Warning – this post may cause offence to many digital photographers out there, particularly if you are a DSLR user and have been using RAW for many years and see no reason to change.
Back in my early Digital SLR years (Canon EOS D30 – yes that D is on the correct side of the number) I was convinced to switch from shooting in JPEG (aka JPG) to shoot in RAW. This was back when Lightroom was a glint in Adobe’s eye and just before the release of Camera Raw – back then it was an expensive add-on to the current version of Photoshop that was out at the time.
The only way at the time to process RAW files was to use the Canon DPP software, although free it was (and still is) not a great program. When Camera Raw arrived on the scene this all changed and was even better when it became part of the standard Photoshop package.
The release of Lightroom (and also Apple’s Aperture) added better workflow as well for the many photographs that we were taking.
The advantages of shooting in RAW are primarily the following:
- The “White Balance” is not baked-in to the file and can be set after the file is taken
- The latitude for correcting incorrect exposure is quite remarkable
- The RAW file is never edited directly and manipulations are held in a separate file (Camera Raw) or Database (Lightroom). Changes to JPEG files are modifications of the original file and every save is a degradation of the file (unless you save the file in a non-lossy format such as TIFF or PSD).
- Sharpening, Contrast and Noise Reduction are automatically applied to the JPEG whereas the RAW file can have this applied to taste (and changed non-destructively) after the fact by the Photographer.
This is a compelling set of reasons to use RAW. And like everyone else at the time I started shooting in RAW. The release of new Cameras and the corresponding updates to software that could read and “edit” the RAW files was initially quite clunky but since these early days the camera and software the manufacturers seem to be talking to each other so that the software updates match the camera availability dates.
Fast forward many years and up until quite recently I was still shooting RAW and I didn’t see a need to change. However I am now seriously considering going back to shooting in JPEG, although I see an intermediate JPEG + RAW stepping stone to this. So what about all of those good reasons listed earlier? What’s changed?
The change is down to two things, the camera that I now use and the way that the output from the camera will be consumed.
I have blogged about my switch to a Lumix GH3, this is a Micro 4-3rds camera and my initial reason for switching is due to the fact that a Kit comprising this camera and lenses will weigh much less (kg’s less) than my old Canon EOS 5D-III and the various “L” Lenses. The 5D-III was without a doubt the best DSLR I have ever shot with and was jammed pack with all the latest Canon features. It had an almost flawless Auto-Focus system and a set of video features that rivals those that are on the GH3.
The choice of photographic gear is always an exercise in compromise and although I have lost some features from the Canon, I have also gained some features from the GH3. I am happy that I have a professional camera body that handles much like a DSLR but weighs much less and requires a lot less space to carry and store.
The GH3 is a mirror-less camera which means that there is no optical view finder and instead you have to use an EVF – to many photographers this is a reason to not to use them. I don’t see this as a disadvantage. Regardless of whether you use the EVF or the rear screen, there is no difference (on a mirror-less camera), the controls to shoot are the same the performance of the auto-focus is the same and you don’t have to switch modes. Because the camera is much lighter, shooting (stills and video) from the rear screen doesn’t have the same stability problems that a DSLR has.
If you are on a tripod the stability problems are not an issue and whilst you can switch most DSLRs into “Mirror-up” mode you suddenly loose some of the advantages of the DSLR provides. If you are shooting stills you will most likely use the optical viewfinder because that is what we have been taught to do and this gives you access to the better auto-focus system. I don’t know about you but I would rather have a larger screen to view the photo that I am taking with no detriments to any of the features of the camera.
What about if the screen cannot be seen because the light is at the wrong angle? The GH3 has a screen that can be rotated to almost any angle so this might resolve the issue or we can switch to the EVF. If you need to record a video and the DSLR user has to use the rear screen (usually it is fixed) and without some form of shielding cannot be seen in direct sunlight, the GH3 use can use the EVF in these conditions.
With a live preview (on the rear screen and EVF) you can see what you are going to take on a Mirror-less camera; you can get it right “in camera” before you take a single shot. On a DSLR if you want to use the “superior” optical viewfinder you take a picture check, make changes, take a picture, check, make changes and repeat until you have the shot you envisaged. We keep being told by pro photographers that we should get it right in-camera rather than relying on post processing to “fix” the picture.
This wasn’t possible a few years ago but the rear screens and EVF on cameras today are so good that you can check almost everything before the shot is taken.
If we can get it right in camera is there a need to shoot RAW? If you starting shooting JPEG you reduce the post-processing time to almost nothing, you save space and if you have a Wi-Fi camera (like the GH3) you can wirelessly transfer files to a tablet or PC almost in real time. I will state here though that anything over and above colour / exposure correction will still need to be applied, especially if you want to clone out something from the picture. If you know the resulting output WILL need a lot of work you can still use RAW; but this becomes the exception and not the norm.
My last DSLR was and is a fantastic camera, many people will agree with me. However I had to do a lot of work on nearly all of my keepers and I did check the screen before taking pictures. This wasn’t a season to taste correction either, these were essential on the pictures taken.
Contrast this with the photos taken with the GH3 and the main correction I have had to perform is cropping (of the RAW files). My selects have had some “season to taste” changes – a bit of Clarity some Vibrancy and on a couple of high-ISO shots some noise reduction. I spend a lot less time in Lightroom now; the JPEG images did not need these changes as they have already been processed correctly in camera. I still had to crop some of them but having a focal length of 600mm available reduced the amount of this too.
I am also shooting a lot more video as it is as easy as shooting still images; check out my Swan update posts. There is no RAW format for videos, these need to be right when you take the video as there is vary little latitude in changes that can be made.
I talked about consumption of the output too. The main devices that will be used to view pictures will be screen based, whether this is via a Smartphone, Tablet or computer. If you have video this will have to be screen based. There is also talk of a new medium which is a combination of the two whereby you have a file (typically held on your smart-phone and/or tablet) that has video, audio, pictures and possibly screen captures.
We (as photographers) need to move into this new medium – anyone whose business model is based on stills with an output to print based medium will not survive in the near future unless they start to look at hybrid services now with multiple means of portraying those images on screen based devices. This will be more evident as the next generation of photographers who will have these skills when they leave school.
I will add a final note though; there are certain types of photography where you will require to a large number of modifications (such as Glamour and Portraits) and for these types RAW makes lots of sense. For most of the subjects that I take pictures of JPG makes sense as it is the look at the moment of capture that matters and it is not a matter of how can I make the subject look the best.
I will finish this blog post with a YouTube video from Giulio Sciorio who talks about using mirror-less cameras in general and also about the use of JPEG and getting it right in camera. As usual if the video does not show the refresh the web-page.