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How to open RAW files correctly
March 1, 2005 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Just bought a Nikon D70. I shoot in RAW. Not sure I'm opening the files correctly.

I've run through the various web resources I know...Luminous Landscape, Fred Miranda, Ken Rockwell, etc and all I'm getting is confused. I have Photoshop 6. My camera came with Nikon's Picture Project. If I simply import the RAW files from the camera into PS with Picture Project, am I missing out on something or is this fine? Do I get more information if I simply open straight up in PS? Ken Rockwell seems to feel that the D70's RAW files can't be opened in Photoshop, but I can do it fine, which makes me think maybe it's converting them to jpegs first. I don't know. If there's anyone here who shoots on a D70 in RAW, I could use some explanation.
posted by spicynuts to Technology (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It doesn't look like Photoshop 6 supports RAW files. I know Photoshop CS supports D70 RAW (.NEF) files just fine.

You're probably shooting with RAW+JPEG and Photoshop 6 is probably just opening the JPEG.
posted by bshort at 7:58 AM on March 1, 2005


bshort, I am definitely not shooting RAW+JPEG. The first thing I did out of the box was check the manual and set the camera to RAW based on the instructions in the manual.
posted by spicynuts at 8:03 AM on March 1, 2005


And to actually answer your question, what you probably want to do is open up the .NEF file in Picture Project, do any sort of tweaking you want to the RAW and then export a JPEG from the RAW file.

Also, if you happen to be on a Mac, the new version of iPhoto should handle the .NEF files from a D70.
posted by bshort at 8:05 AM on March 1, 2005


So yeah, it sounds like what you're getting from Picture Project is the jpegs. Your favorite image editing program should have no problems with those.
posted by bshort at 8:07 AM on March 1, 2005


I think bshort has it right. The .NEF format is Nikon's proprietary form of a RAW file. Benefit: it is essentially just a dump of the camera's contents with no extra processing or compression. Drawback: you have to use Nikon's shitty picture project software, or export it as a .JPEG (which compresses it a bit if you want to manioulate it.

This article indicates that some programs can open .NEF files directly.
posted by googly at 8:09 AM on March 1, 2005


er...that's manipulate

and on postview - what bshort said, while I was fishing for that link..
posted by googly at 8:11 AM on March 1, 2005


also on a Mac, Graphic Converter can handle d70 Nefs.

The main thing you want to think about is Why use raw? It is sort of like a digital negative. As you open it in PS you can "develop" it any way you like.

If all you are going to do is open it without adjustments or with very few adjustments....or if you are going to open it with a program that simply converts it to a JPEG--then you may not want to bother [other than for archival purposes, in which case you would probably want to convert it to a DNG file. Go to Adobe.com and look for their RAW to DNG conversion software. It is what they are trying to use as a long term digital negative archive file.]
posted by th3ph17 at 8:16 AM on March 1, 2005


To open Nikon NEF files, you'll want to use either Nikon Capture, Capture One, or upgrade to Photoshop CS for the Adobe Camera RAW plugin. All of these are commercial programs that will cost you, of course, but they're leagues ahead of Picture Project, which I've heard some rather poor feedback about (but I've never used myself).

A free alternative that's in the same league as the above RAW utilities is the very new RawShooter, created by a couple of ex-members of the Capture One team. RawShooter is the free, full-featured, and very robust component of what will grow to be a larger RAW processing suite. The only drawback is that there's no Mac version, and some users with AMD processors have reported some bugs that are currently under investigation.

There are other free RAW utilities for NEF files out there, but other than RawShooter, from what I've heard the rest compare pretty poorly to the commercial products. Most of the Nikon shooters I've heard swear by the first three programs I've mentioned.

(And congrats on taking the plunge to digital! Yes, the price of admission is high and you have to deal with plastic cameras, squinty viewfinders, and crop factors, but as you've mentioned before, no more waiting or paying for film...)
posted by DaShiv at 8:19 AM on March 1, 2005


While it's very basic, you may want to use Nikon View instead of Picture Project: Mac / Windows. On preview, DaShiv seems to be on to something good with RawShooter.
posted by zsazsa at 8:21 AM on March 1, 2005


The main thing you want to think about is Why use raw? It is sort of like a digital negative.

Precisely the reason I want to use RAW. I have no desire to even touch a jpeg until the very end of my workflow.

