To process or not to process?

_RX100_DSC2614b composite copy Ginza dusk.

This is the photographer’s analog of the classic fisherman’s dilemma: fish or cut bait?

I’ve always, for as long as I can remember being serious about photography, shot RAW and done some form of processing afterwards. The more potential the file had, the more processing; conversely, I’d also spend time trying to save files that probably weren’t compositionally worthwhile. And as much as I hate to admit it, in the early days, trying to hide photographic mistakes behind punchy processing. In effect, the processing was taking center stage instead of the image. One of the hardest things to do is create a strong, but natural looking image – both from a perspective and processing standpoint; in order for it to stand out well from reality, the light, subject and composition all have to be exceptional. The image has to tell a story – but that’s another topic I covered here and here.

Note: all images in this article are a half-and-half composite of Sony RX100 shots; the SOOC JPEGs are on the left half (especially obvious for the B&W images) and the processed RAW files on the right. The RAWs were converted to DNG first then run through my usual workflow; CS5.5 doesn’t natively support the RX100. Where the finished file was cropped to a different aspect ratio, I’ve followed the finished file. Some noise reduction was one on the high ISO files. As usual, go by what I say and not what you see – there’s web compression involved in the mix, and you aren’t looking at the original files on a calibrated monitor.

_RX100_DSC2614 crop
And a 100% crop of the above – a huge difference here, but aside from tonal density – not much in it at web sizes, is there?

For argument’s sake, I’m going to assume that you’re able to see, compose and execute the image you see at a particular scene when pressing the shutter. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to exclude conceptual and commercial work – there is simply no way you can achieve some frames in a single look, and it’s impossible to have a perfectly dust-free product in others – even if you can get the lighting perfect. We’re talking about creative, personal and documentary work only. The reality is that a lot of photojournalists and reports never leave the JPEG – and some even SRGB JPEG – realm as it is. There are many reasons for this; speed and throughput being the first, the display medium being the second – there’s no point in supplying a beautiful file that uses all 16 bits of the Prophoto gamut if it’s going to be printed on a halftone CMYK process on newsprint. It’s a waste of time. (That of course doesn’t mean you can’t shoot both a JPEG and a RAW and deal with the latter if you find yourself up for a Pulitzer.)

_RX100_DSC2172b composite copy
Giant chef. Either rendition works, frankly – I don’t mind the overall tonality of the SOOC image, even if it’s lacking the pop of the actual scene.

A recent email exchange with a hobbyist photographer friend has spurred me on to think about this topic a bit more. The question: is Photoshop really necessary? Shouldn’t a good image be able to stand on its own? Yes, but don’t good ingredients taste better when skilfully prepared and cooked? (The Japanese may disagree with the cooking part; I can’t blame them.)

To answer this, we need to backtrack a bit. In the early days of digital, JPEGs were simply not an option because cameras lacked the required processing power. Raw output was something that was simply a direct data dump off the sensor itself; the data stored (perhaps lightly compressed to save space) for later processing. JPEG file quality was simply, unusable compared to the standards of the day: film. It didn’t have the tonal subtlety, the dynamic range, the detail; to make things worse, there was an inherently blocky “digital-ness” to it that made images feel, well, unnatural. RAW processing was a way to partially get around that and reduce the gap – we could alter the conversion/ output algorithm to create an image whose shadow and highlight response more closely matched that of film. It was also a way to overcome some of the limitations of early sensors; notably color response, chroma noise and tonal accuracy.

_RX100_DSC2103b composite copy
Imperial Palace East Garden, Tokyo. The SOOC image is too green – the needles definitely didn’t look like that after a warm summer and heading into November.

_RX100_DSC2103 copy
100% crop. There’s quite a lot more detail and tonal subtlety in the processed image.

Postprocessing my raw files was a habit I acquired since shooting with a DSLR in 2004, and I haven’t shaken since. I don’t discount JPEG-only cameras, but I’d definitely take the availability of a RAW file into consideration when buying one. And I certainly don’t feel like an image quality evaluation is fair or exhaustive until I’ve run some RAWs through my normal workflow. However, recent experiences with first the Sony RX100 and more recently, the Fuji XF1, have made me revaluate this: in fact, the XF1 has such good JPEGs and such crappy RAW files (perhaps ACR is also to blame here) that I don’t think I’d ever shoot RAW on this camera; but I will still postprocess the JPEGs. However, this is not a RAW vs JPEG debate; it’s something a bit more fundamental: for non-critical applications, is it still worth spending time processing or not?

