12-bit Versus 14-bit RAW – Which is Right for You?

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So you’ve done the research, read the articles, browsed through your photos, and decided it’s time to make the leap from shooting in JPG to shooting in RAW, in order to get the most quality possible out of your photos. Congratulations, and welcome to the fold!

Things are nice over here in RAW land, we have cookies too. Now that you’ve firmly decided once and for all to shoot in RAW, you can stop thinking about file formats and get back to making beautiful images, right? Well, sort of. Turns out there’s yet another layer to this cake, that adds yet one more twist to the mix: RAW compression formats.

raw-formats-compared-sunrise-corrected

“What?!” I can hear you saying now. “What’s a compression format? And why does it matter? Can’t I just shoot in RAW and be done with it?” Well yes, and no.

For starters go grab your camera, caress it gently, and rest assured that you have in your hands a very capable imaging device, that would have been the envy of every photographer in the world 10, or even five years ago. You don’t have to understand everything about RAW, JPG, and other formats, as long as you’re getting out there and taking photos that you like. But, if you would like to know more about how all this works, then by all means, read on. You might want to sit down and grab a cup of coffee, because things are about to get a bit tricky.

How RAW format works

When you take a photo with any camera (DSLR, mirrorless, point-and-shoot, or even your smartphone) a massive amount of color information is captured by the camera’s image sensor, and sent to a computer chip that analyzes it, and ultimately saves it to your memory card as a picture. If you shoot in JPG, a great deal of that data is discarded to save storage space, and facilitate easier sharing. But, if you shoot in RAW, most of that color data is retained, which results in you having much more flexibility to edit each picture in a program like Lightroom or Photoshop, but also results in file sizes that can be quite large and not at all conducive to emailing or posting on social networks. Many cameras allow you to choose different types of RAW formats such as:

  • JPG – Every camera offers this format which stores 256 tonal values for each color, but compresses the file in such a way that a significant portion of the photo data is discarded. This format is ideal for photographers who do not do much editing in Photoshop or Lightroom, and the file sizes are much smaller than RAW, which makes them very easy to share.
  • 12-bit RAW lossy compressed – This format stores 4,096 tonal values for each color (red, green, and blue) per pixel, but then throws away some information it deems unnecessary, using an algorithm to compress the file, so it’s a bit smaller and takes up less space on your memory card. Most of the discarded data is on the right side of the histogram, which makes sense, since digital cameras typically capture much more information in the mid-tones and highlights to begin with. Thus, there is a great deal more leeway when performing a lossy compression algorithm, since it is removing some data from a part of the image where there is so much to begin with, that removing a little will not matter to most users.
  • 12-bit uncompressed – Also stores 4,096 tonal values for each color, but does not throw out any data to shrink the file size.
  • 14-bit lossy compressed – This format stores 16,384 tonal values for each color (way more than 12-bit – 12-bit mean:s 2 to the power of 12 or 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2, 14-bit is 2 to the power of 14) but also discards some data it deems gratuitous, in order to compress the file so it’s a bit smaller.
  • 14-bit uncompressed – The best option most cameras offer (though some ultra-high-end models do have 16-bit RAW files, but they usually cost more than a new car) stores 16,384 tonal values for each color per pixel and does not throw any away, giving you the highest possible amount of information, to work with in post-production.
The original photo (left) was somewhat bland and flat, and shooting in RAW gave me the flexibility I needed to properly edit this into an image I really liked.

The original photo (left) was somewhat bland and flat, and shooting in RAW gave me the flexibility I needed to properly edit this into an image I really liked (right).

Looking at this data the answer seems clear, right? Just shoot in 14-bit uncompressed RAW because it’s obviously better! Well again, yes and no.

Due to the increase in the amount of data offered by a 14-bit file, the resulting RAW images take up much more space on your memory card and computer, and are much slower to load in a program like Lightroom or Photoshop. If you shoot with a high-megapixel camera like the Nikon D800, Sony A7Rii, or Canon 5DS, you can easily get RAW files approaching 100MB each. That is great when you need it, but can be quite a burden if you decide that all the extra data is not always worth the tradeoff in storage space.

Another issue that comes into play when comparing formats is whether the increased data actually does give you more flexibility when editing the image. Of course it does in theory, but in practice, having 16,384 tonal values for each color could be a bit of overkill for most people. If you generally get your exposure correct in camera, then you may not need the sheer quantity of data provided by a 14-bit uncompressed RAW format file.

