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Sunday, July 17, 2011

RAW, JPEG, or TIFF?



     Capture file format is a subject that has been discussed over and over again in blogs, forums, books, and magazine articles. Opinions differ wildly but most do agree, the RAW file capture format offers the  most flexibility in processing and highest quality images and that JPEG is the quickest and easiest to capture & process as long as you need to get all the settings right in camera. TIFF offers high quality images, but the file sizes are the largest and just like JPEG you need to get the settings right in camera. Most agree that there isn't much benefit to capturing images in the TIFF format.

    I have tried all three at various points in time and have made the choice to use RAW for my scenic, nature, and floral images and JPEG most of the time for my event photography. Why? Let me express my own personal opinions as well as further elaborating on each file format's strengths and weaknesses.
   
RAW:
    Indisputably offers the best and highest quality images that your camera has to offer along with flexibility in processing. The images are more "elastic", you can change things like color balance and saturation without degrading the quality of your images. The RAW files can also be processed to either offer more detail in either the shadow or highlight areas of your images. Processing an image both ways, you can later combine those 2 images in a photo editing program to create one image with more detail in both the shadow & highlight areas in a scene than you would with just a single photo alone. Not as much detail as you could by using fancy HDR (high dynamic range) programs and a series of 3 or more image captures, but still an improvement over a single processed image alone. More about that in a future blog post.
    There are 3 main drawbacks to RAW. 1. Files sizes are larger than JPEG (but smaller than TIFF.) 2. The file format can be difficult to deal with on the computer end of things. Many programs can not read the RAW format and you will need a special program to view and process them. Your camera manufacturer's own file processing software does a great job with that, as well as Photoshop and many other third party software. 3. Extra processing time. RAW needs to be processed and then saved as a standard file format (such as JPEG or TIFF) to be viewable in general software or computer browsing software. This may involve you to have to work on your images twice, once time for RAW processing and then again then another round in your regular photo processing software for any advanced image enhancements that you may want to make.

JPEG:
    The smallest and easiest to manage file option. If you choose the highest quality JPEG file option that your camera has to offer and expose the image properly at the time of capture, the resulting images can be quite beautiful and hard to distinguish from RAW. There may be some slight loss of quality and a smaller gamut of color due to the JPEG compression, but most viewers won't be able to notice the difference. But you really do need to make sure you nail your exposure and color settings at the point of capture as JPEG images quickly deteriorate when you start to alter them. JPEG artifacts and digital noise often increase when a JPEG image is overworked in a photo editing program.     In my own work, I notice that there is almost no chance for highlight detail recovery if an image is overexposed and if an image is underexposed and later brightened during computer processing, then there is an unacceptable increase in digital noise (similar to film grain, but more objectionable due to the resulting colored specks.)
    JPEG is the best choice when card space is at a premium or when you don't really  have the additional time and patience to deal with the extra processing that RAW requires. Just remember that you really need to get it as close to "right" in camera or your image quality will suffer.

TIFF:
    Similar to JPEG as the images are readable in nearly all computer programs but there is no image file compression so the file sizes are larger and the image quality is slightly clearer. There also is a slightly better gamut of color. The files are slightly more "elastic" than JPEG, they don't deteriorate as quickly as JPEGS when changes are made in photo editing software but it is still best to get it as close to right in camera for the same reasons as JPEG, just slightly less so.

    I tried this format for a while and came to the conclusion that it's not worth the extra file size. I choose RAW or JPEG.


    A recent computer breakdown this year has me working on a shared computer. I started using JPEG for my scenic and flower images again, in attempt to save myself some computer time. I stuck with the plan for about a month before deciding to switch back to RAW. Why? I'm a handheld shooter that often chooses to slightly underexpose my images in order to use a faster shutter speed to avoid blur due to camera shake when using slower shutter speeds handheld. One stop can make a big difference for me. But I noticed an unacceptable increase in image noise when brightening the images during computer editing as opposed to the same amount of brightening for my RAW images. I also like to have the option of changing color balance later when necessary. Sure you can alter the color balance of JPEGs later, but it just never really looks as good as the same fix in RAW. To me it's worth the extra processing time. And I actually find that I have to do less editing to my images in Photoshop with the RAW processed images. Most of the alterations to my captured images are just simple things like altering color balance, brightening the image, and sometimes adding a slight boost to color saturation. All done during RAW processing. In Photoshop, usually all I need to do afterward is some minor cloning out of spots or distractions in the background, a slight darkening of edges or background, and perhaps the occasional minor cropping of an image. I do like getting my images as close to "right" during in camera image capture. It's my preference.

    So which should you pick? My advice to you would be to experiment and make your own decision based on your own work and experiences and not to get to obsessive wondering what everyone else is doing or what they think of your choice. While many pros choose to work with RAW, there are still many others who choose to shoot in the JPEG format. If it looks right to you, then it is right. RAW simply is just not for everyone!

So which photos were shot in which format here?
The first and third photos (red tulips, yellow tulip closeup) were captured in JPEG and the second and fourth photos (viola, African daisy) were captured in RAW.