_RX100_DSC2046b composite copy
What happened here is perspective correction – nope, you can’t do this in-camera. Not much to fix with tonality, though.

Yes, the processed RAW files clearly look better at the 100% level, but you’d have to make a 120cm wide print to really see that. And for practical viewing purposes, the only difference was in the overall tonality (and sometimes not even then) of the image, which could easily be fixed by altered JPEG output settings. Downsizing hides all manner of dirty pixel-level flaws. Could it be that I’d been creating some unnecessary work for myself for some time, and hadn’t realized it? It was the same case with the JPEGs from the Nikon D600 I was testing around the same time; they looked great at typical display sizes, but started to fall apart at the pixel level. (Before you worry that I might have gone all Hipstagram on you, note that I’m always open to finding new ways to balance image quality and throughput – and that includes shooting Ilford PAN F in my F2T and then ‘scanning’ the negatives with a D800E. I’m just saying.)

Suppose you weren’t super-anal about image quality, though. Suppose you didn’t pixel-peep, or print large. Suppose you shared your images online or at most made 8×12″ prints. Remember the points of sufficiency; if your display medium is going to be that severely limited, then the reality is you might not see much of a difference if you set your camera up correctly. The strength of the image and its contents is of course going to make more of a difference; the camera is just a tool and medium.

_RX100_DSC1961b composite copy
Facebook break from shopping. Near zero difference in tonality, just a bit of shadow recovery and perspective correction. Again, the SOOC JPEG would be fine for 99% of uses.

The basic reason for shooting RAW and postprocessing is that there is no one-size-fits-all for camera settings; therefore it’s impossible to have these baked in to the JPEG development algorithms of a camera. Fair enough; however, these algorithms have been getting increasingly clever over time as processing power increases. (A lot of RAW files aren’t even composed of truly RAW data anymore, but that’s another topic altogether.) To push perfection with every frame, there’s no way around RAW and postprocessing, end of discussion. You simply cannot have a camera that’s smart enough to recognize when some parts of an image need to be dodged and burned; the day that happens, I think I’ll retire as a photographer.

There are cases where the format-imposed limitations can actually force you to make stronger images – spot metering for subject or highlights can result in more powerful compositions and fewer distractions, especially when you have very contrasty lighting. Alex Majoli’s early work with the Olympus compacts is a good example of this. I frequently use this technique to strengthen the mood of an image, regardless of what camera I’m using.

_RX100_DSC2062b composite copy
Port of Tokyo. The AWB got this one horribly wrong; it could have been the window I was shooting through that threw things off.

_RX100_DSC2062 crop
100% crop. Not as much extra detail as you would have thought.

Once again: pick the right tool for the job, and that includes your file formats. I think what might be useful is a set of guidelines as to when each method is useful; even for a person who can run through their entire RAW workflow for a file (excluding heavy duty retouching) in about 30 seconds, I’m considering moving to JPEG for some things. Firstly, I don’t need perfect files for everything; social/ personal/ family documentary etc. is one such thing. Secondly, I’ve been spending more and more time processing files as my workload increases and camera resolution gets higher; I simply don’t want to spend any more time in front of a computer than I have to. I’d rather be out shooting and meeting people. (An obvious solution would be to shoot less, but this somewhat defeats the point of being as photographer. And yes, I’m trying film again at the moment, too.) Client and professional work will always remain shot RAW of course – there’s no point in going to the nth degree to ensure pre-capture image quality with the best lenses and supports then throwing most of your tonal space away with a JPEG. And you never know what post-capture manipulations you might need to do later on.

The biggest downside of shooting JPEG is that your settings are pretty much baked unless you’re willing to change settings on the fly from scene to scene. (Some cameras offer bracketing for this, too.) In real terms, you have to make a conscious choice at the time of shooting whether you wan high key portrait color or low key B&W. On top of that, you have to deal with limited dynamic and tonal range, and that you have to get your exposure as close to perfect as possible in-camera. This is very different from shooting RAW with the aim to post-process afterwards; in this case, you always expose to the right (and even clip highlights slightly) to maximize tonal range in the low-noise highlight and midtone portions of the image. My RAW files look flat and a bit too bright; this is normal because matching exposure to the desired tonal map is a critical portion of the processing flow.

