Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Wednesday: So Is It Worth It To Shoot RAW?

Good Morning Everybody,

I love the people in this part of the world – and their Barbeque! Once again we had a great crowd last night in Charlotte, NC, one of the loudest and most enthusiastic anyway;~)

Today we make the short trip to Columbia, SC. The weather and the scenery has been a joy to behold on our trip south.  It’s sort of like we are extending the fall colors for another few weeks as we move through the southern states.  Most of the trees in Charlotte haven’t even dropped their leaves yet. We’ve never been to Columbia so we’re looking forward to the visit. Looking forward to seeing everyone this evening.

Today’s post is going to take a slightly different tack than usual.  Give it a read below and let me know what you think. 

So Is It Worth It To Shoot RAW?

You know, this question keeps popping up for me. I was a JPEG shooter for 7 1/2 years of my 9 years of shooting digital.  And, I was a very happy camper. 

I was always able to “nail the exposure” with my tried and true metering methods better know as the Ziser “blinkie” method. I usually shot in larger JPEG but at a tighter compression giving me files in the 1- 2 meg range. I was able to back up a job in no more that 1-2 DVD’s.  I got great images with several on display up to 24x36 inches, many of these images are on display on my DWUC tour.  Life was good.

It was Lightroom 2 that convinced me to convert to shooting RAW.  I was a custom color and B&W printer back in the mid ‘70’s and loved the localized density control I could manage over each print.  Lightroom  2 now gave me that same capability with it’s adjustment brush.  I was sold.

LArge Hard DriveThe down side – now I had 40-50 GIGS!!! of data to back up for each job!!! That meant 10 – 12 DVD’s and the hours of production time to burn them – YIKES!!!

There was another issue too.  When I imported the images into Lightroom 2, the RAW images never looked as good as my JPEGS.  The images would load up, look good, and quickly switch to some kind of anemic looking image that was never as brilliant and full of life as what my JPEGS were giving me.

   The root of the explanation lay in the fact that the JPEG was processed in the camera to the presets I had programmed into the camera.  The RAW import process stripped all those settings away from my images leaving me just the RAW data – sort of like the King with no clothes – not a pretty site.

RAW-JPEG-_same_colorAfter installing Adobe’s camera profile presets into Lightroom, things improved.  But there were still a number of adjustments to make to hundreds/thousands of wedding images that took hours of time.  Import presets and processing presets did help ease the process.

After installing Lightroom 3 and working with it these last few weeks, some of my frustrations have returned since the camera profiles have gone south.  I know, I know, LR3 is in BETA.  I guess I’m just noting a little of my impatience here.  I’m confident that the shipping version will be just fine.

I installed Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software on my Canon 7D RAW images and, boy, did the look great. They actually looked exactly like they looked in the viewfinder of the camera – a very good thing.  Several of my DWUC attendees have told me they have had the same good results with the Nikon Capture NX software.

Canon DPPThe reason for this is the fact that the software from these respective camera manufacturers, and I’m sure others too, are able to read ALL the EXIF data in the RAW file and create a preview that matches exactly what you see on the back of the camera.  It sure would be nice if LR3 could incorporate the translation of that same data when importing the RAW images.  What a time saver that would be! All we can do is hope.

But that’s still only half the problem.  The other issue is the amount of hard drive real estate we encounter when shooting exclusively RAW files.  It’s going through the roof these days!!!  As a wedding shooter, do I really need to shoot every last candid image – 1000’s of them - in RAW mode just so I have to tweak them a bit more in Lightroom or any other RAW conversion software?

I’m thinking not.  Why add to my processing production overhead time and costs and why chew up “gobs” of hard drive space for images that mostly are going to be no larger that 4x6 or 5x7 size in a wedding album!?

I think the answer to his dilemma is for all of us to consider what the subject matter is and to shoot accordingly.  If you are a landscape photographer and need to elicit every last nuance of detail out of that image, than RAW is it.  That would be true for the commercial shooter too.  And, I would say it’s also true for the portrait photographer that is considering producing larger wall portraits.

But for us wedding guys, I’m suggesting a different scenario.  Let’s just shoot the “high profile” wedding images in RAW.  Those images would include the “altar return images, the groups, the special images of the bride and groom, and the key candids at the wedding reception – cake cutting, bouquet and garter toss, etc.

All the rest of the 100’s or even 1000’s of candids could be shot in JPEG mode saving tons of time in processing and gobs of hard drive real estate. Do we really need to put the “ultimate” tweak on each of those images? Working in JPEG mode still gives us plenty of control over the final result without all the RAW production overhead.

The newest cameras make it easy to switch from one set up to the next.  We just need to make the effort to do so.  Maybe I’m “howling at the moon”, but I think we, as wedding photographers – the guys who shoot tons of images on the job, need to rethink how we do that shooting and how we process those images.  Something tells me that we could reduce studio costs considerably if we DON’T buy into the fact that EVERYTHING needs to shot in RAW.

Food For Thought --

Hey Gang, That’s it for me today.  We are southbound and pedal down to Columbia.  See ya’ there tonight! Ol’ Barbeque lips,  -David


  1. I completely agree. I use to shoot total JPEG, then I fell for the "you need to shoot in RAW" myth. I shot several weddings in RAW and it seemed that my work load increased astronomically. I now shoot part RAW and Part JPEG. I like RAW because I can adjust the color balance to make things look just right for those important shots, but JPEG sure makes editing go faster.
    As a side note, I can't wait to see the tour tonight. I've been looking forward to your visit for months now.

