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Question about RAW advantages over JPG made me curious if somebody has examples where in-camera JPEG is actually image quality-wise better than RAW image converted in computer (possibly by third party RAW converter). I don't mean default settings, but the best you can get from both.

EDIT: I finally found at least one example myself: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/06/iso-6400-from-an-ep1.html

Although this is really subjective, I get consistently better colors from Canon's DPP (which should match the camera algorithms) than what I get from the converters I've tried. This might fall into (poor) skill category though.

EDIT2: Another case where this could possibly happen is when the highlight rescuing functionality (Active D-lightning/Highlight tone priority/...) is used. So if anybody has made this kind of tests, feel free to share your results.

EDIT3: Here are my own results where in-camera noise reduction seems to beat everything else: http://photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2691/does-long-exposure-noise-reduction-option-make-any-difference-when-shooting-raw/2705#2705

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An interesting thing about the article linked, is that the Camera JPEG is still just processed RAW data. The author of the article stated he knew of no way to clean up his noisy ISO 6400 RAW, however I don't doubt for a moment that I could get just as good of results with Lightroom and the RAW as the in-camera JPEG. One way or another, both are still just processing red, green, and blue pixels from a bayer matrix...if it can be done with JPEG, it can be done with RAW. –  jrista Aug 20 '10 at 20:14
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@jrista - "if it can be done with JPEG, it can be done with RAW" - you're making one assumption here that can't really be checked: RAW contains all the information available to camera when processing to JPG. Going further - the camera can even alter it's behaviour to get better data in the first place when shooting JPG (ie underexpose for highlights and apply correcting tone curve). –  Karel Aug 20 '10 at 20:50
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@matt, Ctein may know a lot of tricks, but that doesn't mean he keeps up to date with noise reduction, an area that is constantly changing. He used NoiseWare, which has been overshadowed by LR3 and Topaz DeNoise. Using LR3, there's no way one would still have that kind of chroma noise. Here is a shot from my K-x at ISO 102400: imgur.com/ejmX4.jpg Chroma noise can be removed fairly easily now. Of course, you can overdo it and have color bleeding, but Ctein is nowhere near that at ISO 6400, even on a m43. –  Eruditass Aug 21 '10 at 1:29
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@Karel, JPEG by definition cannot have any more headroom than RAW. How it looks depends on how you apply the tone curve, but there cannot be any more detail in the JPEG in the highlights. As stated in the link, enabling highlight priority will cause the RAW to be underexposed. Now, if you want to compare a RAW without highlight priority and a JPEG with highlight priority, that's a different story. Shutter/ISO/Aperture will be completely different and I wouldn't consider a meaningful comparison. –  Eruditass Aug 21 '10 at 1:36
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I don't understand you, you don't understand me. Everybody keeps saying "by definition". I'm not interested in theory. I'm interested in the practical corner cases where shooting JPEG has an edge, whatever the reason was. I shoot mostly RAW myself, sometimes both and I'm really not into religious pro-raw arguments. –  Karel Aug 21 '10 at 19:17

6 Answers 6

You should not compare the two formats.

The raw image is the real deal while the jpg is a picture derived(manipulated) from the raw.

Therefore the jpg can never be better than the raw (at least technically).

If the camera made a good jpg, so can the computer ... it's just a question of the processing algoritm the software of your computer/camera have and how much you like the results.

The raw is always superior to the jpg in representing the real picture.

Yet the same rule that let photoshop make a magicial pictures aplies here - the manipulation of a picture can sometimes look better than the original - yet there is always just on e original and it is the raw.

Remember : jpg is the result of computer manipulation over the original picture that tries to create a compressed image as close to the original and as small as possible with the cost of loosing data that the algoritm finds less important

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I've always shot with just jpeg. I know many think I'm crazy but for me I find the advantages of jpeg (as mentioned by decasteljau) still just clinch it.

On Saturday, I set my Canon 7D to record both jpeg and RAW for every shot.