_RX100_DSC1931b composite copy
The camera got this one spot on – all I did was straighten out the perspectives a bit, and sharpen.

It’s important to note that you need to spend some time figuring out what the best JPEG settings are for your camera and shooting style; the rest of this article is meaningless if you’re shooting with the wrong settings. And regardless of whether you JPEG or not, I would always shoot RAW+JPEG – you never know when you might need the file later. Storage is cheap; do-overs are often impossible.

When it might be best to use a straight-out-of-camera JPEG (or film + minilab):

  • When file quality is secondary; anything intended for facebook or social email, for example. These distribution methods compress the hell out of the images, strip color information, and then to make things worse, viewing is almost always on a non-calibrated device. You can spend all the time in the world tweaking, but it’s going to look like crap if the display can’t make the required color.
  • In very high throughput situations, like sport or news or reportage. And dare I say it, wedding factories.
  • I’m cringing as I write this, but if you camera has a style preset you particularly like (and are okay adopting as your own style) then go right ahead…so far, I haven’t seen anything that fits the bill personally.
  • When you don’t have the time. If I go away for a week, I’ll shoot an average of 1,000-1,500 images a day; of this, perhaps 100 will be saved to review on a computer later; I’ll throw away another half, but the problem is now I’m stuck with 350 images to process. At say 1 min per image, that’s around six hours. A lot of what I shoot is documentary/ observation/ personal, and these don’t need processing. I am now being even more critical with my editing, but it’s still a lot of time to carve out when you don’t have any spare to begin with.
  • If you enjoy photography but don’t want to deal with the hidden back end that comes with it – the computers, the storage, ensuring you have enough power to run photoshop and that your converters are up to date…the list is endless.
  • What you see is pretty much what you get: if you’re learning, it’s much easier to see the effect of exposure or setting changes. With RAW, you have to use experience to visualize what you can get. This is probably the most common stumbling block I see amongst my students who are just starting to discover the power of Photoshop.
  • If your camera puts out lousy RAW files but amazing JPEGs – the XF1 is a great example of this.

_RX100_DSC2392bw composite copy
I’ve never used SOOC B&W before, though I doubt it would have been able to retain the slight tonal variation in the man’s trousers. I had to do quite a bit of dodging and burning to bring that out.

And in favor of RAW + Photoshop (or self-developed and printed film):

  • No question: when image quality is the first priority.
  • When you want to do something that can’t be done in camera; compositing, for instance.
  • When you don’t have many images to process
  • When you have no choice – either the JPEGs are crappy, or there are no JPEGs at all…
  • When you have to do perspective correction (and don’t have a tilt-shift lens).
  • In extreme lighting situations that can’t be handled out of camera.
  • When you need to make tonal/ exposure changes to part of the image only, and not the whole image; this is where dodging and burning comes in.
  • If you’re a control freak…

But wait, there’s a middle ground:

  • You can shoot RAW but batch process; I think Aperture and Lightroom are a good example of these halfway houses. The problem I see is that you’re spending nearly as much time as a full-blown individual Photoshop workover, but without the same control or output quality. And this somewhat defeats the point. That said, I do keep presets for various things – usually to do with color calibration for flash work or for certain types of lighting or cameras, or high ISO situations.
  • The other option is to have the camera output a very neutral JPEG and postprocess that; you can skip the RAW conversion step (although it is possible to open JPEGs in ACR and have the same adjustments, but not the same latitude of course). This actually frees up quite a bit of time; that minute can get down to 15 seconds or less if you have a fast computer – dodge and burn, curves, color correct, sharpen, save. And it does of course help that the files are much smaller, too. This is actually not a bad option – whenever I review a camera without RAW support, this is the method I use – but if you start to do any extreme tonal manipulations to the files, it will become obvious, especially at the pixel level.

_RX100_DSC1925b composite copy
Standing nap. Yes, it’s two files. Look carefully.

_RX100_DSC1925 crop
100% Crop. More noise, a smidge more detail, and slightly smoother tones; not a lot in it. And that’s with me looking at the full size files on my calibrated monitor, not the web crop; there’s even less difference here.

My currently preferred JPEG settings

Important note: currently, I’m using my JPEGs as preview images either for quick client contact sheets after a job. When shooting RAW-only, the JPEG settings apply to the preview image but not the RAW file  so I generally try to make them as close as possible to be representative of the tonal range I can get of the RAW file, i.e. flat and not saturated, but sharp. If I was shooting JPEG only, I’d run similar settings with the anticipation of doing some light processing work on them afterwards – the halfway house.