  2. David,

    I'm not sure about all the Canons.. but my 5D2 has the option of shooting smaller raw files... in reduced resolution.. when one considers that the 5D2 supplies you a 500+dpi image at 8x10 in full file size, thats too much.. I actual find that I will reduce the resolution of the file...

    with that in mind as a wedding photographer.. you know in your mind which shots are going to be big or goign to need excessive cropping, shoot those full sized and use a smaller raw file for the rest...

    (No I havent bitten this bullet yet..)

    That would seem to be the happy medium...

    I like the raw workflow and I agree that lightroom makes it work.. but I find that the computer bogs down on the full size 21 megapizel raw images.. (CPU speed).. unless I choose to spend an extra $800 on my PC I can't buy an appreciably faster CPU..

  3. I think it's a shame that canon and nikon lock down certain aspects of the RAW capture. This does indeed hobble Lightroom, the most noticeable is the 'peripheral illumin correct', it's very hard to recreate this is lightroom regarding the wider lenses. Obviously the JPGs are fine because they are already processed in camera.

    I don't really believe this to be a LR problem and i'm thinking more camera corrections will be software based in the future so the camera manufacturers can have tighter control over editing.. A little unnerving when you think how much better lightroom is regarding editing and speed.

  4. Hi David!

    While reading your today blog about Jpeg or RAW, I think that the original picture is shoot with Jpeg or RAW information is worth to add to Camera Specs. Please add this info if you can. Thank you.

    Thenhan - Wylie, TX

  5. The 7D has RAW, M-RAW, and S-RAW. I think the latter two are better solutions to file size for the small prints than JPG.

    From Canon -
    (4) RAW: Approx. 17.90 Megapixels (5,184 x 3,456)
    (5) M-RAW: Approx. 10.10 Megapixels (3,888 x 2,592)
    (6) S-RAW: Approx. 4.50 Megapixels (2,592 x 1,728)

  6. Dont use sRAW if you are also converting to DNG because there's a bug and even SRAWs take the full RAW space.

    On a side note after processing all the RAWs after an event, I convert them to JPGs and safe them on my network drives... I keep the RAWS for around a year and then delete them or just safe the most "spectacular".


  7. I think you hit the hammer right on the nail. I don't think people realize how much really goes into shooting a wedding and then all the post production.

    I think the only reason to shoot raw is if you can't nail the exposure right on. Or if you have problems with the lighting (outdoors directly in blown out sunlight) for example.

  8. Good points Dave, but I think we need better service from the camera manufacturers. Yes, we all want the latest body with all the fancy settings and features, but the megapixal race has created medium format SLR's. I don't need to shoot at 24mp. Like you said, you can get a good looking enlargement from a 6-8mp file or smaller.
    Why don't the manufacturers allow for custom RAW file size settings? I think this has been a feature on at least one Nikon that gave faster fps in exchange for smaller files.
    I personally like to work from RAW, but you are right I don't need a 24mp file of every shot.

  9. Doesn't the 7D have a button on the back to quickly switch from RAW to JPG mode? That would certainly save lots of time over the "drill down in the menu" method

  10. I think we like the Lightroom workflow, regardless of whether we're processing raw or jpeg files.

    Canon's DPP files look like camera jpegs mostly because they share the same rendering algorithm, not because of secret metadata.

    When I import images into LR, I apply a develop preset to get the contrast, saturation, sharpening, etc. that I want. Once you create the look you prefer, you just apply it on import.

    As for backup, once you're working in LR, there's nothing to stop you from creating large jpegs as you archive images. Save the raws you may need, and save everything else to jpeg.

  11. I disagree with even the idea of shooting some images in RAW and some in JPEG. As a Wedding shooter, my clients are paying me to capture moments that only happen once, candid or otherwise. You never know what might jump into your scene and throw off your camera meter in the middle of a series of images. And to boot, hard drive space is a pittence now, 2TB drives for $130 or less, and 8GB brand name CF cards on ebay for $20.

    David, have you ever tried to run presets on JPEG images in Lightroom? It goes from livening up a RAW photo, to completely destroying the JPEG, it REALLY shows how much less Data is in the JPEG. Do you process all of your own images, or do you have staffers to do it for you? As the guy who shoots and edits all of my own images, I can say with confidence that I will never shoot JPEG again if I can avoid it.

  12. Another downside to raw is write speed. If your going to be rattling off shots then jpeg is the answer. I shoot alittle of everything and two places i use jpeg is sports and concert photog.

  13. It costs me $5 to archive a whole wedding shot RAW on two quality drives. Saving $2-3 per wedding isn't worth the risk of not having a shot in RAW that would benefit.

  14. Alberto, thanks for the tip. I have just stored all my years and years RAW files on external hard drive and because there should be at least one copy there's another external drive for that. Now that I hear you I might process all RAWs in full JPEG and delete most of the RAWs but not most precious ones and from this year.

    It's just a lot of work since I have files from 2005 in DNG and I realised after couple of years ago that the DNGs don't look like JPEGs from the camera since they need processing in Lightroom.

  15. It might be interesting to note that all the stock agencies want jpg images. When their clients need to modify an image, they convert it to tiff to work on it.

  16. I work as an assistant wedding photographer here in Japan. We usually shoot about 4 or 5 weddings a day at the venue I work at and we use RAW+JPG for all the formal portraits of the bride and groom, family etc, but switch to JPGS (medium) for all the candids. For each wedding there is a main photographer and an assistant photographer with two cameras each (5D Mark II and 50D). So that would be a hell of a lot of data if we only shot in RAW!

    I know, I know, five weddings a day, but there are about 6 of us all assigned to the same venue so we get allocated weddings. It works surprisingly well, especially as Japanese weddings only last a few hours (including the dinner).

  17. I agree with Jon-Mark 100%