More and more photographers are taking hold of their own photographic education and advancement by turning to the web. People’s desire to understand more about digital technology in photography has given rise to this self education movement, but due to the lack of regulation on the internet it can lead to misinformed photographers. One area that has been widely talked about but lacks thorough fact-checking is the Raw image format. Raw is written about often in magazines, talked about at trade shows, it’s even the subject of many blogs and forums. The image format has become a buzz word, touted as the golden boy of both professional and amateur photographers. Many photography enthusiasts and hobbyists understand that Raw is a powerful tool, however they have very little understanding of what it is which limits their ability to take full advantage of all it offers.
Breaking Down the Complexities of the Raw Image FormatInstructor, David Marx as Interviewed by Bob McGowan
For this month’s issue, I sat down with David Marx, photographer, digital imaging guru and one of RMSP’s valuable instructors. David’s resume includes being a graduate of Summer Intensive 2000, freelance outdoor sports photographer and outdoor sports guide. He instructs in our Weekends program, our Workshop program teaching Photoshop Level I: Photoshop for Photographers and in our Career Training program in both Summer and Advanced Intensives. He’s an avid skier, rafter and kayaker whose love of outdoor adventure has fueled his interest in photography and digital imaging. He received a bachelor’s degree in American Literature from Colby College in Waterville, Maine and took his first Photoshop class at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana in the late 90’s. He has since researched and practiced his craft on his own for the last seven years. His expertise in teaching lies in his infinite patience and ability to break down complex chunks of hardware and software information into easy to digest “bytes” for those new to the digital age. If the term “Raw” currently brings to mind images of uncooked cauliflower, hopefully David’s input will explain what benefits these types of files possess in the world of digital imaging.
Starting at the beginning, how do the sensors in a digital camera capture light to create images? What is a pixel anyway? If you can imagine inside each digital camera is a mini-solar panel called a digital sensor. This panel is made up of individual tiny photo-cells or pockets whose sole function is to capture light and convert it into electrical energy. As light strikes the cell, it takes a measurement of the strength of that light and translates it into a number which is then recorded as a value of its electrical energy. The pixel itself is not the cell, but the translation of its recorded value into a single colored image element that we eventually see on an LCD or computer screen. The pixel thus represents a converted electrical value into one individual square of solid color. Combine millions of these tiny squares in various gradations of color and the human eye sees a coherent image displayed on a screen. None of this takes place without the translation of electrical value mathematically into a solid square of color which becomes the pixel.
What’s the difference between capturing digital images in the Raw format versus another format, such as jpeg? The truth is that all digital camera images are initially captured in a Raw format. The difference between setting your camera to capture in raw or in jpeg depends on exactly when you choose for the file to get converted into something that is easily used or printed. Computers and printers love jpeg files because they are easy to understand and to render whereas Raw files are not immediately useable. Shooting in jpeg means that the digital camera almost instantly converts the original raw sensor data into the jpeg file format which any computer or printer will like. Shooting in raw tells the camera not to make this conversion on the fly but rather to put the original “not-so-friendly” information onto the memory card. Can you give us one of your clever analogies that describes how the raw format works when capturing digital information? Imagine at first that your digital camera is technically a computer. One of its initial functions is to collect data; for without data, the computer is useless. Once the data is collected (via the digital sensor) it is still only a bunch of numbers with no value other than just numerical. A software program creates a spreadsheet that can be configured to digest, process and calculate data in the database into any format so chosen by the operator.
Or, to suggest a simpler analogy, how about imagining the Raw, “uncooked” ingredients of flour, milk, sugar, eggs, etc. being blended together in a bowl. This processing along with baking them inside an oven will eventually produce a delicious cake, or so one hopes. The ingredients can also be made into cookies of different varieties such as chocolate chip or peanut butter. The ingredients cannot process and bake themselves without external assistance from a baker. Your digital camera possesses the ability to mix the ingredients and bake the “cake” so to speak (jpeg file), or just collect the ingredients and not do a thing with them until you are ready to see them come to fruition (Raw file). If you choose to shoot in Raw you can cook to taste, but you must work with this file after it leaves the camera.