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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Is New Technology Overrated?

    In my first blog post I stated that I purchased my first DSLR camera in 2006, and I also mentioned that I am still using this camera as my  main camera. I did not mention, however, that the camera I use was originally released in 2003. some may ask "why do you choose to use a camera that is using technology that is 8 years old?" Especially since I sell and market my images.

    Well let me start off by saying that I have never had any complaints about the quality of my work. Whether it is being used as a small editorial photo in a magazine, being used as a photo that spans 2 pages in a book or magazine, or being sold as an 11x17 art print. And yes, I can go even larger than that with careful upsizing in Photoshop.

    But I still haven't answered your question. Well, I'm not one of those people that crave the "latest & greatest" in technology. There are many people that feel the need to buy the newest technology simply out of a need to have the newest to show off to their friends or casual observers that they meet, or simply because they were told it's better by people "in the know." Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having the newest possible camera but you may not really need it. But I don't believe in going into debt just to buy the newest equipment. I am not out to impress anyone with my gear, only with my images.

    I am currently using two Olympus E-1 cameras. I do love m y current setup as I enjoy having two of the same camera bodies. When photographing at home, I usually leave one with my longer lens (70-300mm) attached so it's always at the ready to capture on the fly bird and butterflies when they come to visit. I then have my other E-1 with either my 14-54mm or Lensbaby attached, depending on what I may be photographing at the time. It is also nice to have a backup camera that is exactly the same as the main one that I am using. No need to worry about the main camera breaking down and then having to work with a backup camera that may have a lesser pixel count, a different look to the images, and a slightly different configuration of controls to deal with. After my eventual upgrade, that will be an issue for me to deal with. But not now.

    I love the ease of use of my E-1. The ergonomics of the camera has made a favorite with many. Plus the way it handles color is quite exceptional. Those two points are the reason the E-1 is still a popular cult favorite today. I am not alone in my love for this "dinosaur" of a camera. When I visit my favorite Olympus online photo forum, there are always posts from fellow E-1 users showing off their newest photos. And there are also posts from new E-1 users. Yes, 8 years later there are still new buyers for this old camera. I will upgrade one day but right now I am in no hurry.

    But you are probably still sitting there wondering if new technology is overrated and if YOU need the latest and greatest. Well, obviously I believe that new technology is overrated and that there is no shame in using a camera with older technology if it meets your needs. But everyone's needs are different. If you are thinking about upgrading your camera or if you are buying your first DSLR camera here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Do you really need lots of megapixels? Are you going to print large or heavily crop your images? Or perhaps you would like to capture images with lots of detail so that you can zoom in and see all the details in
 a landscape, natural or urban? If so, then yes, you need as many megapixels as you can afford. If not, a lower megapixel count will render file sizes that are easy to manage and process. My E-1 is only 5 MP and I have not had any complaints about quality from my editors or fine art photo buyers. I do look forward to having more megapixels to play with in the future, but there is no rush.

2. Do you need all those extra current features available in newer cameras? Most specifically I am talking about the recent inclusion of HD video. I don't need it and don't wish to pay extra to have it. Other often unneeded features may include 3 color histograms, rapid fire capability, numerous focus points for autofocus, additional automatic features and modes, super high ISO capability, art filters, etc. Keep in mind if they are in your camera, you are paying for them whether you use them or not.

3. Are you out to impress your audience with your camera or your images? Be honest and choose accordingly. If you are going to shoot events like weddings, you may find yourself wanting to have the latest and greatest to show off. Plus the bride's "Uncle Bob" may have it and you don't want him to have the most expensive camera in the room, do you? Well, remember the bride hired you and not Uncle Bob because, quite frankly, his photos suck!

    If you do decide to shun the newest technology and go the alternative route of purchasing a slightly out of date camera, you now have the option to save money which can be used to purchase lenses, the photographer's "paint brushes." I and many other pros believe that this is the best investment over buying the latest & greatest camera bodies. You can choose to buy "brand new" (unopened with warranty) older model cameras or choose to buy used. I prefer the first option. This is also an option for lenses too, as they often update those as well resulting in stores offloading the older versions at lower prices. Again, used is also an option here as well since many photographers will upgrade and sell their used ones to help pay for their upgrade.

    Whether you are on a budget (yo!), smartly frugal, or just plain ol' cheap - buying slightly older technology may be the way to go. Don't fall into the trap of "the latest & the greatest."

Photos used for this post, top to bottom:
Gaillardia After The Rain
This image won 3rd place in Popular Photography's Your Best Shot Contest, July 2011.

Perky
This photo of a cute deer on my front lawn was used as a cover for "Blue Mountain Momements", a local monthly magazine here in the Poconos, Pennsylvania.

Summer Daisy Closeup
Here I captured the wonderful detail in the center of a beautiful Summer Daisy osteospermum flower.

In The Magical Light
I recently sold an art print of this image that was captured in New York City's Central Park.

All images captured with my Olympus E-1.


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