I'm a beginner, I have a Nikon D5100 with the DX 35mm f/1.8 lens. I made a close-up photo, deliberately way too underexposed, in RAW+JPEG fine format. Here are the files:

http://joco.name/DSC_1580.JPG and http://joco.name/DSC_1580.NEF

I opened the files in RawTherapee, and I noticed two things.

First, the perspective in the two files is not the same. Lens correction is turned on in the camera (with the most up-to-date data from Nikon), and I'm guessing the JPG was lens corrected and the NEF wasn't (I really couldn't tell which one is corrected just by looking at the photos though). It seems to me that RawTherapee doesn't come with any lens correction profiles by default, I tried searching for no more than 5 minutes and couldn't find any. So from my point of view, raw seems to be the worse option, because I need to get lens correction profiles somehow (or maybe use Lightroom or something that has it by default), while the camera does it magically when shooting in JPG.

Second, if you adjust the exposure, then as I suspected, NEF has a little more bit depth than the 8 bits of JPG, which can be seen on the camera battery charger on the left for example. But with the exposure adjustment, the raw picture seems to have way more noise than the JPG. So at least in this example, I can't use the extra bit depth because it also brings out a lot of noise, but this may just be a problem with my example.

Based on this example, or if this photo wasn't deliberately underexposed, or any other example really, how do you think raw shooting can help a non-professional person? How much improvement does it give above the camera defaults, how much effort does it take to learn and do the manual RAW->JPG editing, etc? Also, how much better does it get if I buy a professional software like Lightroom?


3 Answers 3


Nikon provides a RAW conversion software ViewNX2. I downloaded this from NikonUSA support pages, installed it and opened your NEF file to see if I can do anything with it.

Note: I have no previous experience of Nikon cameras or Nikon softwares. So this should be a good example of what can easily be done with Nikon's own software.

Here is your original JPEG image as you posted it:

enter image description here

Here is a JPEG I did from the NEF-file you posted:

enter image description here

Notice that I don't know how your subject looks like in real life. Only you can know that. This means that my applied settings and whitebalance are guesses, while you can work towards more realistic outcome when you process this image yourself.


how do you think raw shooting can help a non-professional person? How much improvement does it give above the camera defaults, how much effort does it take to learn and do the manual RAW->JPG editing, etc?

Well, that much of improvement was possible with no experience and a freely downloadable software. I think those two sample images speak for themselves.


If you use the official Nikon RAW processing software(NX2 and the like), you should be able to apply all the same things that are applied in camera. Software like Lightroom also is able to do some similar things though not exactly the same as the official software will do. You may also have problems with the example depending on what part of the dynamic range of the image the JPEG was pulled from.

For example, if the image is intentionally very dark, the JPEG is going to be selected from the brightest parts of the dynamic range to try and salvage detail. You aren't going to be able to do much more with the RAW file because the JPEG already tried to do the right thing.

If you want a strong example of the benefit of RAW, you need either an image that has a small area that is very dark or very bright or a generally wide dynamic range that the JPEG can not generally deal with. Note that the advantage is also bigger the wider the dynamic range of the sensor, so professional cameras do get a little more breathing room generally.

I have included a sample below that shows a before and after of a high range image captured on a Canon 5D Mark iii. The first is the image as it was in-camera. It is technically from a RAW, but it is a RAW with default processing. The second is the image after manual adjustment and recovery to bring details in to range.

Original image

Fixed image

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for giving an example of drawing dynamic range. I would like to say that, aesthetically, I prefer the first one! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 28, 2013 at 11:57

If all you are shooting is images of random junk strewn on your desk, it really doesn't matter if you are using RAW or JPEG. In fact, basically any other technical variable you could consider doesn't matter much.

RAW gives you much more flexibility in post-processing. In-camera JPEG can do anything that a RAW converter can (give or take a few things which take a lot of processing power or space), but the conversion decisions are "baked-in", and after that, you do not have a much more flexibility.

You're right that the in-camera JPEG conversion is often very good: since this is what the mainstream user looks at, they put a lot of money into making those results look good. So there's nothing wrong with using those JPEGs. You're just chosing to give up some flexibility later.

When you have a contrived example like this one, there's absolutely no reason to need that flexibility. If you're shooting real photos, you may find it to be essential — or, depending on your style, you may find it helpful every now and then in tricky situations, or, you may find it barely useful at all. But you really won't know from meaningless test shots.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.