Is shooting in Raw something all photographers should do? What are some of the most important things a photographer should remember when shooting in the raw format with their digital camera? No, shooting in raw is NOT something all photographers should do. The choice would entirely depend on the type of photography being shot. If the photographer was a photojournalist and needed to produce images of a breaking news event, it wouldn’t make sense to capture and then transmit files in Raw which must still be processed. The beauty of jpegs files for the breaking news photographer is that they are already processed and they can go right to print. Raw files would still need to be processed, but time is everything when it comes to news reporting.
The most important thing to remember for any digital photographer who is capturing in Raw is to know that you are going to spend time processing your images at some point which will involve a computer and digital imaging software. The more power your camera has, the more power your computer will need to work with the Raw files that you are producing. Your Raw images are not immediately useable until they are processed in some fashion. In many regards, the digital imagist is not only a photographer, but also a digital darkroom technician. For most beginning to intermediate amateur photographers who may not have the desire to spend hours on a computer to produce custom processed images, setting your camera settings to shoot in jpeg format will produce immediately processed and useable images just fine. More serious photographers involved in commercial, fine art or large format photography would most likely want to shoot in Raw. They may also want to take the time to learn how to operate imaging software such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom™ or Photoshop CS3®. The power of this technology is that all control of the final product lies in the hands of the same person who took the photograph. Before the age of digital, this control used to be dependent upon a technician or team of technicians working in a wet film processing lab.
What is meant by term “Raw converter”? Using the analogy of working in a film processing darkroom, technicians need to process exposed film using a type of chemical called developer. The resulting chemical reaction basically converts the light information captured by the light-sensitive crystals inherent in the film into recognizable patterns that become images. One way to describe raw data collected by a digital sensor is that it is like film that has been exposed but has not yet been processed with developer. Some advanced imaging software now has a digital version of the “developer” and that’s what we’re calling the Raw converter. This converter takes the basic raw data and enters it into an interface that allows a user to alter and shape, hopefully for the better, the original capture information. In other words, the Raw converter takes the original raw ingredients and cooks them into something that other programs and computers will like.
The new Adobe Photoshop Lightroom program has become a powerful tool for the intermediate and advanced digital photographer alike. Are there advantages to working with Raw files in Lightroom versus in Photoshop CS3? Disadvantages?
Lightroom has been designed from the “ground up” with just photographers in mind. Photoshop CS3 has been designed for a much wider group of tasks including animation and Web design. Since this is the case, the raw interface designed for Lightroom tends to be more intuitive when the end user is a photographer. Photoshop CS3 tends to be less intuitive and less user friendly. Both programs are equal in power and functionality, but in my opinion, Lightroom wins hands down in ease of use.
Thinking About a Digital SLR? Neil Spends a Few Minutes Talking About Things to Consider When Shopping Around.
In the mid 80’s single lens reflex cameras (SLRs) were selling at an all time high of over 2 million per year in North America. Following this height of popularity ensuing years brought fewer and fewer sales. With the introduction of digital cameras into the market camera sales once again rival those of the mid 80’s. Contributing to this resurgence is that the cost of these cameras has dropped while quality has continued to rise very quickly.
There are many great brands of DSLRs available today. For beginners, any DSLR brand is fine. These include Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and Olympus. For people who may want to make money in photography or become full time professional photographers it may be wise to go with Canon or Nikon because these brands support a large system of lenses and accessories.
I have been shooting Canon since 1989 when I switched from Olympus to convert to an auto focus 35mm film camera system. When I got my first Canon DSLR camera 5 years ago, I immediately fell in love with having both a film and a digital SLR that all my lenses and accessories would fit.
There are some important considerations when looking into buying a new DSLR. First and probably most important is the price range. Price is always associated with whether the camera is an amateur or a professional model. For people wanting an inexpensive amateur DSLR that will give them high quality photographs I suggest the following:• Canon Rebel XTi (10 mega pixels) *New*• Nikon D40 (6 mega pixels)• Nikon D40x (10 mega pixels)
For those wanting a medium priced, semi-professional DSLR with many more features and a sturdier build, I suggest the following:• Canon 40D (10 mega pixels)*New*• Canon 5D (12.8 mega pixels)• Nikon D80 (10 mega pixels)• Nikon D200 (10 mega pixels)• Nikon D300 (12 mega pixels) *New*
For those wanting a true professional DSLR which falls into the most expensive price range, I recommend the following:• Canon 1D Mark III (10 mega pixels) *New*• Canon 1Ds Mark III (21 mega pixels and equal to medium format quality) *New*• Nikon D2Hs (4 mega pixels)• Nikon D2Xs (12.4 mega pixels)• Nikon D3 (12 mega pixels) *New*
The reasons that a photographer may want a true professional DSLR are many. Among the benefits are extreme ruggedness, excellent weather proofing and many other important and useful features.
