Most of us think we have a good understanding of the camera settings that affect your RAW photos — it seems like common sense. However, the more that you look into it, the more complicated that this topic gets. In fact, no matter how much you know about your camera, chances are good that you have a few misconceptions about the camera settings that affect your RAW photos. Does high-ISO noise reduction change the way your camera records a RAW file? What about long exposure noise reduction? Color space? Or Active D-Lighting, for Nikon users? The answer to two of these four examples is yes. In this article, I will cover all the noteworthy camera settings that affect your camera’s RAW files, including some that you may not expect.
One of the biggest issues many of us photographers face is the gigantic size of our photo libraries, which creates a lot of issues for backing up and restoring images. While we have written a number of articles on properly backing up images, with a recent article on a backup workflow, we have not spent much time on managing the backup size and reducing it. After-all, if the backup size itself is significantly reduced, the time it takes to back up those images improves drastically as well! Let’s talk about some of the tips, techniques and potential changes to your workflow you can administer today in order to reduce your backup needs in the future.
With Adobe Lightroom being the most popular post-processing tool on the market, one might wonder how good the software really is in processing RAW images. After-all, that’s what we use Lightroom primarily for – to post-process our images and get the best out of them. Having been using Lightroom since the early release versions (dating back to Lightroom 1), I have seen the software grow from a simple RAW editor to a pretty complex piece of software for both image management and powerful RAW processing. While there have been many great additions to Lightroom over time, Adobe certainly has had its share of rather disappointing problems, from typical bugs and stability issues to poor handling of RAW files. True, the software has gotten much more complex and with that complexity, it is surely expected to see potential bugs and issues. But one would hope that things would get better with each new release and bugs would eventually get taken care of. Sadly, the direction where Adobe is heading with Lightroom has just not been looking good. It appears that with every update, instead of getting proper fixes, all we are getting is additional bugs and new features that are not ready for prime time.
While I am getting ready to leave for the upcoming PL fall workshops this week, it was exciting to hear today that Sony is finally going to address the Lossy 11+7 bit RAW issue we have seen on all Sony A7-series cameras (you can read about the Lossy RAW issue in my Sony A7R review). Although the press release below states that Sony will feature uncompressed 14-bit RAW beginning with the A7R II and the newly announced A7S II, I really hope that the company adds this must-have feature to its older A7-series cameras as well, since landscape photographers could really benefit from shooting true 14-bit RAW, without worrying about seeing artifacts in images. This is great news and I am glad that Sony responded to our complaints – it is great to see such a large company listen to customer and expert feedback.
For a number of years I have been recommending our readers to convert RAW files from their cameras to Adobe’s DNG format. In my DNG vs RAW article from 2010, I pointed out the reasons why using DNG over RAW made sense – it simplified file management, resulted in smaller files (when compressed or when embedded JPEG image size was reduced) and seemed like a good way to future-proof RAW files. But as time passed, higher resolution cameras were introduced and I started exploring other post-processing options, I realized that DNG had a few major disadvantages that made me abandon it. In this article, I will revisit the DNG format and bring up some of my concerns on why it might not be the ideal choice that I once thought it was.
12-bit image files can store up to 68 billion different shades of color. 14-bit image files store up to 4 trillion shades. That’s an enormous difference, so shouldn’t we always choose 14-bit when shooting RAW? Here’s a landscape I snapped, then found out later I had shot it in 12-bit RAW. Better toss this one out, right?
When testing cameras, it is not unusual to see a situation when one camera can produce results a bit darker or brighter than another. In some cases, lenses are to blame for this variance, since most lenses cannot ideally transmit all of the incoming light. What this means, is that a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 could potentially transmit less light, which could be equivalent to say f/3.5 in terms of brightness. The latter number is what is often referred to as a “T-stop”, or Transmission-stop, which is basically an adjusted f-stop that takes into account this light loss. In other cases, the camera itself can be the source of brightness variance. Although manufacturers are supposed to adhere to an ISO standard that guides the process of determining the right brightness level for each ISO, there is usually still some variance between not only brands, but also between specific camera models. We won’t get into the question of why there are such variances. Instead, we will concentrate on implications of such variances to camera sensor comparisons and ratings. Particularly, we will be looking at exposure variances in Fuji cameras, such as the Fuji X-T1. Many photographers, including myself, have been fond of the way Fuji sensors render images, outputting very clean and pleasant-looking images, even at high ISOs. But are those ISOs real? And is Fuji doing something shady to make its images look better? Let’s take a closer look…
What do you think is the possibility, when you are choosing and sorting images based on the JPEG previews, that you are going to discard the better-quality image, and keep the lesser-quality one? Let’s take a look at a typical “training” shot for a holiday – noon of a sunny day, blue Ionian sea, bright white limestone pebbles, bushes with dark-green, high-detail leaves (which lose all detail if the shot is underexposed), deep shadows under the bushes. These types of scenes typically have a very wide dynamic range. We will see later, however, that the real range of the shot we are examining is pretty much only 8 EV, if the exposure is technically correct.
No matter what software one uses for post-processing photographs, the process of selecting what images to keep and work on, also known as “culling”, can be quite painful when dealing with thousands of images. And this gets even more painful when working with RAW images, because operating systems usually have no built-in capabilities to view and properly render RAW files. Many photographers end up keeping all RAW images on their computers, because they do not want to go through the hassle of deleting bad images they will never use, only to realize overtime that their hard drives get filled up quickly and their post-processing time takes much longer. Those who try to cull images in Lightroom know that if a full size image preview is not generated at the time of import, it can take a long time to render each image. Sadly, Lightroom is quite weak at quickly previewing images, so working pros and enthusiasts usually end up complementing the culling part of their workflow with additional software like Photo Mechanic. At $150, however, Photo Mechanic costs as much as a retail version of Lightroom, becoming a cost barrier for many. Enter FastRawViewer, an amazingly fast and truly inexpensive RAW file viewer that has become my personal choice for culling images. It was developed by the same folks that created RawDigger – one of the best scientific tools for analyzing RAW images. In this review, I will take a closer look at FastRawViewer, go through some of its features and hopefully help you in simplifying both your workflow and your photo backup / storage needs.
As good as X-Trans sensors are in terms of performance, most software makers have had some trouble with demosaicing the slightly unusual RAW files in the past. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has been noticeably trailing behind in this regard even back when version 5 was introduced, as I found out in the review. That’s not brilliant given that X-Trans has been around for, what, almost three years now? To be completely fair, the paint-like rendering isn’t as much of an issue in most cases as one might think, and yet I can’t help but wish Lightroom was able to render X-Trans RAW files at least as well as Fujifilm does with its in-camera conversion. After all, superior technical image quality is the whole point of RAW, and Lightroom should certainly deliver. So the question is – does it? Since the X-E2 has permanently taken residence in my camera bag and is now my second tool, if not quite the first one yet, I am very curious to see how my favorite RAW converter will perform.
Careful, now. I am about to get technical.