Real-life examples

Some camera makers have other RAW formats, such as sRAW and mRAW, that actually decrease the pixel count of your images, while still giving you the flexibility of a RAW file. But, at the end of the day, one thing is clear – shooting in RAW will always give you significantly more freedom to edit your images than shooting in JPG. The question then becomes, which RAW format to use?

There are benefits and drawbacks to each one, but all RAW types allow you to have an extraordinary degree of flexibility in post-production, compared JPG. Like almost everything in photography, there is no single correct answer to the question, and it is largely dependent on your shooting style and needs as a photographer. To see how this plays out in a real-life scenario, here’s a picture I took, overlooking the Formal Gardens at Oklahoma State University.

f/4, 35mm, ISO 100

35mm, f/4, 1/350 second, ISO 100

I re-shot the same picture using massive over- and under-exposures using four different RAW formats, then corrected them in Lightroom. Shooting these photos as JPGs would have resulted in unusable images, but RAW gives you so much extra information, that you can often salvage parts of a picture that would have been entirely lost otherwise. RAW is useful for much more than fixing overexposed pictures, but it’s in extreme circumstances like this that the real differences between the 12-bit, 14-bit, compressed, and uncompressed formats, would be most likely to show up.

This first set of images has been intentionally overexposed by three stops, by leaving the aperture at f/4 and ISO at 100, but increasing the shutter speed to 1/30 second.

raw-formats-compared-garden-overexposure-compared

Overexposed intentionally by three stops, to test which format offers the most in terms of highlight recovery.

I then used Lightroom to bring the exposure values back down by three stops, for a correctly exposed image. Some data has been lost due to clipping, where things are so overexposed there is literally nothing left to recover, but for each picture I was able to get a decent image, useful for comparison purposes. I still wouldn’t use these in an actual production environment, but it does give you an idea of how flexible the RAW format really is.

raw-formats-compared-garden-overexpoure-fixed-compared

All images look virtually identical, but that’s not too unexpected given that these are minuscule thumbnails of 24-megapixel images. To get a better understanding of how the RAW compression formats compare, here is a 1:1 crop of the same section of each photo.

raw-formats-compared-garden-overexpoure-fixed-compared-crop

Upon close inspection, all four RAW formats appear to offer similar functionality when recovering highlight data.

Notice much of a difference? I don’t. That’s not to say there isn’t any difference, just not one that’s discernible to the human eye.

Since the initial 14-bit uncompressed file is more than 50% bigger than a 12-bit compressed image (39MB versus 25MB) there is clearly a lot more data to work with, but as this test illustrates much of that is not likely to matter a whole lot in practical terms. The biggest difference I can see is not due to lossy compression but bit rate, as both 14-bit files show just a few more clearly-defined bricks in the sidewalk, to the right of the planter.

However, keep in mind this is a 1:1 crop of a 24-megapixel image. You’re looking at about 94,000 pixels in each section above, out of nearly 25 million, or about .04% of the total image. If you have to zoom in this far to see any noticeable differences between 12-bit and 14-bit RAW files, that were overexposed by three whole stops to begin with, then to me it does not offer a significantly compelling reason to shoot 14-bit RAW most of the time.

To continue with the comparison, here’s the same picture underexposed by three stops in camera, by increasing the shutter speed to 1/3000 second.

raw-formats-compared-garden-underexposure-compared

Underexposed by three stops to test shadow recovery.

Since almost no data was clipped, which I could tell by looking at the histogram, adjusting the exposure by three stops in Lightroom results in an image that is virtually identical to the correct one at the top of this article. Taking another look at the 1:1 crops below, yields a similar result as the first test.

raw-formats-compared-garden-underexpoure-fixed-compared-crop

Once again, all four RAW formats appear to be on par with each other for recovering detail in the shadows.

The results here are remarkably similar to the overexposure test, and remember that these pictures have been severely underexposed before correcting them in post. The differences between the corrected images you see above are negligible, and the much smaller 12-bit compressed file gives results that are almost identical to the 14-bt uncompressed.

So, which format should you use?

