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mandag 10. januar 2011

Sliders, Curves or the straight out the box

Ever since the first Degeurrotype was developed and shared with the public and compartiots, the post processing debate has raged, or maybe just simmered in the back ground. The death of film and the power of image adjustment software, from the Gimp, Aperture. LightRoom or PS Creative Suite has reignited the arguements:

who is cleverer? Are the best images made in the "darkroom" or is the instant it is captured ? Can we forget good camera technique and save everything in post?

There is no wrong or right in this: the crux of the matter today is the nerdy-smart-alecs and the pros alike are feeling uneasy as camera JPEG quality starts to exceed what they used to be so clever at doing in post'. This even at the compact camera level.

My opinion is clear: get the best out of your camera and your eye when shooting and save yourself the time and potential disappointment anyway in RAW. It won't save an out of focus image, and if you used bracketing on a diffficult light range then you may get a best shot straight out the box. Spend more time on your photography, not your post. Get better glass with a spare time job if you intend to spend a lot of time on your photography rather than being glued to a mouse.

Are we idiots not to work on RAW? Well given your camera doesn't have a weak JPEG engine, then you could easily waste a lot of time, even in "batch processing", which incidentally runs the risk of destroying subtleties in unqiuely exposed images.

Well RAW work will never make up for out of focus shots, camera shake, natural photon noise in low light, or of course bad, boring or just stupid composition.

One of the biggest bleeting cries of the nerds ( and I am not talking Photoshop post process artists and collage types, they are in a world of their own artistic merits) is that we should not rely on some ersatz JPEG engine horse shoed into the camera. Well, I actually think that Olypmus in particular have some pretty knowledgable people in this area, who live and breath photography and understand IQ for pros and family users alike. Looking at RAW developer in CS4, it looks like it is going very "quick slider" oriented, which both deskills and debunks a lot of the long learned tricks the nerds have. Now their tools are reduced to sliders, which are programmed by someone else...ersatz.

Don't listen to the nerds: they don't have galleries on FLICKR because they are intro-perfectionists, they never get there and all they will share with other people is their opinion, not their images. When you do see the real slider-freak images then often they are not their own, or they fall into the boring or image library shot copy-cat images.

Why RAW then?

RAW is there in the same way negatives were 20 years ago; somewhere to go when you get a really good shot and you need to enlarge it in particular or present a print in a professional looking processing.

JPEG is like running test prints and making an album of 6x8"s , you can have fun with curve work, colours, sharpness, and then all the masks, paths and effects you like: why not do these on raw-? it only takes longer, and you will be best advised to export to JPEG rather than TIF for modern media at some point anyway. ( TIF files are often much larger than the RAWs they are made from because they contain EXPANDED info, not compressed as in JPEG. The latter was introduced by the "joint photographic experts group" when smaller file sizes were desirable, while quality to the human eye ( ie low detail, low data) was acceptable.)

Great if you are making money, and we mostly have to use 35-65 hours a week doing that, to get paid to sit and only work on RAW: even then your true value added activity is putting subject in front of lens.

As an amateur photographer, and not data-chained geek, RAW is there to work over to TIF for the very best compositions and most interesting possibilities from a very few images you have most likely, or if you have had a very intense and organised "shoot" then you may want to a default batch process to see which ones are actually the best by making them "pop" ( i hate this term now, so cover-all and mean little) .

Currently there are no DSLRs on the market with "poor" jpeg engines, and most have some degree of control over how much sharpness, contrast etc gets incorporated into the JPEG.

A few DSLRs are way slower when doing RAW plus JPEG, so if you do have a powerfu PC workstation, then you may be as well to batch process to achieve pretty much what the cameras "first pass" would do, just to get more FPS when shooting. This is actually a very good reason to shoot RAW only if your camera is notably slower when combining RAW with a JPEG

Finally there are some difficult scenarios : white balance is one and blown highlights is another, while often shadow detiail can be addressed in larger JPEGs straight out the camera. This is not an afternote at all, this is an important application for RAW develpment, but only once you have tried in the JPEG then you may need to go back to the raw to stretch detail and tonal depth into highlights and quarter tones, while also getting a larger eventual image output.

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