So, question, given everything stated above: Will opening in any of these programs give me a higher starting resolution than 300? When I import from Picture Project into PS I always get a resolution of 300. I generally like to print at 360. Am I stuck with 300? I can't get an image size greater than 10X6 in PS at 300.
posted by spicynuts at 8:37 AM on March 1, 2005


You'll have to upres using Photoshop or a similar program if you want more pixels to print larger at higher DPI. A RAW converter won't give you any more pixels than what your camera can capture, but it'll give you much more control over the quality of those pixels which will allow them to be upres'd more cleanly -- advantages that were discussed by the sites you mentioned earlier. The D70 has a native resolution of 3008x2000 pixels, whereas an 8x10 at 360 DPI requires 3600x2800 pixels (that's 10.4 megapixels). It's not that big of a deal to upres using interpolation; I've printed 11x14's for exhibitions out of RAW files with similar starting pixel dimensions as your D70. That would definitely be getting close to how far you can push a 6mp file though, IMO (some might even argue it's too far).

On a related note, Nikon selling Nikon Capture separately has been a point of gripes from Nikon shooters for some time now, especially since Canon has begun bundling their equivalent Digital Photo Professional software with even their most basic DSLR bodies, such as the new Digital Rebel XT. Unfortunately, you'll need a good RAW converter to make the most of your Nikon's NEF files, and you'll have to pay for most of the best RAW converters.
posted by DaShiv at 9:10 AM on March 1, 2005


So, question, given everything stated above: Will opening in any of these programs give me a higher starting resolution than 300?

The resolution from your camera will be at a fixed rate based on the number of pixels wide x the number of pixels high. Photo-editing programs have no bearing on that number- just make sure you are using the highest quality setting possible on the camera. A 10x6 at 300 dpi equals 3000 pixels wide by 1800 pixels high. Are those the specs for your camera?
posted by jeremias at 9:11 AM on March 1, 2005


Ken Rockwell seems to feel that the D70's RAW files can't be opened in Photoshop

That's because he's a friggin' moran.

RAW files are just that: raw CCD data (well, a little compressed in the case of Nikon NEFs). The problem is that you can interpret the data in different ways, so the question is, "What program opens them up best?" Most critics agree that Nikon Capture probably handles the files best, unfortunately the programming is complete dogshit and it takes forever to process your files.

Adobe's RAW converter is good enough for most people. You can download the latest version of the plugin here. It says it requires Photoshop CS, so I don't know if you can just dump the plugin into your 6.0 plugins folder. It's worth a try.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:06 AM on March 1, 2005


Oh, one more thing:

Precisely the reason I want to use RAW. I have no desire to even touch a jpeg until the very end of my workflow.

I used to think this, too. But if (when) you shoot hundreds of shots for a sitting, the RAW workflow is too painfully slow to bother. Yes, you're re-encoding a lossy format which is sacriligious and terrible and you'll go straight to Digital Camera Hell, but at least you'll get some more of your time back while you're still living.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:10 AM on March 1, 2005


Yeah, I've got to second C_D on this: I almost never shoot in RAW. My time is too valuable.

The jpgs I get from my D70 are pretty swell, and with a few choice actions in photoshop (occasionally) they look great.
posted by bshort at 11:23 AM on March 1, 2005


Ken Rockwell does seem to blather on a lot. Admittedly, he's taken some good pictures, but I've found that his advice often contains incorrect information. I'm at a loss to explain why he's considered an expert resource.

The reason you want to shoot RAW is simple. RAW conversion techniques are an inexact science, and they're improving rapidly. If you shoot jpeg, that's the best picture you'll ever get out of that camera. If you shoow RAW, you have the option to redo the conversion at a later point with better conversion software.

As for time - I don't see how RAW conversion using the default settings (which is what you get if you shoot jpeg) is any more difficult. If you're not tweaking individual settings, this is completely automatic.
posted by Caviar at 12:09 PM on March 1, 2005


I'm sorry but I will never be convinced to shoot jpeg, mostly for the reasons mentioned above by Caviar and DaShiv. It's like saying you'll throw out the negatives once you've made on print. What if I want to go back to a photo a few years from now and interpret it differently? RAW holds all the unprocessed info and I dont' want a camera's logic doing all the curves and sharpening for me when I can get better software for that from Photoshop.
posted by spicynuts at 12:37 PM on March 1, 2005


I don't see how RAW conversion using the default settings (which is what you get if you shoot jpeg) is any more difficult)

Not more difficult. More time consuming. I can open up JPGs in any program I want, and it takes about a second. For RAW files, not only does it take longer to load them up, but I have no preview beforehand. The first time you find yourself going through 1200 pictures to edit-out (deleting the shots that are out of focus/eye blinks/etc.) you'll be thankful you didn't shoot in RAW.