While you can’t draw a universal conclusion from just one test, this example does illustrate that shooting in 12-bit compressed RAW still gives you plenty of data to work with, when editing your images. As I mentioned at the top of the article, some data is literally thrown away when shooting with a lossy compression format, but in most situations it’s nothing you are likely to notice. Only in extreme circumstances, such as when you want to do massive highlight or shadow recovery, or if a photo has been severely over or under-exposed, are you likely to notice any practical benefits from shooting in 14-bit RAW.

However, if you are the type of photographer who wants the most possible data in each picture, and continually pushes your camera to its limits, I would recommend capturing as much information as possible (i.e. shooting in 14-bit) and retaining every last chunk of it (shooting uncompressed).

Even when shooting for clients I use 12-bit RAW because it gives me more than enough color information to edit my shots.

Even when shooting for clients I use 12-bit RAW because it gives me more than enough color information to edit my shots. I could use 14-bit RAW, but for my purposes I have found that I simply don’t need to.

A notable caveat here is that the test I performed was just one example, and it’s entirely possible that a different scenario would have done a better job at illustrating the differences in terms of the different RAW formats. When doing this I tried to pick something that was generally representative of a typical photographic scenario, and not a situation that was far outside the realm of what most people would encounter when taking pictures. If I had over or under-exposed by four or five stops, or shot at higher ISO values, perhaps there would be some significant differences in terms of what each format has to offer, and I don’t want to draw any large-scale conclusions from just one small set of data.

What this test does illustrate is that even though 12-bit compressed RAW contains less photographic information than its higher bit rate counterparts, enough important data remains to give you plenty of wiggle room, if you need to do extreme corrections in post-production.

The original uncorrected version of the image at the top of this article, shot in 12-bit compressed RAW.

The original uncorrected version of the image at the top of this article, shot in 12-bit compressed RAW.

I generally don’t like to give advice when it comes to photography, life, jobs, or matters of the opposite sex, but I have shot with many types of RAW formats for a few years, and feel entirely comfortable shooting in 12-bit compressed. I do all my pictures this way, even paid jobs for clients, and have never had a circumstance in which a bad picture would have been salvageable if I had only shot in 14-bit uncompressed.

In my experience (which, I admit, is not the same as a professional photographer who makes his or her living taking pictures) there are plenty of other factors that matter just as much, such as: choosing the right lens, nailing your focus, composing your shot, knowing when and how to use external lights, and a host of other things that are more important than eating up your memory cards with 14-bit uncompressed RAW files. If your pictures regularly, and consistently, require the type of extreme editing that can only be saved by heavily editing a 14-bit uncompressed RAW file, I’m going to go out on a limb and say there are probably other things that you need to work on to improve your photography, besides choosing the right file format.

Even black and white photographers can get a lot of benefits from shooting in RAW.

Even black and white photography can benefit from using the RAW format due to the additional data available in each individual pixel.

Of course it should be noted that the RAW format is beneficial, not just for fixing images that are way too bright or dark. RAW files give you significant flexibility when editing the colors of an image, and allow you to bring out more natural skin tones, get the deep rich blues hidden in a dull gray sky, find the intricate details of a flower petal that would be lost in a JPG, and perform all sorts of other edits that have nothing to do with making a dark photo a little brighter. Any RAW format is better than none, if you’re the kind of person who likes to edit your images after you take them, but if you want a nice balance between having lots of data while still keeping file sizes down, 12-bit compressed will most likely suffice just fine.

What about you? I’m curious what your experiences have been with compressed and uncompressed RAW. Perhaps you’re the kind of photographer who shoots in JPG and doesn’t bother messing with processing afer the fact. I’d like to hear about your experiences in the comments below, especially if you have found times when shooting 14-bit uncompressed RAW has come in handy. The more information we have to work with, the better informed we will all be as photographers.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Simon Ringsmuth is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him at sringsmuth.

  • bskier7

    Thanks for the explanation. I’m the type of person who would have unnecessarily worried over this type of thing and I’m glad to know there’s not much difference. Of course, considering I shoot with the D3200, which only offers 12-bit compressed, it was not an immediate concern.

  • I did the same thing for a while, and worried over which type of RAW format was better. I eventually settled on 12-bit compressed and never looked back, and in my opinion as long as you’re not shooting JPG any of the RAW formats will give you plenty of data to work with. It’s interesting that the D3200 only offers 12-bit compressed RAW. I wonder why Nikon didn’t at least allow you the option of selecting uncompressed.

