About cameras, formats and smart tips…

My first digital camera was Canon Digital Rebel aka Canon EOS 300D. The price was reasonable, for $999 including the kit lens, with 6.3 MP and frame rate of 3 frames per second, it was a very good value for money, back in 2003. The camera was purchased in a photography shop somewhere in Miami Florida, while attending Photoshop World conference.
The highlight of that conference was the launch of Photoshop Version 8, the first version to receive the CS mark.
Beyond all the graphic mambo-jumbo that accompanies any new version of Photoshop, what interested me most was the implementation of Adobe Camera Raw, as an integral part of the program for the first time.
Digital photography world eagerly waited for this, although not everyone understood what was in it for them, why they need such large files  (the common storage capacity of memory cards in those early days was only 256 MB) and in general, why one must do something before showing the picture to someone…
Fortunately (as I will demonstrate below), I came across two interesting people, who were interested in the new camera that was hanging on me (was launched only a few days earlier) and were happy to start a friendly conversation about technology issues and digital photography. These people were the great photographer Steven Johnson and lecturer / writer Scott Kelbi.
All in all, I remember to this day the most important tip I ever got regarding digital photography – Choose Raw format in the camera menu and never change it again!

I wondered why and Mr. Johnson explained that the photographed image file itself can not be changed, but the developing technology of Raw files will improve in the future, so it will be possible to generate higher quality output from the very same files.

Boy, was he right …

So, Why Raw?

Raw format keeps all the information that was captured by the sensor, without intervention and without processing. The color depth of the captured data, is 12, 14 or 16 bit (depending on camera model), as opposed to a JPEG image file which is fully processed by the camera, has only 8 bit color depth and uses lossy compression that significantly reduces image details.

The so called “Disadvantage” of Camera Raw format is that you must “develop” the raw file and save another image, in JPEG or TIFF format that will allow you to use it in common software. In fact, this is the biggest advantage of Camera Raw format… Raw develop software presented a significant progress in recent years, so you can always go back to old files and produce enhanced images that could not have been produced in the past.

Processing Samples

This outdoor photo, taken in 2003, was developed by Photoshop CS, when the Camera Raw developer’s version (ACR – Adobe Camera Raw) was 2.4:

This version had no support for camera profiles, no support for lens profiles. It didn’t even know how to handle Highlights and Shadows separately…

Notice what happened to that file when I developed it with a newer version of Photoshop, which includes support for cameras and lenses profiles and equipped with advanced brightness, contrast and color control:

It’s quite amazing to see that the camera’s dynamic range is so wide. The old software, simply could not extract all the details from the file! The new version extracted much more details in various brightness areas, the colors are much deeper and image quality in general, is dramatically improved.

The next image was taken in San Francisco in 2007, using Canon Rebel XT (aka Canon EOS 350D) and was developed by Photoshop CS2 (ACR 3):

Notice the loss of information underneath the bus, its yellow color, the red color of the sign behind its right side and the color of the road.

The same file was developed by a newer version of Photoshop. This is the result:

It’s easy to notice the improved contrast, the enhanced colors and the lens distortion correction. This is the result of the implementation of much more advanced technology, into programs almost every photographer is familier with, Lightroom and Photoshop.

Closing Thoughts

The obvious conclusion for me, is the title of this post – Wise People Shoot Raw,
because the wise avoids situations the smart has to find ways to overcome 🙂

Wish you a successful and productive year, a lot of good photos and don’t forget think about the future of your images …

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