Just as an example: I shoot event photography on occasion (sporting events). If it's a championship, you can bet people would like to have shots right away. Sure, I can take pictures and tell everyone, "Just go to my website at double-u double-u double-u dot etc. dot com slash stuff slash events slash..." people will smile nicely and move along. No impulse buy. And (likely) no future sale (just from past experience).

On the other hand, I can shoot an event and have prints 5 minutes later. People will pay good money for a professional 8x10 of something they just saw, and this way they're walking away with something in their hands. I can only do this with a laptop (so no Photoshop). I need to nail the shot the first time, and move on to the next... not while away the hours photo editting.


Most people treat their shots like they're Ansel Adams first editions. "You've gotta keep the integrity of the file for posterity!!" Yeah, like posterity gives a shit about your stupid photo of your cats.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:25 PM on March 1, 2005


Civil_Disobedient, I'm confused by some of your comments.

Why no Photoshop on a laptop?

Maybe it's a Nikon thing, but I get full preview for Canon RAW files in Photoshop (as well as everything else that reads RAW files).

Also, all Canon DSLRs, and I think Nikons too, will let you shoot RAW+JPEG, so you can have both. If speed is a concern, extracting embedded JPEGs is very fast.

I've been very happy with BreezeBrowser (and Pro).

Full preview for RAW, great general results with defaults, fast conversion.

I certainly have gone back to pictures that I thought looked pretty good when I took them, but I've learned a LOT about photography since then, and I see things I missed. Too bad - they're JPEGs.

Not everybody's a professional. Even if you are, are you right now the best photographer you'll ever be?
posted by Caviar at 2:39 PM on March 1, 2005


Incidentally, I just read this article, which is incredibly appropriate.
posted by Caviar at 2:45 PM on March 1, 2005


On a different forum, someone summarized it as: "Did you used to keep your negatives, and have you ever ordered reprints?" That pretty much answers whether you'd shoot RAW or jpeg in the digital age.

Many commercial photographers shoot jpeg -- wedding, event, sports, news, etc. It's great if you've nailed both white balance and exposure, and have optimized your camera's settings for the shooting conditions (for example, loaded an appropriate tone curve for your desired "look" or for your shooting condition into your camera), especially if you're working with a large number of files. For me though, a year ago I'd shot a photo in RAW that had some exposure problems; it will be re-exhibited at a show in Chicago this upcoming weekend, and for this new show I was able to go back to the original RAW file to re-process a new work file to print off of that yielded noticably better results when compared side-by-side. How? Compared to a year ago when I had orginally shot the file, I'm now using a better RAW converter, better sharpening and other Photoshop actions/plugins, better interpolation software for rezzing up to print size, and a RIP matched to my printer to handle the file output from Photoshop. It's a great thing to see new software breathing new life back into my old RAW files, and the key to good post-processing is to have as much data to start with as possible. And the key to starting off with the best data to work with comes from the RAW converter.

Thanks to competition in software development, RAW converters continue to improve even though your original RAW files don't. The best RAW converters today, such as Capture One (C1), have better noise/banding suppression algorithms, can demosaic the files with fewer artifacts and better sharpness, offer more color tuning customization options, and can be extremely robust in their ability to handle batches of files. Adobe Photo RAW (ACR) is even integrated directly into Photoshop itself. Because they're working directly with the original camera output, they can correct things better than after the file gets dumped into Photoshop. That's why IMO it's definitely worthwhile to spend some money for a top-class RAW conversion program if you're planning to use RAW at all -- you can get better results with less work, and with probably even less time compared to trying to fix things afterward in Photoshop.

The most dramatic improvement in RAW converters over the last couple of years has been the increased emphasis on batching and workflow to speed up the RAW process even more -- C1 and RawShooter are especially good examples of this. So yes, if you're serious about RAW, shell out the bucks for a top notch RAW utility, since it'll give you better results and, more importantly, faster results as well. On the other hand, if you're shooting an event where you're shooting consistent flash exposures and your use for the file is done when you print for your client upon demand, you have far less to gain from shooting RAW. Horses for courses.

