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RAW, JPG, and the Canon 10d

If you look through any digital photography forum you are certain to see debates of RAW versus JPG. Being the obsessive compulsive that I am, I can’t take anyone’s word for it. So, I went out to do a series of tests. This is the first of those tests.

First, a little background…

It is a wedding tradition for those who graduated from Texas A&M to do the War Hymn at the reception. For those that haven’t seen an A&M War Hymn, it involves a lot of swaying back and forth and singing the Aggie fight song.

For this particular reception the dance floor was directly in front of a large window and the room itself was relatively dark. So, backlighting was a hugh problem. Fortunately, this was the first reception that I have shot with digital, having just purchased a demo Canon 10d from B&H Photo. I knew the E-TTL wouldn’t do a good job, so I changed the flash to manual and adjusted until I got it right. Not the most scientific method, but my light meter was across the room and this was one of the must-have shots from the photo list I was given.

Knowing the exposure problems I was likely to have I put the camera in RAW + small JPG mode so I could go back and mess with exposure a little more.

But, at 1/2 power my 550ex was not able to keep up with me pushing the shutter. So, I have the image below when the flash did not fire as a test of how much usable image I can get out of darkness. Just for the record, it’s also pretty close to what E-TTL mode was getting me.

And, since I’m sure it will come up, I know the window is blown out. It happened with CRW, it happened with JPG, it happened with the film cameras I had as backup. I had already accepted that the windows would be out of gamut and that I (and the client) would have to live with that.

Image #1 – Original
This is how the image came out of the camera with no adjustments.

Image #2 – RAW + 4 Exposure
I added +4 to the exposure when I imported the CRW file into Photoshop. +4 is the maximum that I could adjust to, but it is also what I needed to get it to look right.

Image #3 – JPG & Screen Layers
This image started the same as image #1, but I stacked 4 duplicate layers on top each set to screen.

You’ll notice that the noise from the two adjusted images is almost identical. It may be wishful thinking, but the adjusted JPG looks to have better color than the CRW. The lines that cross the blown out areas also seem cleaner on the JPG.

Reading articles around the internet has given me the impression that RAW is for serious photography and JPG is for when you’re just messing around. Some places even go as far as to imply that amateurs use JPG, but to be a professional you must use RAW.

I know that missed shots at this reception waiting for the RAW files to dump to CF that I would have gotten if I had been shooting in JPG.

But, I also fully understand that exposure is not the only factor in deciding to use RAW or JPG. But, those will have to wait for another test…

And, just to throw this out there, I’m not trying to start any wars and I’m not trying to say my way is the best. I’m just giving the results of this test, nothing more. The results – you can do with them what you want.

Please read the second part to this test on posting here.

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