  • bskier7

    The D3200 is the most basic entry level Nikon dSLR. There are several features that are common on other models that don’t exist on the D3200. I assume they were all done to keep the cost low. That being said, it has the same (or very similar) sensor as the other DX models and still produces great images.

  • Mark

    I think you have this article a bit wrong as it seems very Sony-centric to me. If you look at the likes of Canon and Nikon, their RAW files are 14-bit lossless compression. It is not a choice of lossy or uncompressed for users of those systems as they do things properly rather than shoot for headline grabbing frame rates that force them to use lossy compression to keep the cost down such as Sony have done. Sony do many things right but lossy vs uncompressed and 14 bit sensor with 12 bit file is one of the biggest errors they have made.
    On your comparisons you’ve gone for typical situations (reasonably) whereas the issues tend to arise in particular instances – astro, fringing etc. Now, whilst those applications may be atypical, if your shot falls into a problem category the fact that typical shots show no difference will be of little comfort.
    Manufacturers that do this are being lazy. It really is that simple. Just pay someone to work out a lossless compression routine for you and implement it. In 2016 this is simply an unacceptable compromise.

  • Mark

    See http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/education/infobank/image_compression/lossless_and_lossy_compression.do

    “Lossless compression uses mathematical algorithms to pack all the
    data into less space. This compression is fully reversible, so that when
    the file is opened, all the data is still there. This means that there
    is no reduction in image quality.
    Lossless compression cannot achieve the file size reductions
    offered by JPEG compression, but Canon RAW format files can often be
    saved at a quarter of the size of an uncompressed file.”

    I would argue that a lossy compressed RAW file is not a RAW file at all as it no longer contains the raw sensor data.

  • naseer

    I am glad to read your blog and liked image of students standing in snow fall specially. I need more blogs of such kind.
    http://educationworld1.co.nf/

  • Steve

    Thanks Mark. As a Canon user, I wondered what planet Simon was on. I agree that lossy compression file formats should not be called RAW. Uncompressed storage at two bytes/pixel would yield 36MB files from my Canon 60D; lossless compression to (typically) 20-25MB files in Canon’s CR2 RAW format isn’t at all bad in my view.

  • Thanks for your input, Mark. Actually, Nikon offers many choices in their RAW formats in addition to Sony. All of the images here were taken with Nikon cameras and most of their semi-professional (along with all their professional) bodies allow you to select 12- or 14-bit compressed or uncompressed. I agree though that using a universal lossless compression algorithm would be the best solution.

  • Mat

    Thanks a million for this article, Simon! I’m a family photographer and I tend to “overshoot” my subjects (I probably take 10x more pictures than fellow photographers). This results in filling at least one external hard drive each year. I’ve begun to convert my photos from RAW files to DNG to save some space. But I’m also going to give 12 bit a try. I never understood this before, and you’ve made a great case. This is going to save me some storage space, thanks!
    I photograph my own family life a lot too, so this sounds like a great option for my personal photos.
    You’ve been a great help!

  • Now i can easily understand that which bit is better for my nature photography and images for processing them. Thanks

  • Rich Billig

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better explanation (with visual examples). Great Job!!

  • I’m glad you found the article to be helpful, Mat. I don’t want to say that 12-bit RAW is always the answer and you will never need 14-bit files, but if I were in your shoes (which I am not, so take this with a grain of salt) I would set my camera in 12-bit and not worry about it. It would certainly help those hard drives to not fill up so fast!

  • Thanks for your comment, and while I do think it would be worth considering 12-bit for some of your nature photography you might find yourself in the position of wanting to squeeze every possible bit of data from your files in which case perhaps 14-bit would be a good choice too. Since you do a lot of nature pictures you might consider doing your own comparison shots and see if you can notice a difference in terms of what might work best for you.

  • Thank you Rich! I really appreciate that 🙂

  • robert

    this is a good article. The thing i’ve never been able to understand re any article on this subject though, is how are we, as viewers of this on the internet, able to get any ‘real’ meaning from it when we are not looking at the RAW images at all ? I may be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge this internet site, and all others I am aware of, will not allow you to load RAW images. My understanding is that the only images they allow you to upload must be, prior to uploading, converted to jpegs. Am I incorrect in this ? If I am correct, then it is impossible for me to discern any difference in what you have labelled a “12 bit RAW” or a “14 bit RAW”, lossy or not – because I am not seeing them – I am seeing a jpeg…..and it doesn’t matter if you had the camera’s internal computer process the data using the jpeg algorithm or if you converted it using software in a post-processing procedure, all I am seeing is a jpeg file…….a file in which the algorithm developed by the joint photographers expert group has thrown away most of the data………. which makes it impossible for me to discern how much if any difference you had in the RAW image. I’d love it if someone can explain to me where I am incorrect in this and how, somehow, i’m supposed to be able to judge a RAW file I am not even seeing.

