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Raw vs jpg: Can you spot the difference?
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May 17, 2017 00:10:15   #
TheDman
 
In one of the many previous threads on this topic, DeanS got to the crux of the matter with this question: how many shooters could distinguish between a well shot/well pp'd jpeg and a similar RAW photo? So I've decided to take a completely impartial whack at it: let's export a raw file at default settings as a jpg, process the raw file in Camera Raw, then make the exact same ACR edits to the jpg and see what we get.

Since I believe the biggest benefit of shooting raw is the ability to recover shadow and highlight detail, I used an example covering a wide tonal range. Here is our starting point, a shot straight into the sun from Northern Ireland:

http://www.ddphotos.com/orig.jpg

That is exported straight out of ACR before any edits. This was a bracketed series, and I chose this one because the next brightest exposure blew out the sky. Ordinarily my pp method would blend several exposures on a shot like this for reasons we will see later, but for this example I will use just this one raw. I started out by double processing the raw into a shot optimized for the sky and one for the land:

http://www.ddphotos.com/raws.jpg

I then blended the two together with a simple gradient on a layer mask. I then opened the jpg I had exported earlier and double processed it using the exact same ACR settings, and blended it using the exact same gradient mask. Here are the results. Can you tell which is which?

http://www.ddphotos.com/comparison.jpg

Kind of tough at that reduced size, but a sharp eye could tell. Now let's zoom in:


http://www.ddphotos.com/comp1.jpg

http://www.ddphotos.com/comp2.jpg

http://www.ddphotos.com/comp3.jpg


See it now? The raw image has more shadow detail, smoother tonal gradations, no noise around the sun as opposed to the jpg which has artifacts, etc. The jpg actually held up better than I thought, but I still would be horrified to print this large. Now if I'm just shooting portraits or pictures of my cat, I'm not taxing the tonal range of my sensor and therefore jpgs should be quite fine. But for landscape work I want the best quality possible, so it's raw all the way. On that note, you can see that the foliage on the rock in the closest foreground is a bit out of focus and noisy, which is due to the shadow recovery and f13 not quite reaching it. In my actual process of this scene I used a separate shot for the front foliage, exposed solely for the foliage and focused precisely on it:

http://www.ddphotos.com/foliage.jpg

So there you have it, an actual test. Read into it what you will.

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May 17, 2017 07:12:16   #
Jim Bob (suspended)
 
TheDman wrote:
In one of the many previous threads on this topic, DeanS got to the crux of the matter with this question: how many shooters could distinguish between a well shot/well pp'd jpeg and a similar RAW photo? So I've decided to take a completely impartial whack at it: let's export a raw file at default settings as a jpg, process the raw file in Camera Raw, then make the exact same ACR edits to the jpg and see what we get.

Since I believe the biggest benefit of shooting raw is the ability to recover shadow and highlight detail, I used an example covering a wide tonal range. Here is our starting point, a shot straight into the sun from Northern Ireland:

http://www.ddphotos.com/orig.jpg

That is exported straight out of ACR before any edits. This was a bracketed series, and I chose this one because the next brightest exposure blew out the sky. Ordinarily my pp method would blend several exposures on a shot like this for reasons we will see later, but for this example I will use just this one raw. I started out by double processing the raw into a shot optimized for the sky and one for the land:

http://www.ddphotos.com/raws.jpg

I then blended the two together with a simple gradient on a layer mask. I then opened the jpg I had exported earlier and double processed it using the exact same ACR settings, and blended it using the exact same gradient mask. Here are the results. Can you tell which is which?