  • My current style is neutral and natural; I look for or create light first and foremost (though the latter doesn’t apply here; if I’m creating light, I’m also shooting RAW to maximize image quality). I want to retain a decent amount of the tonal range; however there’s no way to control the output curve for most cameras, which results in large dynamic range images appearing very flat. This means contrast is set to the lowest option, or close to it – depending on the camera.
  • It’s very easy to have individual color channels blow; thus reduce your saturation a notch or two.
  • Sharpening is a mixed bag; some cameras do this well, some don’t. But I don’t use zero sharpening, as a lot of the time this setting does actually affect the in-camera RAW conversion and the amount of detail extracted. It also helps you to determine if critical focus was achieved – I’ll usually run somewhere between neutral/ default and maximum.
  • White balance is on auto, but I will override it where necessary to avoid blown highlights.
  • Maximum quality and size, of course – with an extra RAW file saved, too.

There are still many reasons to shoot RAW – and even exclusively RAW – but I can’t help but feel those are eroding slightly; and for the vast majority of users – even serious hobbyists – it might not be necessary all the time. Admittedly, my main reason for revisiting this topic is in the interests of curiosity and efficiency; I don’t think there’s as much of an image quality penalty as there used to be, especially for smaller output sizes. I haven’t decided just how much SOOC JPEG I’m going to use at this point – edited JPEGs are probably as far as I’m going to go – but you can be assured that I won’t use it at all until I feel that I’m getting the image quality I want. And in any case, I can still apply my normal workflow to the JPEGs – the tradeoff is significantly shorter processing time against a bit less latitude. Moral of the story: get it right out of camera; if it’s not there, you’re not going to be able to add it in afterwards. MT


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!


Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Bryan Gonzalvo says:

    Hi Ming, I just re-read this article “to-process-or-not-to-process”. 99% of the time I shoot jpegs with post-processing. As this was written a couple years ago and in-camera processing power has increased, I’m curious if your opinion has changed at all. In other words, do you find yourself shooting more JPEG than you did two years ago?

    • I don’t shoot jpeg at all, unless you count RAW+JPEG for when a client wants to see rushes…in-camera processing power may have increased, but so has the potential latitude from the files. This means there’s even more you can do out of camera to perfect presentation that’s impossible in-camera…

  2. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment.

    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Appreciate it!

  3. I think you missed one important point here.
    I commonly shoot raw when I don’t have much time to shoot, like events, but much time afterwards in postproduction.

    • If throughput is your priority over quality, then JPEG is the way to go. If you need wiggle room and have the time, RAW. If it’s all about image quality…RAW only. But the point of the article wasn’t to do with paid pro work, it was just examining whether there was much penalty in ‘being lazy’ occasionally…

  4. Outstanding contribution.
    The only thing that would make it better for me is to have your views as they relate specifically to the E-M5.
    Many thanks for a very fine article.

    • The OMD falls into ‘serious camera’ territory for me – I suppose the distinction is if I have to use a neck strap or not – and with that, I accept PP because I also expect results without any major compromises. It’s different from compacts because you already know the moment you pick it over something else that there will be tradeoffs in image quality…

  5. I shoot mostly RAW (JPEG on the iPhone). I’ve always rationalized it by saying to myself that it’s easier to white balance RAW files than JPEG. But that’s not entirely true anymore. Now I rationalize it by saying that working with the RAW files gives you more headroom since you get to work in 12, 14 or 16 bits per channel. Who knows how much of an effect this really has though.

    I am mostly happy with what Lightroom does by default for evaluating whether a picture is worth working on at all. It’s similar to how my developed negs or work prints used to be in the physical darkroom. For the 1/50 that I actually work on, I don’t see that working with RAW files has any more overhead than JPEG. I use mostly Lightroom for both anyway. Photoshop is only needed for the trickiest of local masking or things like HDR and panoramas.

    I guess a lot of this depends on how much you shoot. I don’t think I’ve ever shot close to 1,000 pictures in a day. Of course I don’t do this for work. 🙂

    • The extra bit depth has plenty of effect, especially if you start to stretch the data – if you don’t have that headroom, you won’t have enough information to avoid posterization.

      I actually think a RAW file out of the iPhone 4/5 camera would be quite useable – something like the original Ricoh GR-Digital, I suppose.

