Nikon Know-how

Renowned pho­tog­ra­pher and au­thor Michael Free­man pro­vides the ul­ti­mate guide to file for­mats

NPhoto - - Contents -

Pho­tog­ra­phy ex­pert Michael Free­man pits RAW files against JPEGs, look­ing at the ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of each…

Th­ese days, it’s the re­ceived wis­dom that few dis­pute – shoot RAW for bet­ter im­age qual­ity – but why and how tend to

be glossed over. If you’re aim­ing to get the best out of your images (and who isn’t?) it’s im­por­tant to know ex­actly what a RAW file has to of­fer.

Here we’re go­ing to take a look un­der the bon­net of the RAW for­mat, and at the se­quence of events that re­sult in a view­able, and nor­mal­look­ing, pho­to­graph. This se­quence takes place in the cam­era, and that’s where the an­swers to the RAW ver­sus JPEG contest lie.

Not that there’s any­thing in­trin­si­cally wrong with JPEGs. They’re the way we see the majority of photographs th­ese days (and your fi­nal im­age will prob­a­bly be a JPEG), but a lot of stuff gets thrown away when cre­at­ing a JPEG from the orig­i­nal data that is cap­tured by your cam­era’s sen­sor. So the ba­sic ques­tion is, do you want this to be thrown away by the cam­era in the heat of shoot­ing? Or would you rather have some con­trol over it later, with the bet­ter pro­cess­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of a com­puter?

Do it your­self

If you re­tain the RAW file, then the key steps of de­mo­saic­ing, cor­rect­ing the colour and ap­ply­ing a hu­man- eye-like gamma curve (see be­low) are all avail­able to do later on your com­puter, with soft­ware like Light­room, Pho­to­shop or DxO Op­tics. They can do a bet­ter job than your cam­era, and more than that, they can re­cover tones that might oth­er­wise be lost – as well as let­ting you set what­ever white bal­ance you like. This might not be ob­vi­ous, be­cause all in-cam­era pro­cess­ing soft­ware ‘hides’ the ba­sic steps, so what comes out of the cam­era is a ‘nor­malised’ im­age.

With RAW files, high­lights can be re­cov­ered, and mid­tones are much smoother

With JPEGs, de­tail in blown high­lights can’t be re­cov­ered, and band­ing is an is­sue

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