  • robert

    i’d also be interested in knowing which color gamut you use and how much that affects your potential end results vs the differences in RAW formats

  • That’s a good question, Robert. The issue is primarily one of bandwidth. Here on DPS we try to keep our images to no larger than 750×500 pixels, and about 250kb in size. That keeps load times fast while also making sure bandwidth costs are kept to a minimum. RAW files would be about 100 times larger in terms of sheer file size, which would put a massive burn on the site in terms of overall bandwidth. If you are interested in doing your own comparisons you could do a similar test on your own camera to see if you notice any differences between RAW formats, but I have also just emailed you the four underexposed images that I used in the article if you would like to take a closer look at them.

    Also, I used sRGB color gamut if that helps 🙂

  • robert

    i wanted to thank you publicly for your time to respond and the zips. As I said, you produced an excellent article, well written and great information, and the advice you’ve given is extremely valuable, this could save a ton of file space as well as time processing and especially time spent writing backups over a usb port. Interestingly, 5 or 6 years ago I did an assignment using a dslr which, had i known more about compressed format at the time, would have been ample for the purpose and saved me a ton of computer time and space.

    btw the only reason i asked about the color gamut was when you mentioned RAW allows you to produce better skin tones, if you produce hard-copy prints, capturing the original image using adobeRGB also helps

    good stuff. most appreciated

  • Gustavo Donado

    Very nice article Simon with good examples to sustain your views. As an engineer I didn’t fail to notice an error when you say ‘…increasing the shutter speed to 1/30 second’ when in fact its a decrease in shutter speed.

  • Bald-Eagle

    Hmm.. on all the Nikon Cameras I’ve seen, where the ability to select the RAW Bit Depth exists, there is, as Mark says, Lossless Compressed or Compressed (lossy) irrespective of whether 12-bit or 14-bit selected is.. (obviously on their lower end DSLRs (D3300 etc.) there is no option to select the bit depth..

  • tom rose

    “You might want to sit down and grab a cup of coffee, because things are about to get a bit tricky”

    … but it never did!

  • Neoh Soon Hueng

    I’ve been using D750 exclusively for the last 18 months. The files were comparatively larger than D700 that I’m used to. I do a lot of weddings and family portrait assignments. It’s really taxing for my computer (even with 16GB RAM installed).

    Hence, I set my camera to record 12-bit lossless compressed as you’ve mentioned. Clients wouldn’t notice the difference as they’ll be receiving the final JPEG from me. So far I do not see significant help with using 14-bit uncompressed, unless Lightroom is able to bring out more details from the photos.

  • Whoops! Sorry about that Gustavo, and thank you for pointing out my very elementary mistake. I’ll see if I can get that changed.

  • I’m glad to hear it, Tom! I was wondering if all this technical information would be a bit overwhelming, but I’m glad to hear you found things easy to understand. Good question about bit depth as the new megapixel race, by the way. Phase One recently announced a camera that takes 100 megapixel 16-bit images:

    https://www.phaseone.com/en/Products/Camera-Systems/XF100MP.aspx

    I’m sure the photos are gorgeous, but each RAW file would be several hundred megabytes!

  • Thanks for sharing your own personal experience, Neoh. My upgrade path went like this: D200 > D7100 > D750, and one of the only downsides from the transition has been the huge RAW files. I was worried for a little while that using 12-bit would be some kind of major detriment but, just like you have said, I don’t really see much of an impact. I recently did an engagement session using 12-bit RAW and was able to bring out a *ton* of shadow detail on some images that were severely backlit. Basically, for me the smaller file sizes are more than worth any tradeoffs and you bring up a good point about computing power too. The larger your RAW files, the longer they take to load and process in Lightroom!

  • You’re quite welcome, Robert. I have very much enjoyed our discussion 🙂

  • bskier7

    Here’s another question. So what happens, if anything, with the variations in these RAW files when you convert them to DNG? Is any additional data lost? Is there any noticeable impact to the quality of the photo?

