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by Lars Kotthoff

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Are there any good reasons to use in-camera special effects, such as B+W or sepia conversion, rather than doing the same thing in software during post-processing?

My gut says its better to have the original color image, and convert it on the computer rather than having the camera do it and then losing the ability to ever go back to the original version.

Is the camera able to do this kind of thing any better than the computer would?

I realize this may depend on the camera model and the computer software being used, but I'm trying not to use a specific example.

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5  
The best thing you can ever do if you're serious is shoot RAW. –  Nick Bedford Oct 12 '10 at 10:48
    
Nick is absolutely right - you want to be shooting RAW. See my answer below. –  Evan Krall Oct 12 '10 at 15:16
1  
Raw isn't something that's always possible. For shooting sports (action shots), raw isn't the best format. –  abhi Oct 12 '10 at 17:46
    
Then you might need a better sports oriented camera that can handle it, like a 7D with a fast CF card. –  Nick Bedford Oct 12 '10 at 20:27
    
@abhi, why isn't RAW a good format for sports? Is it because the burst length is shorter? –  seanmc Oct 13 '10 at 3:44

5 Answers 5

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Your gut is ABSOLUTELY correct. It is always best to take home the maximum amount of information, then discard later. You don't get do-overs. Always shoot with the biggest guns available. Besides, there are so many more options available to you in B&W conversion in post. Cameras make assumptions. You make decisions. Trust your gut.

Happy Hunting.

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1  
+1! Couldn't agree more. –  jrista Oct 12 '10 at 5:58
    
So according to your rule, "take home the maximum amount of information" should I go for more shots (JPG) or more info per shot (RAW -- less shots per second)? Or should I make my own decision based on other factors like workflow, backup, storage, how I like to shoot (away from my computer), the fact that I like to be able to see previews of files in Mac OS X Finder? –  Jared Updike Oct 12 '10 at 20:24
    
+1 for the nice style of your answer. –  Gregor Müllegger Oct 12 '10 at 21:12

On many cameras, these special effects are simply stored as parameters in the RAW file, rather than as changes to the pixel data in the RAW file. Thus,

When shooting RAW, using an in-camera effect is effectively lossless. You lose no data. (Obviously, cameras vary, and you should verify that yours behaves this way.)

So the benefit is that you can shoot black and white pictures in your camera in RAW, and be able to get immediate feedback about how the image will look in B+W (or sepia, etc.). Since your RAW file still contains the full color information, if you want to go back and tweak the B+W conversion later, or decide that you want color, you can just reprocess the RAW file.

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This makes me want to shoot in-camera B/W (with RAW for later monkeying around). Haven't done it but it sounds like a great exercise. –  Jared Updike Oct 12 '10 at 20:26
    
Too true. Not many people realise this. –  Fred Jul 27 '11 at 12:27
    
Also, it's kind of annoying that Aperture totally ignores these. –  Evan Krall Jul 28 '11 at 8:10

You should take pictures in the best RAW format your camera supports and post-process them.
A big advantage of digital photography is that you are doing away with the development-lab which typically processes the entire film with one setting.

You can now process the pictures you think are better (or would yield more than the first effects from the original shot) with many sophisticated and (mostly) free tools.

If you use in-camera effects, you are likely to lose the data that was originally captured to a single iteration of effects. Compare that to a 'tree' of post-processing steps that lets you try many variations from the original data.

So, I second your gut feeling -- post-process rather than in-camera effects.
And, I have yet had no reason to feel that the in-camera effects give you any advantage
(besides the simple case where, you are away from all other software and want to print straight from the camera).

If you compare any single model in-camera effect support to the vast number of software techniques and products available, it is clear, in-camera can't beat post-processing.

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While I agree with what have being said about recording the most information possible for later use, I'd add that there's one important point in using in-camera effects (at least for point and shoot or live view cameras).

While using them you are composing and cropping exactly the same scene that you will see later. So B&W, Color Selection/Swap or tones are there at your disposal, which may help a lot your creative vision of what you want.

Once you take the shot with the effect (as reference), you can take as many others as needed with the effects turned off (and preferably using RAW when available). During post processing you can use your first shots (with the effect) as a reference of what you were trying to get.

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The camera is a computer so besides any analogue processing (such as amplification to increase ISO) there is nothing it can do which you can't do in on your home computer. Unless the processing involves altering camera settings such as Nikon's active d-lighting.

I agree with everything said so far but there are still reasons to use special effects, if you don't have the time or ability to do it in post, or if you need to give live feedback to clients. In this last case I have shot raw+jpeg so I have the original data to re-do the conversion later with more control!

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ALL camera adjustments on Canon (and I presume on Nikon) can be done by post-processing. –  Fred Jul 27 '11 at 12:25

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