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Thread: The RAW deal - a perspective from film

  1. #1
    binsurf's Avatar
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    The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    Back in the old days, when film was king, there were things like film canisters, developer, stop, fix and rinse. You had to thread film onto a large spool in total darkness and then drop it in to a canister filled with developer. Based on the ISO, you'd leave it in the canister for a specific time period (unless you pushed the ISO), frequently shaking it and dropping it on the counter to remove bubbles. After that, you drained the developer, rinsed, and then filled it with stop that would stop the silver halide emulsion from being sensitive to light. After a short time, you'd drain and rinse that and then drop in fix. Fix would finalize the film and harden the emulsion. It was at this point you could also pour in additives to chemically color or tint the film if you so desired. After a good rinse from that, you could turn on the lights (you technically could after sealing the film in the canister), pull the film out and hang it to dry. That was only the first of two processes to get the photo.

    When the film dried, then you could switch to the red or yellow light, pull out the photo paper (not like inkjet printers, actual photo paper) and when the film was fixed to the enlarger, you'd expose it to the paper for a specific time (depending on how bright or dark you wanted it), and the paper would then be processed in much the same way as film - developer, stop, fix, rinse. I still have all of my equipment.

    Processing like this could take a few hours. A time when a great deal of detail and attention was paid to the processing of photos. I've only described the processing of black and white film. Color was more involved and at times, dangerous. I never wanted to get into color for that reason. Digital cameras take away all of the chemicals, time and attention and bring us near instant results. With most DSLRs and some higher end consumer cameras, the ability to capture photos into a raw file is much like the film of the old days. Film only had the image on it that was taken. Nothing more than ISO setting (for exposure settings), aperture, shutter and focus affected the film. JPEGs are much like the final paper print. Dodging, burning, develop times, fix additives, and other factors are added to the processing as needed to affect the outcome of the final image from the negative. When you shoot to a raw file, you are effectively shooting to a film negative that still needs to be developed (kind of like the Develop module in Lightroom) and printed (saved as a jpeg or other final format or actually printed). A raw file contains only the captured image as the sensor on the camera saw it at the moment the shutter opened. There is no sharpening, noise reduction, white balance, saturation, contrast, or any other addition to the photo processed on it. It is simply, the ISO (sensitivity), shutter, aperture, and focus. You must develop it further using software to affect it in the manner in which you see fit. Why do you need to sharpen a raw image? Because the conversion process from the sensor to a file is flawed. It isn't perfect, and sharpness is the collateral to that.

    If you are wondering about whether you want to shoot in raw or jpeg format, consider this; How much control do you want to have in the final output of your photo? When a painter paints, does he not select paint and brushes to his taste? Does he not wield them to the canvas with his own artistic impression of the world? A final photo, no matter what your tools are that you use is your own art, affected by the choices you make to create a unique visual window into how you see the world.

    I'm not saying my idea is correct, but rather this is my take on how I see the use of raw files. I use them exclusively on my camera and never use jpegs except for final prints. I still sort of miss the days of developer, stop, fix and rinse.
    Last edited by binsurf; 20th March 2013 at 07:01 PM.

  2. #2
    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    Jim – you have put forward and interesting analogy, I too had a solid grounding in the darkroom, but did all aspects of colour work (negative and reversal processing and printing) as well. I don’t miss two other aspects of film work either; getting rid of the dust on the negative and having to deal with scratches on the emulsion.

    I think you present an interesting argument for RAW files; but I think you would be closer if you compared a jpeg to a negative’s capabilities.. I feel that film, especially colour film, had performance characteristics that are closer to a jpeg. There really were only two types of film available; daylight and tungsten. Once you took a picture; your white balance was locked in and the only way to modify how your film reacted under different light conditions was to pop a colour compensating filter in front of your lens. Colour films had fairly limited dynamic range as well; around 4 or 5stops for reversal film and perhaps 7 or 8 for colour negative film. There was no opportunity for the 12 or so stops of dynamic range that we get in a modern sensor, nor could we change the colour balance of the image after it was shot.

