Another food analogy – Raw files vs Jpeg files

Yesterday I tried to make a batch of pancakes for the kids’ afternoon tea. Trouble was, I was also participating in a forum discussion about calibration at the same time, and I kept forgetting to turn them. Needless to say, quite a few of them ended up a bit burnt. Oops! Ah well, those ones ended up on the "Daddy pile", so I ate more than my share!

Anyway, my gluttony is not the point of this post. The point is about cameras.

It’s not uncommon for Jpeg shooters to switch to Raw and be disappointed by the images that come out of their camera. It’s also not unusual to hear new DSLR owners lament "my phone takes brighter photos than this!"

It’s my belief that high-end digital cameras are designed to capture photos a bit flat and dull. And it’s my firm opinion that this is exactly how it should be.

The fact is, if you own a DSLR, it’s expected that you also own some editing software. But regular people, with their phone cameras, aren’t expected to have Photoshop on their computer at home. They are snapping, and posting straight to Instagram. Those little cameras have to produce images that are bright and fun, and make people say "Oh, yeah, I remember that night! Gee I was drunk!!!", or whatever.

But DSLR owners take much more care. You edit, you tweak, you enhance. And that’s why you want flat/dull images.

Consider pancakes again. If you flip a pancake, and it’s not quite done, you can cook it a bit more, until it’s perfect. Great! But what about me? I flip a pancake, and it’s overdone! Dammit! All I can do is cut off the worst burnt bits, grimace, and eat it.

It’s the same with digital photos. If it comes out of the camera with the colours a little bit dull, or the contrast a bit flat, that’s perfect. You can use your post-processing software to "cook" it to perfection. Mmm … tasty!

But a photo that comes out of a cheap camera, with the colours so saturated that the channels are clipped, or the contrast so strong that the black detail is ruined, might well be "overcooked" beyond salvation. Not good.

So, next time you see a dull photo come out of your camera, pat it gently on the lens and say "Thank you!"


If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.