Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why didn't I do this before?

More coffee break photography.

I was impressed by yesterday's photo of the anemone; I had been trying for a shot of that column for some time, and it was always just a blur of green. Working from a RAW file, the detail came out clearer even than I see it in the tank, with my magnifying lens.

So I did a small experiment today. I set the camera to record both in RAW and jpeg, and took a photo of a watercolour painting that hangs on my wall. Then I processed both copies minimally, cropping them down to a small section of the painting, which gave me 100% zoom on my processing program screen with the jpeg. (The RAW file can be zoomed in quite a bit more.) With the actual painting in front of me, I adjusted lighting to match on both, and on the jpeg, colour balance. Both got identical sharpening.


Can you tell which is which?

The top one is the jpeg, the bottom RAW.

  • The second one has more definition; no blurring of brush strokes.
  • The colours are truer in the second. I fiddled with the jpeg for a while, trying to adjust the colours to match the painting; it was never right.
  • Even though processing the RAW file takes two separate sets of controls, and the jpeg only one, the RAW file was faster, because it needed less fine tuning at the final stage.
  • For the same area of the painting, the RAW file gives me more pixels, which means I can zoom in even more without losing anything.
  • Right click on each one, and open the link in a new tab. The jpeg is a small photo; the second one has over twice the area, so that much more detail. In this one, even the texture of the paper shows up.

That did it. I switched the camera over to RAW alone. (It takes about 10 times the memory, so I may need the space that the second copy would take.)

About the painting: it's a watercolour by a local artist, signed AA Brooke, 1954. His father had been a professional artist, and told young A.A. not to go that route, because he'd never make a decent living. As far as I know, the son became a farmer. When I knew him, in the early 1950s, he was in his eighties, long retired, and had a garden full of roses that he was hybridizing.

Every summer, he would take his wife and camera to Switzerland and take a bunch of photos. The rest of the year, he painted from those photos. He made one for me, a small cottage on a mountainside. I kept it for decades, and then it was stolen in a move.

This one, I inherited from my aunt, and whenever I move, it goes with me in the car.


  1. ...hmmm...each time I post a comment, it prompts me with an empty box to type it again after the spam verification...here's the comment again.

    The main differences between RAW and jpeg is:
    1) jpeg uses lossy compression. It assumes that the photo will not be edited, so there is more information stored in the "mediums", and less information at the whites and blacks. Furthermore, only 8-bits of information is stored per-pixel on a jpeg, but between 12 and 16-bits on RAW. You'll notice this most when you lighten or darken a JPEG. The greater the lighting difference between light and dark (for instance, an outdoor photo), the greater the difference you'll see between jpeg and RAW. You'll start seeing the effects when you apply multiple layers of processing.
    2) jpeg goes through the camera's auto-post-processing. Contrast, saturation and lighting are all applied to the finished product to give it more punch (most can be overridden in a dslr though). On my camera, jpeg generally looks better than RAW.

    The number of pixels should be the same. Since your jpeg isn't giving you the same resolution, it could be that you don't have the resolution set to the highest resolution. A RAW file will always be at the highest resolution of your camera.

    These are my observations from a Canon format, but I understand that most DSLRs will be similar.

    Shoot RAW if you expect to manipulate the photo further on your computer. Shoot jpeg if all you'll be doing is sending the photos directly to your friends and family afterwards.

    I loved the detail in the anemone photo by the way!

  2. Thanks, Tim. Very helpful!

    (I don't know what Blogger is doing with these empty boxes. Your comment got posted three times. I deleted the first two.)

    I reset my camera to save both RAW and jpeg again. I made sure that the jpeg was set to the maximum; my camera only gives me the option of Fine, Normal, and Basic. I chose Fine.

    I shot one photo with this setting. The jpeg turned out to be 3696 x 2448 pixels, and 2.7 MB. The RAW photo was 4948 x 3280 pixels, and 16.8 MB. So my camera won't give me a duplicate size.

    I lightened both photos by the same amount. The difference in the shadows is amazing; in the jpeg, it's just big swatches of blurry colour. RAW shows detail.

    Since 99% of the time, I do process the photo, at least slightly, I'll be shooting RAW, as you suggested.

  3. Fine, Normal, Basic are image quality settings, and refer to the image compression on jpeg. However, they don't affect resolution.

    There should be a Large, Medium, Small setting somewhere (if this web page is correct: http://www.dcresource.com/reviews/nikon/d7000-review/using) The 3696 x 2448 corresponds with Medium.

    Normally, if I'm shooting RAW, I elect to use the smallest resolution for the JPEG copy which I like just for display speed.

  4. Found them! The image size setting was unavailable as long as I had the thing set to RAW. Which makes sense, but I hadn't thought it out.


  5. Thanks for the tutorial. Sometimes it pays to just try it out for yourself.


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