  • Great article, would really liked to have seen the RAW files sizes along with your camera’s MP figure to get a better idea of the difference in file size for perspective.

  • Michael

    Thank you Simon for a very informative article related the image quality settings. However, I have some questions related to my Canon 6D image quality settings in RAW. I only use the Raw settings because it’s my personal thinking why should I intentionally deprive myself from the best? I paid good money to have a high end camera so I could get the best images. There are 3 different RAW settings in Canon 6D: RAW, M RAW and S RAW with the pixels recorded 20 M, 11 M and 5 M and file sizes 23.5 MB, 18.5 MB and 13.0 MB accordantly. David Busch’s book dedicated solely to Canon 6D says that the RAW file format contains all the information in 14-bit channel per color and stored in a16-bit space. So what are about M RAW and S RAW? Do they also contain 14-bit channel per color files but just a little compressed for M RAW and more compressed for S RAW? Or they have lower image quality being 12-bit files. Honestly, I have not tried to use these smaller file RAW settings and always use the highest RAW setting. I never deliver any of my images without them being post-processed and at least minimum adjusted especially the sharpening and giving them some punch. Thanks!

  • No problem, Jordan. I just emailed them to you 🙂

  • As far as I understand it no data is lost whatsoever in the conversion from RAW to DNG. A 12-bit lossless RAW would have exactly the same information when converted to DNG. However, you might want to double check that with another source since I don’t use DNGs on a regular basis.

  • Good question, Michael. I don’t shoot with Canon gear so I don’t know specifics of how sRAW and mRAW handle things, but from my (limited) understanding I believe it attempts to essentially downsize the photo in terms of megapixels while still giving you all the RAW data for the smaller image. I believe they would have the same 14-bit RAW data as their larger counterparts, but a small pixel count which would make some editing and cropping a bit tricky.

    I have heard from other photographers that they tend to not use mRAW and sRAW for these reasons, but again…I’d double check this with someone else who really does know what he’s talking about since I’m not really familiar with how Canon handles these issues.

  • Yes Canon’s mRAW is smaller physically in pixel size.

  • Michael

    Thank you Simon for your thoughts!

  • Michael

    Thank you Dariene. So I still can get 14-bit quality while using M RAW and even S Raw but just smaller files. That’s great.

  • Seattle Brad

    Higher End Nikons offer Uncompressed RAWs. Lower End offer Lossless Compressed and Compressed (lossy) only. I have both a D800 and a D750. The D800 has Uncompressed as an option, the D750 does not – although the D750 is a few years newer. My old D300 offered Uncompressed as well.

    Compressed RAWs (Nikon) today use a reversible compression. There shouldn’t be any difference btwn a Compressed vs Uncompressed.

  • Seattle Brad

    Compressed RAWs are a tradeoff btwn storage space and CPU. For compression, it requires more CPU time in the camera to create the file, and more CPU time in the computer to read the file, but the files are about 66% of the original, so they transfer to/from the storage medium faster. Nikon compression is reversible, so the resulting image is the same with or without compression.

    In a modern computer, which is usually disk I/O bound, it is likely that it would take longer to open the uncompressed file due to reading the larger amount of data from disk.

    So for instance, it takes 4 seconds to read the compressed file vs 6 to read the uncompressed file. If the CPU is fast enough to uncompress the file in under 2 seconds, it is overall faster to use compression. The same is true for writing the file – which could make the performance of the camera seem better for people who use slower cards.

  • I believe so but don’t quote me on it without doing your own research.

  • pete guaron

    The whole tone of your article is focused on helping others, Simon. Sometimes when I am reading an article, I am left with the impression there is no scope for anyone to have an opinion, or experiences, that differ from those of the author. It is very refreshing to read an article like yours, instead.

    Recently, I have been shooting a series of macro shots of jewellery, as stackshots, which then need conversion to a single image before completing postprocessing. Using Zerene’s software, the input needed is TIFF files, and shooting RAW meant converting the original shots to TIFFs before they could be condensed to a single image by Zerene. It then occurred to me to shoot the macro shots in TIFF format. After that, the whole process of condensing the photos to a single image, and completing post processing, went gang busters.