http://www.ddphotos.com/comparison.jpg

Kind of tough at that reduced size, but a sharp eye could tell. Now let's zoom in:


http://www.ddphotos.com/comp1.jpg

http://www.ddphotos.com/comp2.jpg

http://www.ddphotos.com/comp3.jpg


See it now? The raw image has more shadow detail, smoother tonal gradations, no noise around the sun as opposed to the jpg which has artifacts, etc. The jpg actually held up better than I thought, but I still would be horrified to print this large. Now if I'm just shooting portraits or pictures of my cat, I'm not taxing the tonal range of my sensor and therefore jpgs should be quite fine. But for landscape work I want the best quality possible, so it's raw all the way. On that note, you can see that the foliage on the rock in the closest foreground is a bit out of focus and noisy, which is due to the shadow recovery and f13 not quite reaching it. In my actual process of this scene I used a separate shot for the front foliage, exposed solely for the foliage and focused precisely on it:

http://www.ddphotos.com/foliage.jpg

So there you have it, an actual test. Read into it what you will.
In one of the many previous threads on this topic,... (show quote)


I get it. At extreme magnification one can see a difference. Otherwise not. Hmm, I think that is what many have been saying for pages and pages.

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May 17, 2017 07:50:48   #
TheDman
 
Jim Bob wrote:
I get it. At extreme magnification one can see a difference. Otherwise not. Hmm, I think that is what many have been saying for pages and pages.


Depends on how critically you look at it. I can see the blocked-up blacks and loss of subtle tones even at the reduced size. The back of that big rock in front loses a lot.

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May 17, 2017 07:57:51   #
WayneT
 
Using RAW allows you to make those subtle changes in a post processing situation that .jpeg will not. Ultimately most people end up with a .jpeg for printing or web publishing but your finished product can be a lot more interesting if it was originally shot and processed in RAW.

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May 17, 2017 11:06:58   #
Gene51 (a regular here)
 
TheDman wrote:
In one of the many previous threads on this topic, DeanS got to the crux of the matter with this question: how many shooters could distinguish between a well shot/well pp'd jpeg and a similar RAW photo? So I've decided to take a completely impartial whack at it: let's export a raw file at default settings as a jpg, process the raw file in Camera Raw, then make the exact same ACR edits to the jpg and see what we get.

Since I believe the biggest benefit of shooting raw is the ability to recover shadow and highlight detail, I used an example covering a wide tonal range. Here is our starting point, a shot straight into the sun from Northern Ireland:

http://www.ddphotos.com/orig.jpg

That is exported straight out of ACR before any edits. This was a bracketed series, and I chose this one because the next brightest exposure blew out the sky. Ordinarily my pp method would blend several exposures on a shot like this for reasons we will see later, but for this example I will use just this one raw. I started out by double processing the raw into a shot optimized for the sky and one for the land:

http://www.ddphotos.com/raws.jpg

I then blended the two together with a simple gradient on a layer mask. I then opened the jpg I had exported earlier and double processed it using the exact same ACR settings, and blended it using the exact same gradient mask. Here are the results. Can you tell which is which?

http://www.ddphotos.com/comparison.jpg

Kind of tough at that reduced size, but a sharp eye could tell. Now let's zoom in:


http://www.ddphotos.com/comp1.jpg

http://www.ddphotos.com/comp2.jpg

http://www.ddphotos.com/comp3.jpg


See it now? The raw image has more shadow detail, smoother tonal gradations, no noise around the sun as opposed to the jpg which has artifacts, etc. The jpg actually held up better than I thought, but I still would be horrified to print this large. Now if I'm just shooting portraits or pictures of my cat, I'm not taxing the tonal range of my sensor and therefore jpgs should be quite fine. But for landscape work I want the best quality possible, so it's raw all the way. On that note, you can see that the foliage on the rock in the closest foreground is a bit out of focus and noisy, which is due to the shadow recovery and f13 not quite reaching it. In my actual process of this scene I used a separate shot for the front foliage, exposed solely for the foliage and focused precisely on it:

http://www.ddphotos.com/foliage.jpg

So there you have it, an actual test. Read into it what you will.
In one of the many previous threads on this topic,... (show quote)


Thanks for the illustration. Something I've been saying for years. However, as has been pointed out, you can still see the jpeg's lack of depth and detail, especially in the shadows. Not at all subtle, but for many, obviously acceptable. Not to me, and clearly, not to you, or anyone else who places a high priority on image quality. It's what separates causal shooters from artists. It does NOT separate pros from amateurs, because many professionals shoot jpeg for very specific reasons, usually tied to client requirements, and many amateurs use raw because it is easier and faster, and recognize that by shooting raw, absolutely NOTHING is compromised or sacrificed.