      There have been days when I did catwalk fashion and exhausted two batteries on my D3 – we’re talking 5,000+ images to go through, cull and edit…

  6. I enjoy the editing/creative pp almost as much as I do taking the original photos. Like you state- if it is mostly for our own enjoyment & We are not aiming to please a customer then Go For It & Have some fun!
    Thanks for another great read/post!

  7. Hi Ming, You seem to be shooting a lot with the Sony RX100.. Is this your preferred camera for walking around over the OMD-EM-5? You also mentioned, in your review of the Nikon D600, it could replace your use of the OMD-EM-5 but I rarely see you use it. I’m considering a upgrade from our Nikon D80 and these are my current candidates but cannot decide.. Thanks for such a informative website

    • I’ll take the RX100 if photography isn’t my primary objective; it’s unobtrusive but not too compromised if I do happen to find something I want to shoot. The OM-D is my travel choice. The D600 is technically very competent, but somehow soulless. And the grip just doesn’t fit my hands very well. It serves as backup body only.

      • Yes, I agree on the nikons D600 lack of soul. For me it was the feel, my D80 sits better in the hand. I would be curious to know which camera you find has the most soul. Thanks Ming..

        • This is a really subjective question (and perhaps a good topic for a future post, thanks) – I don’t think it’s any of the digital cameras, though if I had to pick, it’d probably be one of those which is both communicative/ responsive, ergonomically sound, and has an odd quirk or two: call it personality. Cameras like the Ricoh GR-Digital series, Nikon D2H, and to a lesser extent, the Leica Ms. In the grand scheme of things though,I think none can beat the great film cameras – it seems back then they were both built by an individual craftsman who took great pride in their work, and built to last. As much as I loved my D3, it doesn’t even come close to my F2 Titan or Hasselblad 501C.

  8. Rosa Michaels says:

    MIng , best SOOC B&W in a compact or CSC ?

    • Depends much on the in-camera processing. The Ricoh GRD series do great SOOC jpegs. In theory, CSCs should be better because they have greater dynamic range to play with; however even the best of the bunch – the OMD – I find a bit coarse in the 1/4 and 3/4 tones.

  9. Having long shot RAW with a DSLR and JPEG with a compact, I’ve now also picked up an RX100 and shot mainly JPEG. In my view, the compact is not for very serious photography, so the JPEG is fine, but it’s nice to have the option of RAW in case a more serious subject presents itself while it’s in my pocket. I find the in-camera sharpening quite aggressive and wouldn’t put it higher than 0 level; especially in the corners, it attempts to reconstruct lost data from the lens correction; whereas the RAW is much smoother there. Also I’ve just discovered how to tweak JPEGs in ACR, and find it absolutely perfect – especially with much more intuitive white balance adjustment and noise/sharpening controls. I have some questions on the RX100’s settings, though:

    1. Do you use the DRO feature? In theory it should lower contrast by boosting shadows and lowering highlights in the camera’s own RAW conversion, giving more tonal range in the JPEG (flatter, but better for post-processing). What setting do you use, if you don’t mind me asking?
    2. I agree that JPEG has to be shot to the left and exposed for the end-result to preserve highlights, while RAW can be shot slightly to the right knowing some highlights can be brought back. But your JPEGs above seem to be exposed to the left even though you’re also saving a RAW file. Does it make that much difference to the RAW output?

    • I turn DRO off because sometimes it results in unnatural looking tonal overlaps – the problem is you don’t know when or under what conditions it fails. There’s a small noise penalty in protecting your highlights in raw, but you have not much choice because there also isn’t a lot of raw headroom with the RX100.

  10. Simon Beesley says:

    Hi. Just a little confused by one of your comments and hoping you can elaborate/clarify. In your last section here you mention setting effectively low contrast and saturation in order keep as much data as possible in any JPGs. This makes sense to me as I find that this also gives a closer match between the camera LCD and the initial look of the RAW in the converter (in my case Capture One). However in an earlier article (can’t remember which), you mention setting the contrast and sharpening to highest settings when shooting RAW (or perhaps RAW + JPG??) on the basis that if you can get the histogram right in that context, then you must definitely have it when you convert the RAW.


    • Yes. The low contrast-low saturation mode is if you’re editing the jpegs. High everything is an exposure guide if you’re going to shoot raw, because that’s what the histogram is based off.

