If you want to start a ding-dong in a group of digital photographers (after you’ve settled the Windows vs Mac argument) just say out loud: “Who shoots RAW and who is happy with jpeg?” (Most compact cameras don’t capture RAW, so point and shooters won’t know what the fuss is about.)
The fastidious pixel peepers will shout their enthusiasm for RAW while on the other side of the room the sceptics are arguing that the visible difference between file format output is so small that it’s not worth the after-camera effort.
Actually the effort argument doesn’t hold water. Opening a RAW file in a photo editing program is no more complicated than opening a jpeg. And you have the advantage of the better image detail and colour and the chance to make corrections.
At the risk of teaching Granny to suck eggs, the difference between RAW and jpeg is that when the electronic information from the camera sensor is converted to colour in the camera, and compressed to take up less memory space, the saved file is called a jpeg. With RAW capture the unprocessed, uncompressed information is saved to the memory card. It must then be processed in the computer using a RAW converter. All cameras capable of RAW capture come with a converter included in the software in the box, but most people use third party programs to do the job.
The most popular converter is Adobe Camera Raw, a free download that installs as a front-end to Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. Because every RAW format is different, varying not only from maker to maker but also from model to model, ACR is constantly updated to include the latest cameras.
For Mac users iPhoto handles RAW file conversion but without the sophisticated pre-editing controls in ACR.
Two of the big guns in conversion software are Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture. Bibble Labs also make a widely used converter. And here is the point of the story.
Bibble has been acquired by Corel, the makers of PaintShop Pro. Corel has tweaked Bibble and given it a new name – Corel Aftershot Pro. Right now you can download a fully functioning 30 day trial version from tinyurl.com/892vjvw This software is for Windows and Mac.
Not to be outdone Adobe are offering a functioning trial of Lightroom 4 beta. This trial period ends in March. (tinyurl.com/6rr947k)
There will be a considerable difference in price when the trial periods end, with Lightroom being much more expensive. However it is a more complex and fully-featured program to justify the differential.
This is an opportunity to try out two of the best RAW conversion and editing programs. It’s also a chance to settle for your own satisfaction the question of RAW v jpeg.
Just for the record, we always capture RAW. For most conversions we use ACR for convenience, but when we are really fussy we use the camera maker’s software. We also use Lightroom and we are trying Aftershot.