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May 17, 2017 11:12:34   #
rehess (a regular here)
 
Gene51 wrote:
Thanks for the illustration. Something I've been saying for years. However, as has been pointed out, you can still see the jpeg's lack of depth and detail, especially in the shadows. Not at all subtle, but for many, obviously acceptable. Not to me, and clearly, not to you, or anyone else who places a high priority on image quality. It's what separates causal shooters from artists. It does NOT separate pros from amateurs, because many professionals shoot jpeg for very specific reasons, usually tied to client requirements, and many amateurs use raw because it is easier and faster, and recognize that by shooting raw, absolutely NOTHING is compromised or sacrificed.
Thanks for the illustration. Something I've been s... (show quote)

And if you spend your time zooming in on images, this does matter. I'd rather have people standing/sitting a respectful distance away so they can see the entire image all at once, just as I did when I was framing it.

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May 17, 2017 11:16:04   #
joer (a regular here)
 
rehess wrote:
And if you spend your time zooming in on images, this does matter. I'd rather have people standing/sitting a respectful distance away so they can see the entire image at once, just as I did when I was framing it.


With out the side-by-side who would really know.

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May 17, 2017 11:22:48   #
Dr.Nikon (a regular here)
 
Well done comparison .., the analogy is excellant ... I require raw for my work ...heck I have spent hours and hours ..., ok days and days on just one photograph and R A W data is a must ... post editing is my favorite function of photography ..., period ...!

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May 17, 2017 11:59:39   #
MichaelH
 
Gene51 wrote:
... many professionals shoot jpeg for very specific reasons, usually tied to client requirements ...

Hello Gene51,
Would you know why JPG is sometimes required? It would seem the RAW file would more truly represent an original image.

| Reply
May 17, 2017 12:14:35   #
Gene51 (a regular here)
 
rehess wrote:
And if you spend your time zooming in on images, this does matter. I'd rather have people standing/sitting a respectful distance away so they can see the entire image all at once, just as I did when I was framing it.


I agree with the loss of detail. Hard to see that at a "normal" viewing distance. But posterization, blocked up shadows and banding in sky are far more easier to spot. It's not just about the minute detail. It's about the overall perception of quality.

| Reply
May 17, 2017 12:17:18   #
Gene51 (a regular here)
 
MichaelH wrote:
Hello Gene51,
Would you know why JPG is sometimes required? It would seem the RAW file would more truly represent an original image.


Typically, when you work for a client that publishes news and uses images to do that, any sort of image manipulation is looked down upon. Reuters will not accept a derivative image - they want the original jpeg. Also whne you have a very time-sensitive client, sports come to mind - where you have to get the image to the client instantly, there is no time to adjust and convert images. Or so I've been told. I have never done work for that kind of a client.

For those who still believe that SOOC is a measure of photographic greatness and skill, my response is - Can a raw file produce a better image? If the answer is no, then it's clear that alternative facts are involved. If the answer is of course, then I follow up with "well, why not use raw files then?" From a quality point of view it makes total sense. If there are special conditions requiring something else, that is understandable. But bottom line, a complete photographer, like the old days, is in control of every aspect of the image recording and production process - from composing, to processing to printing. In the old days that's how we did it, and today is no different. A contact print or sheet was just a starting place. Professional retouchers always earned a great living, for those photographers that didn't have the time to to do their own work. Today, retouching is considerably easier and more accessible, and far less time consuming. So raw at least gives you something akin to the negative to work with. Imagine if you tried to do editing to a finished print that came from a file straight out of the camera - because that is what editing a jpeg can be like, by comparison.

There are some situations when minimal processing is needed, and you are not likely to see much difference between a jpg out of the camera and one derived from a raw file and manually processed. Typically a studio shot where the photographer has 100% control over the lighting and contrast, and in the case of a live model, the make up artist does an excellent job of dealing with flaws and blemishes. Even with excellent prep, it may take a fashion retoucher 90 mins or longer to do a single head shot.