    You will appreciate that all the basics of a good photo are vital, when photographing something like jewellery – sharpness, contrast, color, and so on – because the end result must look like the original piece of jewellery.

    All the standard reservations about TIFFs fell to the side. I have FAR more than enough card capacity, so the size of the images was not an issue. Speed? – I leave a gap between each shot in the stack, to reduce any risk of vibration from the previous shot affecting the next one, so that wasn’t relevant either (and burst performance isn’t an issue, doing this – because of the deliberate gap between each shot). Inability to undo any editing of the TIFF image, once saved? – not an issue either, because the previous copies were still there if needed.

    But cutting the first stage, and avoiding the need to start with RAW and complete a conversion to TIFF before feeding the images into Zerene’s stackshot software was a HUGE advantage.

    And I’d frankly defy anyone to detect the difference between what was achievable with RAW and what was achievable with TIFF files.

  • Leyden

    ……pixel count? It’s my understanding individual pixels are generally the same [original] size…..?

  • Not really. A 24 megapixel APS-C sensor inside a camera like a Nikon D7100 has individual pixels that are physically smaller than those in a 24 megapixel Full Frame camera like the D750. This is partially why FF cameras are better at high ISO values-the individual photosensitive sites on the image sensor are bigger and, therefore, are better at gathering light at high ISOs. (Sort of. That’s kind of a too-simple explanation.)

  • I have never done any work with focus stacking Pete, but one of these days I’ll get myself a macro lens and some software to help me with it (Zerene looks pretty good–thanks for sharing that). You have a good point about the end result: if the clients can’t tell whether you used RAW or TIFF files, then what does it matter? I suppose you could go all the way back to RAW vs JPG and as long as people are happy with the results then you might as well shoot in whatever format you want. In your case TIFF seems like a nice compromise because you get almost all the flexibility of RAW but in a way that makes your workflow a lot easier.

  • not 100% sure but I don’t think that’s true

  • Yann Bizeul

    Can you elaborate on the “x” bit per channel in a RAW file?
    As far a I know, a RAW file contains luminance information only, for each photosite, it doesn’t contain RGB pixels, how could it be 14bit “per channel per pixel”.

    My understanding is a RAW file in luminance informations masked by the bayer matrix, so it’s almost impossible to translate this as bit per RGB pixel because that’s gonna be the job of the debayer software and they all have different algorithm (ACR, DxO, etc).

    That’s also the reason why a TIFF file (or PSD) saved after RAW conversion is much bigger than the original RAW file because it stores RGB values.

  • Tayyab Hasan

    14-bit Lossless. so I am 100% certain my Photo suck anyway. ?

  • John Kwasnowski

    Hi Pete, this is where I get confused. TIFF is not a format that is offered on my Nikon D610. Do you shoot jpeg or RAw and then convert to TIFF?

  • pete guaron

    Like you, John, my cams are Nikons.

    As you rightly say, you can’t start with TIFF files on your D610, but don’t lose any sleep over it. I imagine you’re shooting individual shots, not thousands (like I was).

    If you shoot with your D610 and start post processing the shots through Lightroom or DxO Optics Pro, you’ll quickly find those programs convert the shots to TIFF files, or offer you the option of converting your files to JPEGs.
    I’ve seen articles on the net suggesting you can convert all your files from RAW to TIFF as a specific step – I don’t really see the point, since either of those programs take the files to that stage anyway.

    I use my D810 for macro work, because the “macro” lens I use is Zeiss’s MakroPlanar, and it’s a “1:2 macro”. The theoretical result from that is the same as a 1:1 macro (a “true” macro) on a half frame, like my D7200 – but because of Zeiss’s optics I still prefer it to the Nikon 100mm macro I had earlier. (Sorry – I’m a Zeiss junkie, I’ve shot Zeiss for over half a century, ever since I was a teenager).

    The D810 gives you 3 basic options – NEF (RAW) files, TIFF files or 3 types of JPEG files. At the start, I tried shooting RAW, but it was immediately apparent that was going to be a pain in the bottom, because each stackshot comprised roughly a hundred individual images. I didn’t fancy converting a hundred of them – let alone the ten thousand images required for the purpose of the shoot of all those items of jewelry !!!

    For that macro shoot, finding I could start with TIFF, instead, was a vast improvement. Made necessary because the software I use to convert all the images for a particular stackshot into one image, for post processing, calls for TIFF files.

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