RAW Image Editors
Is There Really Much Difference... Isn't RAW The Same Everywhere?
Many photographers shoot mainly in "RAW" mode and some RAW & JPG at the same time. Supposedly a RAW file is just data that can be changed to open the file with different attributes such as the exposure, color balance, saturation, and other details we can alter before it is opened in Photoshop or Lightroom.

A camera raw image file contains processed data from the image sensor of a digital camera. Raw files are named so because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be printed or edited with an image editing software like Photoshop. Normally, the image is processed by a raw converter in a wide-gamut internal color space where precise adjustments can be made before conversion to a "positive" file format such as TIFF or JPEG for further processing, which often encodes the image in a device-dependent color space. There are dozens if not hundreds of raw formats in use by different models of cameras. (see more info about color space here)

A raw digital image may have a wider dynamic range or color gamut than the eventual final image format, and it preserves most of the information of the captured image. There are quite a lot of Free and open source software programs and also quite a collection of Proprietary software for opening RAW Image files. Even though the choice of RAW editors is enormous, I chose only to try Adobe Camera RAW, Nikon Capture NX2 and Photo Mechanic.
Adobe Camera RAW
Nikon Capture NX2
Photo Mechanic

As for work-flow, you probably can't come close to the ease of editing EXIF Data and about anything else including adding captions as you can with the Photo Mechanic software. In fact it is what the photographers shooting at the Olympics used since they had a very short window of time to process and upload their shots and the PM software fits that work-flow.

My wondering about RAW editors wasn't about work-flow, but about maximum image quality. Since the actual pixel & image quality can be a bit deceiving when zoomed out, it will best analyzed when looking at the image at %100 percent the actual pixel size As you see in the comparison images above that they look very similar, with the Photo Mechanic image seeming to have a bit more saturation and it seems 1/4 - 1/3 stop overexposed in comparison.

Adobe Camera RAW Nikon Capture NX2 Photo Mechanic

All of the sample images were opened with the RAW editors default settings, although you could make many adjustments, but pixel quality can only get worse as you remove them or re-number them with edits. From the RAW files I tried out for comparison, this one covers most the areas you will want to see in making your choice. Skimming across the top 1/3 or so of the image, you can see that fine details drop off slightly with the ACR image retaining the most. Also note the extra saturation that goes along with the less fine detail in the Photo Mechanic image.

In the section where the yellow and green meet, you can see that the detail around the underside of the petal on the right is more noticeable in the Photo Mechanic Image, and also a bit splotchy. Increased detail pixels in the Nikon Capture Image, and much more pixel detail in the Adobe Camera RAW image. I personally would rather have more and have to cut back to less, than to have less and wish there was more there. And due to the control you have over every aspect of the EV (exposure value) compared to the options you do not have in files captured as jpeg's.

The difference is really noticeable in the scan across the middle "green valley" section. Where as the Photo Mechanic image seems sharper, it is not really since the color gamut appears to be slightly less than the other two. As a result the contrast is higher and the shorter distance between color changes in pixels, gives it an overall "sharper effect"... But remember that is after a loss of possible pixel values. And hence, I would rather have the wider gamut that appears softer as in the Adobe Camera RAW editor, and then reduce the pixel quality down to where it is like the Photo Mechanic image or anywhere in between.

As for the Nikon Capture image difference, I have found that it can be image-dependent on which one to use. I can see a little more blue in the Nikon Capture image than the Adobe, and the shadows are much smoother in the Adobe Camera RAW. In many instances you may find the Nikon (or your camera manufacturers RAW program) to give you results you wish to achieve. And then some captures you make, the Adobe software may produce a more desirable result. When the difference becomes that small, then it is more of the artist preference as to what one they use.

I didn't try any of the Free RAW editors, but I would have to say... Compare one of your images at %100 percent its actual pixel size and look at the areas mentioned similar to the above to see what your shadow smoothness, highlight detail and contrast are in comparison.

If you think yours could be better upon doing this examination... then it's more than likely that they could be improved upon.

Cover | About TPE | Previous Issues | Workshops | Gallery 5
Website Designed & Powered by Doctorsid Visual Media