    The only reason we need RAW files today is so that we can do a level of manipulation made possible by modern PP software. If we go straight from camera to print, there really is no issue with artifacts and banding brought about by only having an 8-bit image, rather than a 14-bit RAW file. Our eyes can only detect some 9 to 10 million individual colours; so we can’t even detect the full gamut of almost 17 million colours of the lowly 8-bit sRBG colour space, much less the billions of colours we can generate from 12-bit and 14-bit RAW data and display on our high end IPS screens. The standard drops even more when we look at print; a top end colour printer is only good for about 1 million distinct colors

    While I recognize the advantages of the format and do use RAW files, in reality I need them for less that 5% of my work. Usually my out of camera images are so good that the require very limited manipulation and I can’t tell the difference if I used a RAW or jpeg.

  3. #3
    binsurf's Avatar
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    Re: The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    I couldn't for the life of me remember it was called emulsion and not resin. I updated my post. Thank you for you perspective on color. My lack of experience with it was a shortfall in my point.

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    Re: The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    (...)
    The only reason we need RAW files today is so that we can do a level of manipulation made possible by modern PP software. If we go straight from camera to print, there really is no issue with artifacts and banding brought about by only having an 8-bit image, rather than a 14-bit RAW file. Our eyes can only detect some 9 to 10 million individual colours; so we can’t even detect the full gamut of almost 17 million colours of the lowly 8-bit sRBG colour space, much less the billions of colours we can generate from 12-bit and 14-bit RAW data and display on our high end IPS screens. The standard drops even more when we look at print; a top end colour printer is only good for about 1 million distinct colors

    (...)
    Sorry, but I think you are mixing up two things here:
    As I understand things, the human eye has a (much) wider gamut than sRGB (closer to Lab, or rather CIELAB, space). But that doesn't imply that
    the eye can see more different colours, the same as an sRGB image in 16 bit/channel has a wider gamut than the same image in 8 bit/channel.

    So there is no relation between the number of colours that can be distinguished (bit depth) and the gamut covered (colour space) in an image.

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    Re: The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    Jim.

    Yup, I still have some developing tanks lurking somewhere. I miss the darkroom evenings. That was a complete break from work.

    I agree with your basic point, but I think there is a risk of trying to draw too close an analogy to film. As Manfred points out, film actually gave us (or at most of us) less control than a digital raw file offers. However, the principle is the same: more control is better than less. One of the reasons I preferred B&W in the old days was that I had neither the facilities nor the skill to process color on my own, and I hated sending it off to wherever to have whoever to whatever they were going to do with it. That's why I never shoot jpeg. The extra time involved in shooting raw is truly trivial once you are used to it, and the additional control is wonderful. I see no reason to give up any of that control by selecting a processing algorithm from the camera before I even see the image.

    Dan

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    The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    I don't miss film ... at all.

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    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    Remco – You miss the point I am trying to make and I agree with what you have written. I’m really going back to try to put the absolutely amazing improvements digital photography has made over the past few years, when compared to the capabilities we had with film.

    The whole concept of the vast amount of data that is contained in a RAW file is much more than we ever had to work with in 35mm film. It’s nice to have 14-bit resolution on a 36MP sensor, but in reality we are throwing most of that data away when we print or display images on a computer screen, yet we go out of our way to preserve this highest level of data quality, really just because we might need it. The cost of doing so is low and the (perceived?) risk of not doing so is high.

    The point I was trying to make is that even an 8-bit jpeg has far more colour combinations than the human eye is capable of seeing. There is no “rule” that says if you use 8-bit colour, you are in the sRGB colour space, any more than saying that you need at least 12-bit to16-bit colour to display in AdobeRBG or ProPhoto. I can use any tuple (R, G., B) value to represent a specific colour in any RGB colour space; but the values will not represent the same colour. A pure green in AdobeRGB will be more vivid the a pure green value in sRGB, etc.

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    I don't miss film ... at all.
    Nor do I... After I purchased my first digital DSLR, I never used film again. And... today's DSLR cameras are far superior to that original Canon 10D that I once used.

  9. #9

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    Re: The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    I am glad to be shot of film ... I can do much more and quicker with a post processing programme, and a lot cheaper too
    To me the important point is capturing a good image not some technical wizardry.
    It is possible that if you combine film with digital PP you have the best of both worlds, healthier too, but I will stick to my digital cameras thank you.

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    Re: The RAW deal - a perspective from film

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    Nor do I... After I purchased my first digital DSLR, I never used film again. And... today's DSLR cameras are far superior to that original Canon 10D that I once used.
    I'm guessing that neither of us have shot with ASA 25600 film recently

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