Ooh, that’s raw.

This entry was posted by on Sunday, 24 December, 2006 at

Ever since buying a Canon 30D last summer, I’ve been thrilled with the picture quality. My guilty admission, however, is that I’ve fallen down on the job of being a tech geek. I’ve barely read the manual, and only know how to make the camera do the most rudimentary things. I still use the camera in semi-automatic mode, whereby I choose an aperture (depth of field), and let the camera choose the shutter speed for me. Sometimes I follow up on the auto-focus with a bit of manual focus. Because I hate the built-in flash, in low-light situations I set the ISO to 800 or 1000 and then open up to f/2 or so. I also manually choose the white balance… but that’s about it.

This week, visiting inlaws in North Carolina, I had some downtime to really look at the camera again. I ended up buying a nice book which is both a introduction to photographic techniques in general, and a hands-on tour of my specific camera. I’m pretty happy with it.

Keep in mind, I’m not a complete photography newbie. I took a photography class in high school, and did lots of black & white shooting on an old 1980 Pentax ME-Super with an f/1.4 lens. I had to set the aperture and shutter speed manually, and the most the camera would do is blink a little LED light-meter at me, to tell me if I was over- or under-exposing. I wish the class had taught me something about the artistic side of photography (like theory of composition), but instead I spent the whole semester learning how to develop black & white film by hand, getting covered with smelly chemicals.

Anyway, my new book inspired me to do two crazy things: (1) turn on my camera’s auto-exposure bracketing feature, and (2) stop recording huge JPEG files, and switch to RAW files instead.

The auto-bracketing thing is neat. I push my button and get three pictures instead of one. I’m not sure I’m going to use it all the time… but I can see that if I’m really worried about getting a good photo, it’s a nice form of insurance.

The RAW file thing has left many impressions on me. First, I noticed that the camera displays the picture on its LCD faster, presumably because it’s not trying to do JPEG compression. Second, I noticed that the files are 9MB each, instead of 3MB. Yikes. Next, I’m hugely impressed with OS X: it just natively understands Canon’s raw (.CR2) format. I double-click on a file, and Preview.app displays it without fuss. (Alas, when I try to import my 30 .CR2 files into iPhoto, a few get in, but then the whole app crashes.) Finally, there is definitely a quality difference between JPEG and RAW. It’s immediately obvious when I open the photo, and especially obvious when I start zooming. No artifacts, no blurs anywhere. I’m sold!

I guess my next project is to actually learn to do something with RAW files. I don’t own Photoshop, so I gotta find some free (or Free) software to play with white balance, color temperature, and so on. I can’t see color very well, so this could get… interesting.

2 Responses to “Ooh, that’s raw.”

  1. DAvid Linnig

    If you find this soon, try giving me a call on Christmas day — I’ll be driving and should be avail to talk about this stuff during much of midday — say, 10-3 PST

    Not sure what’s causing your crashes (that’s YOUR job, anyway) but Photoshop is very useful. Exposure bracketing is less pertinent w/ digital than film (esp slide film) when you shoot raw and have PS….


  2. eric h

    http://gimp.org/ is probably the closest thing to a Free clone of Photoshop.