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May 17, 2017 12:29:06   #
TriX (a regular here)
 
Jim Bob wrote:
I get it. At extreme magnification one can see a difference. Otherwise not. Hmm, I think that is what many have been saying for pages and pages.


And many people are happy with MP3 audio (another compressed format), but a sizable number of real listeners/viewers can hear/see the difference and wonder why you would spend the $ for a high resolution/high DR camera with a 14 (or 16bit) output and then dumb it down to 8 (compressed) bits.

| Reply
May 17, 2017 12:30:37   #
Gene51 (a regular here)
 
joer wrote:
With out the side-by-side who would really know.


Correct, but an astute judge will spot the defects in a heartbeat. The judge could be a creative director, a gallery owner, a jury for a competition, a very critical client, or even a teacher in a course on photography. If they know their stuff they will see it. Especially if it is in a print.

| Reply
May 17, 2017 12:58:15   #
speters (a regular here)
 
TheDman wrote:
In one of the many previous threads on this topic, DeanS got to the crux of the matter with this question: how many shooters could distinguish between a well shot/well pp'd jpeg and a similar RAW photo? So I've decided to take a completely impartial whack at it: let's export a raw file at default settings as a jpg, process the raw file in Camera Raw, then make the exact same ACR edits to the jpg and see what we get.

Since I believe the biggest benefit of shooting raw is the ability to recover shadow and highlight detail, I used an example covering a wide tonal range. Here is our starting point, a shot straight into the sun from Northern Ireland:

http://www.ddphotos.com/orig.jpg

That is exported straight out of ACR before any edits. This was a bracketed series, and I chose this one because the next brightest exposure blew out the sky. Ordinarily my pp method would blend several exposures on a shot like this for reasons we will see later, but for this example I will use just this one raw. I started out by double processing the raw into a shot optimized for the sky and one for the land:

http://www.ddphotos.com/raws.jpg

I then blended the two together with a simple gradient on a layer mask. I then opened the jpg I had exported earlier and double processed it using the exact same ACR settings, and blended it using the exact same gradient mask. Here are the results. Can you tell which is which?

http://www.ddphotos.com/comparison.jpg

Kind of tough at that reduced size, but a sharp eye could tell. Now let's zoom in:


http://www.ddphotos.com/comp1.jpg

http://www.ddphotos.com/comp2.jpg

http://www.ddphotos.com/comp3.jpg


See it now? The raw image has more shadow detail, smoother tonal gradations, no noise around the sun as opposed to the jpg which has artifacts, etc. The jpg actually held up better than I thought, but I still would be horrified to print this large. Now if I'm just shooting portraits or pictures of my cat, I'm not taxing the tonal range of my sensor and therefore jpgs should be quite fine. But for landscape work I want the best quality possible, so it's raw all the way. On that note, you can see that the foliage on the rock in the closest foreground is a bit out of focus and noisy, which is due to the shadow recovery and f13 not quite reaching it. In my actual process of this scene I used a separate shot for the front foliage, exposed solely for the foliage and focused precisely on it:

http://www.ddphotos.com/foliage.jpg

So there you have it, an actual test. Read into it what you will.
In one of the many previous threads on this topic,... (show quote)

Why would that matter in any way, I don't really understand that question, to me it makes no sense! If one shoots in raw, he/she is working to create a jpeg anyway, of course there should be a difference, The jpeg should shine above all, as that will be the finished product/image!!

| Reply
May 17, 2017 13:02:38   #
Peterff
 
Gene51 wrote:
Correct, but an astute judge will spot the defects in a heartbeat. The judge could be a creative director, a gallery owner, a jury for a competition, a very critical client, or even a teacher in a course on photography. If they know their stuff they will see it. Especially if it is in a print.


Yes! But it is hard to see on a website that can only post JPEGS and with the monitors that most people use. The difference is real, but whether people perceive it is a different question.

Nice example, Dman.

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