By the way, since different RAW converters handle different RAW files differently and have different workflows, I use three different RAW converters (ACR, C1, and Epson Photo RAW) depending on which camera I was shooting with, what the shooting conditions were, and how many files I want to process at once. Try a few different ones to see which one(s) gives you the best results and suits you the best. YMMV.

Caviar: Breezebrowser's unique features are geared toward Canon shooters, IIRC, and that's why I've mostly heard it suggested on the Canon side of things and rarely ever on the Nikon side, such as for our D70 friends here.
posted by DaShiv at 5:07 PM on March 1, 2005


Why no Photoshop on a laptop?
Oh, there's no reason I can't throw Photoshop on a laptop, I was talking about doing photo-editting on a laptop. It will be as slow as dogshit rolling up a Louisiana hill in August.
but I get full preview for Canon RAW files in Photoshop
I can get a small preview. Not a fullscreen preview. If I'm working on a laptop, I'm already dealing with a small screen. The (potential) clients will want to see a giant preview of their shot, but they'll already be crowding in on a laptop screen as it is.

And I can't use a television because: 1. The resolution looks terrible, 2. I don't want to lug a TV around with me to events, then struggle to find a place to set up, and 3. If the camera is hooked up to a TV, I'm not out shooting.
and I think Nikons too, will let you shoot RAW+JPEG, so you can have both
Yes, I could do this. But then I sacrifice space (which isn't much of a concern) and continuous shots (much more important). At sporting events, you frequently have to shoot "machine-gun" style to get just the right shot. The D70 has extremely good buffering capabilities, but even it will max out at 4 frames (for RAW) before you start cutting into your shooting speed. With the highest JPG setting, I can burn off an entire GB of pictures without stopping.
Did you used to keep your negatives, and have you ever ordered reprints?
This is just as much an argument for keeping your high-res, untouched JPGs. Yes, imaging algorithms improve all the time, but these are extremely minor improvements. There's a limit to how much dynamic range the sensors on our cameras have. Once the upper or lower bound is clipped, there's nothing to get that data back.

Really, the best reason to use RAW is because it gives you extra latitude in post-exposure control. Those extra 4 bits are extremely helpful when you're just a half-stop underexposed and could use a little detail in the shadows, for example. But you need to be realistic with your expectations. If you completely blew the exposure, it's not going to make a lick of difference if you shot it in RAW.
[on JPGs]: It's great if you've nailed both white balance and exposure, and have optimized your camera's settings for the shooting conditions
Yes, no argument at all. You shouldn't be shooting JPG unless you know beforehand that you're not going to be doing a lot of post-processing. There are some instances where I will shoot in RAW because I need to cover every base for a shot that I must get. A wedding, for example. You really don't want to fuck up weddings.
shell out the bucks for a top notch RAW utility, since it'll give you better results and, more importantly, faster results as well.
Eh. I own Nikon Capture/Editor and Photoshop CS. Photoshop is faster at opening NEF files, and doesn't bog down when you have a dozen pictures open. Nikon Capture/Editor is an abortion of a program. It's ugly, slow, and the UI was designed by lil' Stevie Wonder.

But it is a crime that Nikon doesn't bundle this with their DSLRs. It's like, "Thanks for the cash. Now you can take great pictures! Oh, you want to actually see those pictures? That's extra."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:38 PM on March 1, 2005


One big advantage Nikon Capture has (and that's thanks to their NEF format) is that any edits you make are saved on the file as "settings", without altering the raw data.

So the file basically contains the raw sensor data plus any settings you have changed (plus a nice big thumbnail for fast previews). Which means your edits are "non-destructive" and you can always revert or change them without losing data.

When opening in Photoshop and other raw converters, your "conversion settings" are lost afterwards, or at best saved on separate files that can be easily lost.

In my case, that feature alone is worth enduring any UI limitations of Capture (and yes, there are some)
posted by sd at 8:32 PM on March 2, 2005


One big advantage Nikon Capture has (and that's thanks to their NEF format) is that any edits you make are saved on the file as "settings", without altering the raw data.

I just tried RawShooter on DaShiv's recommendation and I like it. It leaves the original NEFs completely untouched and can save image corrections in the same way. I don't see how this is an advantage of the NEF format itself. Seems like a product of a "save as" workflow.

It is totally asinine that there is no bundled support for NEF with the Nikon cameras. But then again, they don't even give you a goddamn memory card with the body. Price wars...
posted by scarabic at 3:24 PM on November 26, 2005


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