Following price, another important consideration is the number of pixels. A camera with 6 mega pixels will be fine for most beginning photographers but 10 mega pixels are probably important for those needing higher quality and making very large prints. It is important to realize that when looking at quality, pixels are only one factor. An example of this is many ‘point and shoot’ cameras have 10 or more mega pixels but the sensors are so small that they cannot give the quality of a DSLR which has a larger sensor. When comparing a larger sensor to a smaller one, the larger one is capable of collecting more information than the smaller one even with the same amount of mega pixels. This brings us to the next consideration, the size of the sensor.
Canon has three sensor sizes. First is the full frame, where the sensor is the same size as 35mm film. With this sensor size, lenses will perform the same way as they do with film. Full frame models include: 1DsMark III, and the 5D. Next is a smaller sensor with a 1.3x crop factor which you will find in the Canon 1D Mark III. This camera makes lenses appear 30% longer. This is a camera made for photojournalists and sports photographers and also takes your standard lenses. The third sensor size is even smaller and has a 1.6x crop factor. Cameras with this sensor size are Rebel XTi and the 40D. These cameras can take any standard lenses or special digital lenses made for a smaller sensor size. For Canon photographers it is important to know that if you buy “digital only” lenses and then buy a Canon body with a larger sensor you will need to buy standard lenses. With Nikon DSLRs all bodies have a 1.5x crop factor and can take both standard lenses and digital lenses. The exception for Nikon is the newly announced D3 which has a full frame sensor. This camera only uses standard lenses. To sum up, for full frame and 1.3 sensor camera bodies, you use standard lenses. For any smaller sensor size (1.5,1.6) you can use digital lenses in addition to standard lenses.
ISO range is another consideration to throw into the mix when looking at buying a DSLR. Quality is getting much better and even high ISOs now have enough quality for good sized prints. I suggest an ISO range from 100-1600 and maybe even 3200. This way you can shoot in lower light without use of a flash or tripod, especially if you are using a fast lens.
For action photography there are two main considerations -how fast the camera shoots and how many shots can be taken before the camera takes a break. The speeds range from 2.5 frames per second to 10 frames per second (FPS). It is also important to see how many frames the camera will shoot continuously (burst rate). Some professional cameras range up to 110 frames on the highest quality jpeg.
A few other features you may want to look for are a dust elimination system, view finder size, LCD screen size (many cameras have up to 3”) and number of auto focus points. As a final note, I have talked mostly about Canon and Nikon however; the other brands of cameras are also very good choices. I have only talked about the two major brands because they sell so many more cameras and are more prevalent in the market place.
If you enjoyed Dave Marx's interview you may want to consider some of his workshops in 2007 and 2008.
Photoshop Level I: Photoshop for Photographers November 4-9, 2007For more information about the following 2008 workshops that David is instructing please call the office at 800.394.7677.
Photoshop Level I: Photoshop for Photographers Jan 27- Feb 1, 2008 Photoshop Level I: Photoshop for Photographers Apr 27-May 2, 2008Photoshop Level I: Photoshop for Photographers Aug 17-22, 2008Photoshop Level I: Photoshop for Photographers Nov 2-7, 2008Summer Intensive - A Foundation in Photography June 2-August 15, 2008Advanced Intensive - Digital and Professional Development September 8-October 17, 2008
We have finalized the cities and dates for our 2008 RMSP Weekends:
Virginia Beach, VA
Des Moines, IA
For more information or to register please call our office and contact Michelle or Bob at 800.394.7677
Our 2008 schedule is almost here! The first week of October our catalog is being sent out and our website will be completely updated with all our courses for 2008. If you have any questions before then please call our office at 800.394.7677
PDN PhotoPlus International Conference + Expo 2007 October 18-20 - Javits Convention Center - New York CityDon't miss the show that has the products and education you need to be aleader in the photography and imaging industries. Whether you're aprofessional or advanced amateur, you will discover a marketplace ofsolutions that is unrivaled worldwide!Register TODAY at www.photoplusexpo.com! Use VIP code NADA1 for a free expopass!