Nikon's RAW format (.nef) is available for the CP5000 and CP5700. Does it offer any advantages?

There was a letter writing campaign to get Nikon to release their RAW format to CP5000 users, and it was included in the version 1.7 firmware upgrade. Reviewers tested it and found as I did that one could barely tell the difference between a well exposed "Fine" JPEG and the same image shot with RAW. I tended to write it off as a case of rampant Canon-envy.

I could find good reason to ignore it. Compared to about 1.5MB for an average Fine JPEG, RAW weighed in at nearly 8MB. Very demanding of CF card real-estate. It was slow to process and save in the camera, and even slow opening on a very fast machine. Hopelessly slow on my old PII400. Only Photoshop had the 48-bit workspace needed to open it, and it bloated up to a 28MB file in memory there. I have recently been revisiting it, and I think I have found the way to unlock the virtues of a 12-bit per pixel dynamic range. Whether it is worth the bother is up to you after doing your own tests.

It seems to be reluctant to give much extended range into the highlights as seen in the images to the right. This is a dim pizza emporium lit primarily by neon tubes. The environment has an extremely long contrast between the darkest shadows and brightest highlights.

I set my exposure to try to catch the signs in the back, but could only get blobs of blown highlights even with considerable under-exposure. However, I do have an idea to try when next I am there. I think the Contrast control was on Auto - and that may act as a limiter.

The bottom image was opened with no alteration in the loader, and no processing - the "standard" exposure.

However in the past, I have had excellent results by using Auto-Bracketing and layering with masks. There is a tutorial at http://www.larry-bolch.com/layers.htm
detailing the technique. Even when the scene contains people and movement, the technique still can work.

NOTE:Comparison shots were done subsequently with identical shots set to Auto and set to Normal. In both cases a light source was included in the image. In both cases it read 241, 241, 241 instead of the expected 255, 255, 255. In the shot to the right, a manual white balance was employed at the shoot. Since it was a mix of neon and incandescent, there was heavy filtering of red, so the light sources appear cyan. They read 255, 255, 160!

Seeking the power of 12-bit.

It seemed reasonable that since the RAW loader allowed one to choose the "exposure", it should allow something like auto-bracketing with a single file. I did all colour corrections in 48-bit workspace, and reduced down to 8-bit per channel for layering in Photoshop6.0.

I opened the file at -0.33 for the background layer, duplicated the image and closed the original file without saving.

Always work on duplicates of your original files. I keep all my original camera files as "Read Only".

There was a cyan haze over the blown out highlights. I dropped a Colour Selection target in the middle of one, and brought the red channel up to 255. (Green and blue were both already at 255. I changed the mode to 8-bit per channel for layering.

Looking at Craig in the middle, I adjusted the loader until he was reasonably close to the proper exposure, opened the file and duplicated it, closing the original. Once again using the Color Selector tool, I put targets on the bright white sweater on the arm to our left, another in the deep shadow between his arms and a third on a middle tone on his sweater front.

I brought the first to just below pure white (253,253,253) the second down to near black (4,4,4) and the middle tone to a light gray (170,170,170). I changed it to 8-bit per channel. And copied and pasted what was supposed to be the background over it, setting the layer mask and airbrushing with transparency (black) until Craig came though.

I could have pasted this over the background as well, but this required less airbrushing. Craig's face was a bit too magenta, so I used the lasso selection and adjusted it.

I did a similar routine for both Don on the left of the picture and Rob on the right. Even though the three guys were side by side, they were all in very different light. Interesting place to shoot.

I hope to be back there in a month, and will try shooting with the contrast set to normal, and possibly even to low contrast. If there is significant improvement, I will up date this site and post it in the CP5000 and CP5700 forums on Yahoo.

Subsequent shoots using RAW, indicate that it does extend the usable shadow detail somewhat, but far better quality can be achieved by bracketing and layers. Only in rare cases does the slowdown of the camera justify its use. It is no substitute for proper exposure and colour balance done in camera on location.

A Further Example of Highlight Clipping

In a shot with a light source one would expect to find a reading of 255, 255, 255. However, shot with RAW as you see, Target #1 reads 241, 241, 241. However, it does nothing to preserve highlight detail and is merely empty density. The clip is clear in the histogram.