Below are the results after separately editing each of the file formats from the same shot in Lightroom 2.6

This is not really a useful test and you shouldn't draw any conclusions from it since I haven't edited each one in the same way. To be honest, any differences you see here are almost certainly due to the way I edited them rather than the format. The jpeg shot is much brighter for a start. If I get a chance, I'll have a 2nd attempt at trying to get the photos looking more similar.

It is however what the question asked, and I was personally curious to see if the difference was worth it.

Final edit from camera-generated RAW source image: alt text

Final edit from camera-generated jpeg source image: alt text

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Here some advantages of JPEG over RAW:

  • Faster to write file to card
  • Faster to transfer files from card to computer
  • Faster to browse files
  • Faster to process files in software
  • Less space on card/disk/backup
  • Universal support

Those are advantages that needs to be taken in consideration.

If you do NOT plan to retouch your images (take them as-is), JPEG could be the way to go. Because of the high-dynamics in the RAW files, the initial look may look a bit more flat on RAW, compared to JPEG. When converting to JPEG, the camera applies a light contrast curve on the image. Depending on your camera, JPEG may look better out-of-box.

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You got me wrong, I mean pictures. Your answer goes better with this question: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/15/… –  Karel Aug 19 '10 at 20:34
    
My mistake leaving it too vague in the question, sorry. Made the clarification afterwards. –  Karel Aug 19 '10 at 20:40
    
My last paragraph may be covering your question a little bit. –  decasteljau Aug 20 '10 at 1:40

If the camera maker has special knowledge of the sensor characteristics, for example the exact absorbtion spectrum of the filters, it might be able to do a better job than a generic converter.

This is only theoretical, I don't have any good examples.

Certainly if you're going to work with JPEG anyway, having the camera do it will be faster than going through an extra software step.

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This is a difficult question to answer, because yes it's technically possible to have a in-camera jpeg look better than RAW, but the scenarios are contrived.

Scenario One: Person Doing the Raw Conversion is unskilled

In this case, the user who is interacting with the RAW file doesn't understand what they are doing, and makes setting adjustments that produce an image that looks worse than the incamera jpeg.

Scenario Two: The raw converter itself is poorly written

Raw conversion requires an algorithm to reconstruct the image data from the bayer pattern data. By definition, the bayer pattern has 33% of the information that was present in the original scene. It's conceivable that one could write their own RAW converter using a poorly thought-out conversion algorithm which would result in a malformed image that looks considerably worse that what In-Camera processing can produce.

Scenario Three: The raw converter does not properly understand the RAW format

If you attempt to use an older RAW converter on RAW files from an unsupported camera, the results are undefined and likely will be terrible.

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more scenarios: the camera knows something the converter doesn't (recognizes the lens and corrects for it), the camera does something the converter couldn't (underexposes for highlights). –  Karel Aug 20 '10 at 19:38
    
@Karel: I think this idea about the camera having a finely-tuned algorithm specific to its hardware is intriguing, and a great theoretical discussion. However, I think it is something that is becoming unduly prolific in the online photographic community, and it really needs some concrete evidence to support it before we start assuming that its true. Evidence along the lines of an official manufacturer specification that clearly states they fine-tune their jpeg algorithm to each camera, or add knowledge about lenses. From a manufacturing/cost perspective, I don't think that its realistic. –  jrista Aug 22 '10 at 15:59

No, by definition there isn't.

In the conversion to JPEG a lot of information is thrown away. The RAW file contains all the original information, so anything that the camera does to convert it to JPEG can be done later on from the RAW file. Generally you can even get a better result, because you can fine tune the conversion depending on the picture, and also because the RAW conversion program isn't contrained by the speed requirements that is put on the conversion in the camera.

So, if you get a better result from the JPEG file, it's simply because you don't know how to get the same result from the RAW file.

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No is probably the correct answer 99,9% of the time, but I'm wondering what the 0,1% is:) See my edit. –  Karel Aug 19 '10 at 20:38

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