As most readers will know, a modern DSLR camera has the ability to store an image in either one of two formats – RAW or JPEG. The choice is made through a camera configuration setting. The JPEG file is print-ready, whereas the RAW requires processing on an external computer to convert it to a print-ready format – which is usually JPEG.
A RAW file is massive – consuming 50 to 100 times the space of the equivalent JPEG and since the RAW is useless without being converted, it is understandable that most newbies are puzzled as to why anyone should want to shoot in RAW. The Internet is full of debates on this subject but I won’t repeat them here. Suffice it to say that most professionals have to shoot in RAW, because clients demand it. Top photo competitions also demand it. The rationale is that manually converting from a RAW to a JPEG potentially produces a higher quality result than an in-camera conversion.
Consequently, most advanced DSLR users choose to shoot in RAW and process their images on a PC later. This processing requires the use of custom software – called a “RAW Converter” to transform the file from the camera into a more generic format that can be read by other applications (like Photoshop/Lightroom) or that is ready to print as it is (JPEG mostly, but there are others).
RAW Converters are available from many software vendors and another favourite debate on the internet revolves around which converter is best. However, comparing converters is not easy, since they all differ in their interpretation of “default” rendition. Furthermore, there are many aspects to the conversion that need consideration – noise, detail, colour and sharpness, to mention a few.
At the Canon Roadshow in Johannesburg early in 2015, Canon’s Roger Machin urged attendees to take a look at Canon’s own RAW Converter, called DPP 4, which is bundled free with every Canon DSLR. Traditionally, software that is bundled free is not class-leading and previous versions of DPP have not been user-friendly, nor have they been stellar performers. Nonetheless, one should re-evaluate one’s workflow occasionally and I decided to do so in the light of DPP 4.
Choosing a RAW Converter that suits your specific individual needs is not difficult – it involves evaluating it on the type of work that you do. This is what I did:
I chose a photograph that is typical of my work and that is also difficult to process – the Malachite Kingfisher below. The white tufts on the throat and neck wash out easily while the dark brown eye can easily merge with the pupil to a uniform black. My source image was correctly-exposed; in particular, the white tufts were well in to the fifth band of the histogram, but were not blowing out. All major RAW converters can manage simple images with ease. As an outdoor photographer, I need to be able to extract detail from images in non-ideal lighting.
My camera was the Canon 7D MkII which was set to save a large JPEG and a RAW.