The RAW Truth - Part 3

So, I’ve been singing the praises of RAW files. But ... come on ... there must be a downside.

Well ... yes ... I have to admit there is.

For starters, RAW files are larger than JPEG ones, sometimes much larger. As a result you’ll get fewer photos on your memory card. For example, I use a 4GB card. If I set the camera to take JPEG files at the highest quality I can get 375 images on it. If I take RAW photos I can only store 155. That’s fewer than half. A big difference.

But, set that off against the fact that spare memory cards are pretty cheap nowadays and it doesn’t look so bad. And you can buy little portable hard disks that will store photos. I have one, it’s smaller than a paperback book, runs off batteries and can store 40GB. So, when I’m travelling and likely to run out of memory in the camera I simply transfer my photos to the portable drive and wipe the memory card clean.

You could do the same using a laptop computer. In fact, I do both – transfer the photos from my card to my portable hard disk and on to a laptop. I do it every evening. I know it sounds like ‘belt and braces’ stuff, but it greatly reduces the chance of precious photos being lost or corrupted. I always have a backup.

It also stops my memory card in the camera getting too full, with the attendant danger of everything being corrupted (see todays’s PhotoTip).

The second disadvantage of RAW is that you have to work on the files to ‘develop’ the image. And you need some sort of specialised software to do this – Photoshop, Lightroom, a RAW converter supplied by your camera manufacturer, or something similar.

A RAW file is like a digital negative but, instead of working in a darkroom, with the stink of various nasty chemical solutions, you develop your digital image sitting in front of a computer.

And some of the work is quite easy (compared to darkroom work). For example, sometimes I forget to change my camera settings from a previous session and get some horrible results.

On one occasion I’d been taking photographs inside and had the White Balance set to incandescent light. When I stepped outside I forgot to change it ...

I took a whole lot like this before I realised what I'd done. No problem. When I was working on them back at the computer I simply clicked on the ‘White Balance’ tab on my RAW converter, switched it to ‘Daylight’, and hey presto ...

Ansel Adams once said, “The negative is the equivalent of the composer's score, and the print the performance.” If he’s been photographing today he would have said ‘RAW file’ instead of ‘negative’.

So ... to continue with his analogy ... what do you want to do? Turn the musical score into a performance by twiddling the handle of a barrel organ? Or would you rather learn to play it on the piano?


Sulman said...

I was shooting digital for about a year before choosing RAW. There were a few obstacles - my initial explorations were using Canon's bundled conversion software. It was slow and fiddly, but I could definitely see the potential and control that it offered. I then tried DPP, which was Canon's free and greatly improved (fast!) processor, and integrated that into my workflow.

Initially - like most learners - I used it to tweak exposure (and still do, to a lesser extent) but as time has gone on I've got to know the camera's quirks a little better, and normal outdoor daylight shooting causes me few problems, in fact I barely touch the raw image at all and just convert it straight to tif or jpg for work in Photoshop.

However, for those situations where I'm not so comfortable, it's saved my neck countless times, such as indoors, night time, and available light. The ability to change white balance so easily (as your fireman example shows) is something I've never managed to master in photoshop so RAW is worth it for that alone, in my eyes!


Alistair Scott said...

Some good points based on your experiences. Thanks James.