Wednesday, 7 August 2013

RAW vs jpeg

I have been shooting in the RAW format for a few years now (apart form the last assignment, where I had to shoot solely in jpeg). Prior to this I had been shooting in jpeg format, mainly because I wasn't keen on the massive file size increase. I have since found the RAW files to be more malleable in post-processing.

1. Jpeg version of 'Daylight' shot
2. RAW version of 'Daylight' shot

      However, there have been times when I was wondering: what benefit was I getting from shooting in RAW format? Looking back now I could see the times I was wondering this was when I was shooting in less difficult lighting conditions, like on a sunny day.

   Therefore, I was interested in this exercise because I could then make an educated assertion on which file format was more efficient for me to shoot in, in certain lighting conditions. By efficient I was describing the workflow afterwards in post processing, would the RAW format always yield better results? Also I used efficient because using the smaller jpeg format in certain circumstances, like sunny days, would mean I could save more images onto a single memory card. 
3. Jpeg version of 'Artificial lighting' shot
4. RAW version of 'Artificial lighting' shot

   Lastly, I had been shooting in RAW + jpeg format recently because I liked the flexibility of being able to choose afterwards; seeing as the cost of high capacity memory cards were less. This option of course increased the file size further but meant you could choose whether to post process and also there was the option of giving a client the jpeg format photographs then and there.

   I found that with the daylight image the jpeg (Image 1) provided a 'punchier' result, whereas the equivalent RAW file (Image 2) was more 'refined' in my eyes. Also the shadows were less blocked up and the highlights less blown out. However, the result was subtle, which I'd been expecting because I had exposed the photograph well. Also the lighting conditions were forgiving compared to the artificial and high dynamic range examples, which I was interested to cover next.

   With the artificial lighting shot I took, I could see after processing both the RAW and jpeg files that there was a much bigger perceivable, positive gap between the white balance than the dynamic range of the RAW and jpeg files respectively. This was in comparison to the daylight photo I'd just analysed. I put this down to the white balance settings being 'saved and kept separate from the original capture data' as stated in the course.

   To recreate the colour and white balance found in the RAW file under artificial lighting (Image 4) in the jpeg (Image 3), I had to spend some time changing the relevant sliders and even then I couldn't match it very well. The RAW version just looked more natural, especially in the player's facial features. There wasn't much difference in dynamic range between the RAW and jpeg though.
6. RAW version of 'High Dynamic Range' shot
5. Jpeg version of ' High dynamic range' shot

   The high dynamic range image I chose to use provided some results that I found surprising. The jpeg (Image 5)  produced better colour results than the RAW (Image 6) when I compared the unprocessed versions in Lightroom. I realised the jpeg had the settings embedded in-camera but I wasn't expecting to have to process the RAW file so it could match the jpeg in terms of colour. Specifically, there was red present in the jpeg and I had to tweak the hue setting for the RAW file to reproduce this colour, which was desirable for me in the sunset.

   After saying this, though the RAW file did have better dynamic range, because I was exposing for the highlights in this sunset shot, it wasn't so important. Also the colour was slightly richer too. I chose to expose for the highlights because for me they were the most important bit of the image. In fact I deliberately blocked the shadows up a bit so the eye was more drawn to the setting Sun and its reflection in the water.

   So in conclusion, advantages of raw for me are: artificial lighting - you still would find it necessary to 'get all the settings [white balance] as you would like them in the camera' - as stated in the course with jpeg files. This might not always be feasible like if you're working quickly in difficult lighting conditions. Secondly, with high dynamic range images there is more leeway to optimise the image afterwards in RAW format, although not as much as I had thought.

   A last point was in daylight with not too difficult lighting there was not much difference between the two file types so it confirmed for me that jpeg was a feasible alternative in these conditions.