Raw Conversion

Raw Conversion

A good long while ago I did some testing of Raw vs. Jpeg. Since then a couple of things have happened and now I shoot more RAW than JPG:

  • I replaced my Nikon D40 with a Nikon D3200.

  • I gained a better understanding of what RAW offered.

  • I started doing more astrophotography.

Let's take those in turn.

1. Nikon D3200 vs Nikon D40

Don't get me wrong, I'll always remember my D40 fondly - but I'm a landscape photographer and 13.2 EV[a] vs 11 EV[b] in dynamic range can't be ignored. That's four and a half times the dynamic range. After seeing what can be teased out of the shadows of a D3200 NEF file, I realized that a single RAW exposure gave me all the dynamic range I would previously have needed two or three exposures and an HDR fusion step to achieve.

2. What RAW Offers

There were two killer features for me in RAW:

  1. Dynamic range

  2. Color correction

The impact of the dynamic range of NEF files was obvious when I started playing with them in Adobe Camera Raw. When I wrote Raw vs. Jpeg I was using a Nikon D3100[c], which has a dynamic range of 11.3 EV. The D3200 has four times the shadow detail, which makes shooting RAW an unquestionable advantage when trying to fit a scene with wide dynamic range into a photo.

The color correction was a bit more subtle - because I had previously relied on setting the white balance at the time of capture. But after loading up a couple of photos, selecting a different white balance setting in Camera Raw, and being blown away by the difference I had to accept that RAW was the way to go in the kind of photography that I did.

3. Astrophotography

Astrophotography is the most computationally intensive kind of photography I've done. Whereas in other kinds of photography you come home with an image that is more-or-less done save for some quick retouching in Photoshop to bring out the details, in astrophotography you are hours and hours away from the final result. I still have a folder named 20160812 on my hard drive, with photos that I "will get to sometime". All that computing requires input images where as little as possible has been thrown away - which means RAW.

4. The Conversion

The reason I'm writing this article is that I've noticed my own switch from JPG to RAW. From shooting JPG exclusively, I had a period where I would use RAW for more and more kinds of photography, until finally, I use RAW for pretty much everything. I wanted to know just how long this conversion of myself from JPG shooter to RAW shooter took, and so I turned to my library of photos. For each month, what proportion was JPG and what proportion was RAW? Here's the result.


That diagram, however, over-counts RAW. Since I did a lot of astrophotography there are stacks of RAW files that should be counted as just one. So I re-ran the script to see how many of the finished images started life as RAW and how many started life as JPG.

RAW vs JPG, masters only

Summary: converting one hobby photographer to RAW takes about four to five years.