibrate and profile your monitor?
05-03-2011, 07:43 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by simico Quote
I'm afraid none of the responders understood the OP's problem.
That's true ... but still all good; it turned out to be a healthy conversation.

QuoteOriginally posted by simico Quote
In the preview you should see exactly the same as the exported JPG or TIFF result - if everything is set properly.
I think this is the thrust of my point(s). I'm not sure I had an "expectation", but if I did, it was that the previews shown to me in LR would be at least as good as the final JPEG that ends up at Flickr (or elsewhere on the web).

With regard to your suggestions/questions. First, could it be a color management issue? I guess it could, particularly in terms of the color profile used in the camera/LR/JPEG export. I'll look into that. Second, in terms of the LR "wait time" while it builds the preview ... yes, I certainly wait. I have a decent computer, so it chugs through them pretty quickly, almost in real time. And there is a marked difference once the preview is ready -- the image is almost barely viewable until the preview is ready, so I know that is not the issue.

QuoteOriginally posted by hcarvalhoalves Quote
The previews you get from RAW files tend to be properly balanced images with neutral color tones, which don't possess many of the characteristics we tend to consider high quality photos, like high contrast, saturated colors, edge sharpening, etc.
I think this explains quite a bit insomuch as the JPEG extraction/conversion *is* "processing"; boosting contrast, color saturation etc.

But this brings me back to the two points made in my original/follow-up post:
  1. I just "expected" that LR would present a better preview, one that is closer to how it would look extracted as a JPEG with no other adjustment, and
  2. To draw attention to this phenomenon as if you are "flagging" your photos based on the quality of the preview, you may disregard a few images that would otherwise turn out pretty good!
05-03-2011, 07:55 AM   #12
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RAW image reviews offered by e.g. OSX take into account the default settings applied by the RAW converter, and later on, whatever modifications you make as a user-defined manipulation of the RAW image that are saved on the RAW file/database. These will look better (obviously) than the RAW image with zero adjustments applied to it. So to will JPEG files.

Always open your RAW images to see on a larger scale before deleting any that you take. It's amazing what detail can be pulled out of an 'ordinary' looking RAW image.
05-03-2011, 07:59 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by emalvick Quote
Some questions for the OP:

1. Are your JPGs looking better in Lightroom after exporting them? Are your JPGs looking different in another software? If so, which software?
2. Are you changing colorspace when you export from Lightroom?
3. Do you calibrate and profile your monitor?
Thanks for the reply and help... here's some answers to your questions.

My process to date is minimalist and straightforward, and goes something like this:
  1. Import all pictures from card
  2. Preview all images at "to fit" size (approx 720 on the long edge in my setup)
  3. Flag (F) those images that look "worthy" (focus, composition, interest)
  4. Select all flagged photos
  5. Export to Flickr "set" as JPEG

In terms of the export settings, it exports at 90% quality (versus the default 80%) and that's it. No other sharpening / resizing is happening as part of the export.

The photos arrive at Flickr and look fabulous -- better than in my preview. For those more experienced in PP and digital photography in general, perhaps the difference is expected and/or understood. I was just surprised at how much better they looked.

Regarding the colorspace, I do not believe I am changing that. But I will check the camera colorspace (which I think is sRGB) and the space used in LR and the conversion to JPEG.

As for calibrating the monitor, I'll make two comments.
  1. I am familiar with the process, working with both Mac and Windows, the color rendition between the two is dramatically different; a difference exasperated by different monitors too. I have not calibrated my current monitor (on Windows, where I am using LR)
  2. Calibrating the monitor would affect all color, regardless of file-type, as it is a hardware configuration process, affecting the rendering of all pixels output to the device. i.e. if the color is right on my JPEG, it should be "right" on my RAW preview -- assuming the preview is in the same colorspace and presenting the same color in the same saturation with the same contrast etc., etc. ... which at this point, I think we know it is not.

Anyway ... I'll continue to review my settings and see if there is anything to tweak to enhance the previews a little. Regardless, my goal here was to seek a little understanding from fellow members (thanks all!) and draw attention to the issue for newcomers to DSLR, LR and PP in general, as none of us want a good photo to go unprocessed just because the preview was a little lackluster!!

Cheers!
05-03-2011, 11:12 AM   #14
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My comments with respect to calibration were more to the fact that Lightroom is a color managed application while most internet browsers are not. I say most as:

Firefox has some limited management, but it requires a switch to be turned on and it is limited.
Explorer 9 supposedly has color management, but I haven't tested it
Safari is fully color managed
Chrome is color managed on a Mac only.

This was why I had asked about how the JPGs look in Lightroom itself. In my workflow, I process images in Lightroom and I export them to JPGs and have them stacked with the originals. I expect my images to look the same as the RAWs within Lightroom. If you aren't seeing this, then it does seem you are having a problem that I can't explain. However, when I am in other programs, I am not surprised when they don't look the same, especially in browsers. I do think this is a general flaw in Windows where software has to accept color profiling and calibrated monitors rather than Macs where what you see is on the OS level, which makes all programs look great when calibrated. On my own work computer where the monitor tends to be over-bright and over-saturated, I just accept that I see the opposite of what you do. Generally, it isn't too bad, but I'd probably be more upset if I was trying to sell my photos. Then again, we can never control how others see our websites or images as you are seeing. Old monitors, bright monitors, dark monitors, etc. are all out of our control for the most part.
05-03-2011, 11:33 AM   #15
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One last suggestion, you can always set Lightroom (read up on this or google for info) to automatically apply a base processing scheme that gets you close to what you expect to see out of your camera.

As others have pointed out, RAW is just that, RAW. JPGs out of the camera generally have some generic processing scheme. The beauty of RAW software like Lightroom is that you can setup a generic processing scheme that is applied to all photos as they are imported into the Lightroom database. This might solve some of your problems, but you'd want to be sure that your JPGS are good and that you are happy with the results on some individual photos before setting this up for your whole database.
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