Friday, November 17, 2017

Why I shoot RAW and you should too even on a cellphone

Ever since we got the ability to shoot RAW on DSLR’s instead of JPEG’s there was an unnecessary debate among photographers whether to RAW or JPEG. The JPEG shooters called RAW shooters non photographers (because they did not make the photo in camera) and the RAW photographers called them other stuff.

I don’t care for the debate. You can shoot any format but there are real benefits of shooting in RAW even on a cell phone. Before I get there your first question would be - What’s a RAW image? My attempt to explain RAW for your cellphone RAW is a digital negative and that is quite important. Ya right that helps you are thinking. Bear with me it will take some time but it’s worth it. Before that a bit of technical stuff, I promise to keep it short and simple. When you launch your camera app - your cellphone camera captures light information in three channels Red, Blue and Green (Three primary colours). Then this light information goes into your camera application and it processes. Then there is another filter which gets activated - where the camera will try and make the image look as close to reality as it thinks fit. Let's call this the computer JPEG filter. If you are shooting manually then you are creating this filter.

When you see the photo on your phone screen you see it with the JPEG filter. Normally camera manufactures will try to put the default setting as close to reality as possible. This filter at this point will then throw away some light information based on its programming. (Basically, the camera determined that this light information is not important. Don't panic in most cases it’s okay.)

Then you hit the click button on the application and this information is compressed into a small file and stored. When this compression happens some more light information is thrown away. Then you look at the image and think hmm maybe I should add my favourite camera filter on top of this!!! The camera application does this and throws away some more light information. But when you shoot raw, none of the light information is lost. This file is called RAW, because, well it's the RAW light information. Then depending on the camera application, a small settings file may be created along with this RAW file. It will contain information about all the settings the camera applied. When you access this photo in the camera application the app will apply these all the setting and show you the image. Some applications will show you the photo without the filer as well. Alternatively some camera applications will store both a JPEG and a RAW image. The RAW image file usually have an extension called DNG (short for Digital Negative). The file stored also has no loss due to compression. Now you know why RAW is important especially if you like to edit your photos. The more information you have the bigger latitude you have to make edits. If we were to think of this like stitching a cloth. This extra information is like having more cloth material to make something. If you were making a full sleeve shirt and you have only 1.5 m of cloth and a tall person comes for a shirt and you need 2 m…. well it’s not getting made. You may make a beautiful half sleeve shirt but it’s not going to be a full sleeves shirt. But if a normal person came that 1.5 m may be enough. Sometimes you may need more light information in editing and in other cases you may not. But having that extra bit helps.

Here is the down side - there is a cost. Just like keeping 2 m of cloth means more space and more weight RAW files are significantly bigger than JPEG’s. If your phone has limited space then you are going to run out of space very fast compared to shooting with JPEG. So what does the difference look like in real life? Here’s an example below are

The image below was made using a cellphone camera. This is close to what the camera captured.

 Then I pulled this photo into my editing application Lightroom desktop. You can use Snapseed or Lightroom on the cellphone for this kind of work and the RAW image looked like this. It will look washed out

You can see what from the above image that your camera is adding some filter even before you see the image. Then I carried out some edits and it ended up looking like what you see below which is closer to what I saw with my eyes. In fact if you see the background as white in the image below but the in the first image the background is a bit grey. When I tried to get to this image when I clicked it I lost a bit of detail in the earrings.
If I had clicked the image in black and white also with the RAW settings I could have created the above image as black and white is a filter. If fact I can make two different looking Black and White images based on the way I edit.

I personally shoot only RAW even on my phone... well except when I run out of space which is quite common. Let me know what you guys think about RAW and how you would use it by adding you comments below.