  11. One area where out of camera JPEGs lack is black and white – they are always way too flat. Especially as I tend to go for the high contrast look most of the time. The Fuji’s do give good skin tones for B&W, but still flat.

    JPEGs are better no doubt than a few years ago, and if you nail your white balance and exposure its all good to tweak a few things in Lightroom without any real degradation. This is the beauty of shooting RAW+JPEG, can go full edit if the JPEG doesn’t quite hit the mark and as you said storage is cheap. But sometimes it is just fun to have the total control to get creative in post processing 🙂

  12. Jeff Smith says:

    I also have a RX100, and honestly have yet to soot RAW with it. I rarely go with straight from camera jpegs, often adjusting shadow and highlights some. I am really quite astonished by how much shadow detail can be pulled out of jpegs from the RX100. In most instances I really don’t think My image would be much better in the end processing a jpeg from RAW, so why bother. Some may look down on this, but I am usually quite satisfied. In short I could not agree with your sentiments more, jpegs have certainly improved on many cameras. Jeff Smith

    • The RX100 doesn’t really give you that much extra latitude unless you’re going to make extreme WB corrections. And if you think those jpegs are impressive…wait til you see the XF1’s files.

  13. Kevin Dharmawan says:

    Hey Ming, another well thought out insight. I just have one question about your workflow and maybe you can better explain it to me. Why do you put the NEF files through ACR first? Is there a benefit of doing so? I have never used ACR, I usually just export everything into Lightroom and slowly begin the long grueling process of…well…image processing.

  14. For years I was shooting jpeg set to vivid on my D700 due to KR (online photographer). At that time I thought the output was quite nice, but what a mistake loosing all the possibilities shooting raw and now I generally don’t like the vivid setting so much anymore, but can’t do much about it because I don’t have the raw file. Big, big mistake.

    On the other hand I shoot jpeg with the RX100 as I don’t think I can get significantly better images from post processing raw images (with the Sony software) from this camera. The funny thing is that I never shoot the J1 in other than raw, because I get significantly better results from the raw output with some tweaking in Capture NX2 than what is possible with jpeg.

  15. Really interested in where you land up with this train of thought, Ming. I am only just starting to tinker with post processing after admiring the style you have created but don’t want the hassle of mucking around too much with raw conversions etc – my current “workflow” is to get the jpegs onto my iPad using a camera connection kit and then use snapseed to finish off. Picture quality isn’t a high priority at the moment (composition probably is) so if you find a jpeg setting on the OM-D you think might form a good base for processing which gets you close to your signature look, I’d love to hear it.

  16. Simon Russell says:

    I’m not sure I really get why you think Lightroom/Aperture presets mean you’re spending a lot of time on each photo; the defaults usually aren’t bad, and that’s basically the same as using the camera JPEGs. Even if you don’t like the defaults, you can make a new default (as I’m sure you’re aware).

    I’ve shot raw since getting a DSLR in 2005 and discovering what a difference it makes. That said, I have used the JPEGs from raw+JPEG when I was travelling and using a netbook which couldn’t process the raws in an acceptable time-frame — just to post the pictures up.

    I just don’t really get it; it’s a common theme: “I don’t have time for raw”; but with modern tools it takes as long as you decide to make it take.

    • The defaults are never right for any situation. Subsequently correcting them is what takes time, not using presets in themselves.

      I’m coming from the point of view of somebody who’s shot everything RAW since I was able to do so, and typically gets through a non-heavy retouching file in about 30 seconds. Throughput means everything when you’re paid based on the number of images you can produce.

      • Simon Russell says:

        So the defaults in the camera are okay, but the defaults in software aren’t? (Or are you actually going to be tweaking the sharpness/contrast/white balance in-camera?) My point was that you can choose some presets that are pretty much what the camera will do, and fix things only if they look wrong.

        I’m also coming from the point of view of somebody who shoots raw all the time, I’m talking about the workflow I actually use, and have used for years. I don’t get paid for any shots, so basically my entire collection falls into your “it’s not important enough to process fully, so what’s the best way to deal with it” premise.

        I thought you were mainly talking about the shots you weren’t getting paid for. Obviously, as you’ve written, you’re going to actually process shots you are getting paid for; as you’ve illustrated, the camera defaults aren’t as good as what you come up with in post-processing.

        • No, I’m saying neither is optimally okay, but for some cameras – especially the Fujis, for instance, with their slightly odd sensors – produce better out of camera JPEGs than software afterwards. Simple reason is that the processing has already been optimized for that camera’s particular file characteristics.

