Why shoot RAW?

RAW image files are sometimes referred to as ‘digital negatives’ because they save the data obtained from the camera sensor as information that can be converted into an image. The data is unprocessed and requires a RAW converter to transform it into an image. What you have with a RAW capture is an incredible amount of data with a much wider dynamic range and color tonality from which to construct an image with more freedom. An in-camera JPG file is that same image data compressed with a predefined contrast curve and color management applied by the camera manufacturer as a fit-all solution to how images should look.

If you imagine a RAW file as a huge range of ingredients in a kitchen, then you’ll understand that the bigger the selection of materials, the more possibilities are available for creating something delicious. To continue the analogy, if a large counter packed with every imaginable ingredient is RAW, then a JPG would be a cake mix.

All cameras capture in RAW, but when you decide to shoot JPG, most cameras will convert your RAW file to a JPG for you, only keeping the JPG. We want to share why we think shooting in RAW is the way to go for more control, flexibility, and quality.

If you don’t already own Capture One, download a 30-day trial and try editing RAW files today.

 

How far can camera control take you?

“Just get it right in camera” is probably a statement you’ve heard, or maybe even said, at some point in your life as a photographer. While there is some truth to the statement, there’s a limit to what you can actually ‘get right’ in camera. White balance, depth of field, focus, exposure – you have control of these. But when it comes to contrast, color grading, highlight and shadow recovery, and much more, it’s almost impossible in most cases to have any impact on this before pressing the shutter.

Getting everything as close as possible to what you want in-camera is by far the best starting point. But some things simply have to be done in post-production and editing a RAW file has much more to offer than editing a JPG file. Below is a quick run-through of some of the benefits of RAW.

 

Easy-to-correct white balance

While it’s easy for studio and landscape photographers to set the white balance correct, it’s not always possible for other genres of photography. Take event photography, for example. You move around, in and out of buildings, sun, shade, everything is changing, and you just have to follow the subjects. The ability to easily correct white balance in post-production is a key benefit of shooting RAW.

Original file was too blue due to the time of day and incorrect white balance. Since some areas of the original JPG file had a blown out blue channel (255), it was impossible to bring back details of that channel. The RAW file provided correct colors with a single click with the White Balance Picker.

Diving into bit-depth

It sounds technical, but bit-depth can be seen as the number of shades between the darkest value of a pixel and the brightest value. When you capture an image in JPG, the depth is 8-bit. This provides 256 shades per channel per pixel. A 12-bit RAW file captures 4.096 shades per channel, while a 16-bit RAW file captures a whopping 65.536 shades.

Long story short, you have so much more information to play around with in a RAW file, making your images super flexible with smooth tonal transitions when you edit them.

 

Get more dynamic range

I like to describe dynamic range as the elasticity of an image. There are more details in the shadows and highlights than meet the eye if you capture your images in RAW. Capture One is renowned for its highlight and shadow recovery capabilities, providing a solid foundation for bringing back details in areas of your image that would have been lost if shooting in JPG.

The original image was overexposed with blown out highlights. Reaching 255 in multiple channels, it was impossible to recover any data in those areas from the JPG file. The dynamic range of the RAW file allowed a clean recovery using Capture One.

 

Better Image quality

With more control comes better image quality. The ability to fine-tune sharpening and noise reduction before converting your RAW file puts you in the front seat of the process, providing optimal image quality.

 

You can go back in time

Image editing software is constantly evolving, and as new tools and features emerge, it’s allowing more sophisticated processes for your photography. I have talked to photographers loading ten-year-old RAW files into Capture One 11 to discover that they can get much more out of their files than they could ten years ago. It brought new life to their old images.

RAW processing algorithms are becoming more and more advanced, and you really don’t have the same possibilities with old JPG files. So, keep those RAWs!

 

What’s the catch?

RAW files take up more space, filling your memory cards and hard disks up faster. This isn’t as big a problem today as it was ten years ago, as storage prices are very low. Also, most cameras shoot slightly slower in burst mode when shooting RAW files.

Another catch is speed. All images shot in RAW have to be processed with a RAW converter. This, mixed with the slower burst speed, makes it less preferable for sports photographers covering major sports events. The images have to go to press as fast as possible, making it difficult to run every image through a RAW converter.

 

So, what should I shoot?

Unless you need to deliver images very fast (say for newspaper photography), or if the colors and contrast aren’t the priority in the specific images, you should absolutely shoot in RAW.

Today’s memory cards bring a lot of storage for a reasonable price, so if your camera supports shooting RAW + JPG, that is an option that brings you the best of both worlds. You have a JPG file instantly available next to the corresponding RAW file, offering you all the options described above. The only downside to this is a more demanding file management.

Just like working with a full set of ingredients at hand, shooting your images in RAW will provide the full set of options for editing your images exactly as you want them to look.

What’s your main argument for shooting RAW?

March 20 2018

By Alexander Flemming

Category: Tech Talk Tags:
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  • Alexander Flemming
    Alexander Flemming

    Alexander works as a Photographer and Marketing Specialist in Software Marketing of Phase One. Previous experience as a Test Engineer along with 10 years of photography have provided Alexander with a broad understanding of the many technical advantages of Capture One Pro.

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    Comments (4)

    Most of these arguments are based on correcting mistakes. RAW is very useful but for many it is a ‘crutch’ for bad technique. At the end of the day if you get your settings right the end results will be indestinguishable because when you process the RAW you turn it into a jpeg anyway. I agree, it is useful to shoot in RAW – but it is mostly a cructh for bad technique which is useful in a fast moving environment.

    Alexander Flemming

    Hi Desmond,

    Yes, they are to illustrate extreme situations. I completely disagree that it’s a crutch for bad technique. You don’t have control over scenes with extreme dynamic ranges, and having the flexibility of RAW files to fix the highlights and shadows is what makes or breaks those images.

    As a wedding photographer, I would never tell my clients that they could’ve gotten better image quality if I shot in RAW, but I believed my own technique so much, that I decided to shoot JPG. Yes, many RAW files are converted to JPG in the end, but that’s not the point. All adjustments happen before the conversion, thus retaining the quality. Converting a RAW to a 16-bit TIFF for print also provides a much higher image quality than using an 8-bit JPG file as source file.

    Even in slow moving environments, the difference between 8-bit and 14-bit / 16-bit has a huge impact on the elasticity of color tonalities, which can be important when color grading and using local adjustments – something that cannot be done in-camera, no matter your technique.

    Alexander

    Just as an experiment – take an image at the correct settings and then compare the RAW vs jpeg results [edit both as well to make it fair]

    Dennis B

    I really hope in future versions that Capture One can integrate and work with LUTs. Thank you

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