Monday, February 4, 2013

The Struggle

1) RAW Processed Heavily with Photivo


2) JPG Straight from Camera


3) RAW to JPG Processed Within Camera

I must admit - I'm growing more and more frustrated with my Canon EOS 7D. I cannot for the life of me figure out why I can't get a decent looking JPEG straight out of it, but with my previous much less expensive Canon DSLR's, a reasonable JPEG output was, as should be expected, easy to get. I just took the above picture this morning, with Large RAW + Medium JPEG turned on. I looked at the JPEG first (Pic #2 above), and found it to be very dark and lifeless - and this was with +1/2 stop of exposure compensation dialled in when I took it. The accompanying Histogram reading on the back of the camera showed plenty of exposure on the right of the curve, with a gradual taper to the left - in other words, a good healthy borderline overexposure was shown on the graph, but in reality, the shot came out very underexposed.

Now, I know from experience I can get fantastic looking results from this camera by processing the RAW files on my computer, so I wasn't too worried. I opened the RAW file in Photivo, and at first noticed the histogram in the software was not biased to overexposure as it was on the back of my camera - it was pretty much flat in the middle of the graph, rolling off at both ends, without the healthy bump on the right... in other words, Photivo was showing me a much more "honest" graph than the camera was.

So I went to work, and added 2 full stops of brightness, two steps of Gamma compensation to maintain contrast, and plenty of Reinholdt brightness tweaking too. Then I went on with my usual formula of Dynamic Range Compression, Local Contrast Enhancement, a bit of Sigmoidal Contrast, and addition of film grain. Finally I made a square crop, and voilĂ  .. the very good looking exposure of Pic #1 above, with plenty of brightness, and eye-popping colour... and you can even see the man's face!

Picture #3 above is a result of a RAW to JPEG conversion done within the camera without the computer. This capability was added to the EOS 7D with Firmware Upgrade 2.0. It is an extremely limited conversion in which you can adjust basic sharpness, contrast and colour saturation - that's it. There is no provision to increase brightness using this method. This is the upper limit of what can be done in-camera. The results are obviously improved, but it is still too dark.

My point is this - why do I have to work so hard in Post Processing to get my digital photos to look reasonable with this camera? It can be done, and I even enjoy doing it, but still, with my film photo's, I don't have to do anything to the scans from my Epson v500 - film always gives me eye-popping pictures that require little or no digital processing, even from cameras that cost me less than $10.00!

I'm thinking now that I probably should have used "spot exposure" mode on the man's face, instead of evaluative, because my camera's meter was picking up a lot of brightness from the snow. And therein lies the problem - digital cameras have so many different options for focus and exposure, and if you forget to set one of them right - well, you've lost your shot, unless you are shooting RAW. With film, on the other hand, most of the cameras I use have no light meter at all. I take light readings from my Smartphone (the beeCam App), and because this is also evaluative metering, I'm in the habit of using the results this App gives me, but then set my aperture and shutter to provide one or two more stops of overexposure. Using this method, I haven't missed a shot yet with film, due to bad exposure. Occasional bad focus, yes, but never bad exposure. With the digital camera however, I needed to switch the actual exposure mode (of which there are five choices I think) to have gotten a good shot straight out of camera with this one. The problem is next time, I'll probably forget to change the exposure mode.

I'm finding more and more that old style photography is so much easier and rewarding than trying to make sense of the shit-load of settings brought on by the digital revolution.

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