          For the ‘not important enough to process fully’ category, I’m revaluating JPEG, that’s all – why bother with monkeying around with the conversion process at all if it can be skipped entirely?

      • Simon Russell says:

        The Fuji thing’s an issue, certainly. I guess the problem with their sensor ideas is that software developers can’t really be bothered writing something to demosaic them properly; I can’t really understand why Fuji hasn’t tried harder to work with the main vendors to get that sorted out (perhaps they have; certainly nothing has come of it so far). Clearly it’s not impossible for software to do a better job processing those files, of course; it’s just a question of will.

        If you’re using raw+JPEG and only using the raw if there’s some reason, then I guess you’re basically just using a default; so the only question is whether you prefer what the camera makes or what Lightroom/Aperture chooses for you. I’ve always gone for the raw, because I always seem to end up with cameras with crappy JPEG engines.

        • I hear you on the latter. But XF1 and RX100 both seem pretty good. None of the Nikon DSLRs I use even come close to what they can do in RAW, so there’s no point looking at it. I suppose this whole consideration applies more to the cameras with fairly restricted-latitude sensors – i.e. compacts – than DSLRs. There’s simply less information to be allocated over the 8 bits of a JPEG…

      • Simon Russell says:

        I guess it’s true — the JPEGs out of modern decent compacts are pretty impressive. They certainly beat the bleached white highlights and opaque shadows of my first digital camera.

        For compacts, for me usually raw mainly means better detail, better white balance and then _some_ ability to recover shadows and highlights, and to overcome the often horrible noise reduction. (None of those applied to my rather disappointing LX2; I actually started just using the JPEGs because the raw had almost no more usable info, and horrible smeary raw noise reduction.)

        From what I’ve seen though, the RX100 does have a pretty amazing dynamic range, so there might be some reason to use raw there after all. At least in some edge cases.

        Anyway, yes, I guess it’s always worth evaluating. I just wanted to highlight to your readers (mainly) that a raw workflow can in fact be pretty painless, it’s really just about choosing the right software.

  17. I’ve just recently started exploring RAW. It’s like I’ve been shooting with fog in front of my eyes all this while and suddenly the fog was gone and it’s all brand new world (*insert fantasy soundtrack here) to me!

    I still shoot jpeg, when it’s not critical; but shooting RAW has becoming a major part of my photography now. However I’m still fundamentally a lazy person, I only do some minor adjustment (exposure, luminance, tone that’s all).

    Seeing how jpeg are improving by leaps and bounds, surely the gap between jpeg and Raw will slowly diminish? Nonetheless, I’m thoroughly enjoying shooting RAW.


    • I’m thinking it will too – in fact, I’m seeing it do so especially with newer cameras/ sensors like the XF1; however, there will always be a gap because you can’t have perfect settings for every single situation, since every situation is different. The pixel quality will continue to improve, though.

    • Insightful article!

      I’ve got the same feeling about the fog. I’m just starting to get the hang of processing and creating the look I want. Furthermore, I (still) enjoy spending some time fiddling with the settings, so wherever possible I shoot raw.


  1. […] Ginza dusk. This is the photographer’s analog of the classic fisherman’s dilemma: fish or cut bait? I’ve always, for as long as I can remember being serious about photography, sh…  […]

  2. […] I’ve always, for as long as I can remember being serious about photography, shot RAW and done some form of processing afterwards. The more potential the file had, the more processing; conversely, I’d also spend time trying to save files that probably weren’t compositionally worthwhile. And as much as I hate to admit it, in the early days, trying to hide photographic mistakes behind punchy processing. In effect, the processing was taking center stage instead of the image. One of the hardest things to do is create a strong, but natural looking image – both from a perspective and processing standpoint; in order for it to stand out well from reality, the light, subject and composition all have to be exceptional.  […]

  3. […] I’ve always, for as long as I can remember being serious about photography, shot RAW and done some form of processing afterwards. The more potential the file had, the more processing; conversely, I’d also spend time trying to save files that probably weren’t compositionally worthwhile. And as much as I hate to admit it, in the early days, trying to hide photographic mistakes behind punchy processing. In effect, the processing was taking center stage instead of the image. One of the hardest things to do is create a strong, but natural looking image – both from a perspective and processing standpoint; in order for it to stand out well from reality, the light, subject and composition all have to be exceptional.  […]

%d bloggers like this: