Revisiting raw files

There are some special places that we like to visit again and again. That beautiful cottage on the hills with a view, that roadside cafe selling your favorite coffee, that corner store with its oddball collections, that winding road on the hills… the list goes on. There are our favorite songs that we never get tired of hearing or the movie that can always entertain us. For me, my old photographs are also a precious treasure, which I love to visit again and again. However, this time, I thought of revisiting the raw files!

 

New Photo

(The above photograph is processed from an old file that I had used for one of my articles here, few years back. Below is the image that I could get from its raw file 10 years back. Notice the lack of information in the overexposed area in the photograph below.)

Old Photo

 

10 year challenge

Yes, for a long time, I have been telling my friends and lately my readers, to save all the photographs as raw files. The reason is that the cameras may become outdated but the raw file data will remain the way it was captured. With the improvement of post-processing softwares and image-editing programs, the same raw files can provide us with far better pictures than what could be obtained from them long back. For this particular article, I decided to revisit some of my raw files from the years 2008 and 2009. They were captured more than 10 years back!

Things have changed a lot since then (apart from me growing 10 years older, a ‘bit’ fatter and a lot more wise). My compositions have changed. I feel that they have improved. The number of clicks are fewer but the number of keepers are more. Even my photography equipment has changed. I agree that the post-processing process and some of the tools that I use in photo-editors are better than a decade back. I also have an additional decade of experience with these programs which I didn’t have then.

 

The Changes!

Change in inevitable.

My post-processing software has changed. It was Gimp with ufraw earlier. Now it is Affinity Photo. This itself is a big change. Even at the same time, different programs give different results. Here I am working on raw files on different programs with more than a decade of difference in their coding.

The way I look at photographs has also changed. From what I have noticed, the initial days of my post-processing revolved around making photographs with clear contrasts and colors. Now I work more on textures and details in bright and dark areas.

Among the programs that I use, I have noticed that the three areas where they have improved a lot are – noise reduction, resizing and highlights recovery. A lot has to do with present generation of sensors and cameras too, but this after post-processing my old raw files. Overall working and workflow has also improved with new programs but that is entirely different thing.

 

 

Recent_Processing

Old Processing

(Both of the above images have been processed from the same file. The only difference is that the first file was processed today, that is 2019 using Affinity Photo and the second file using Nikon Capture NX in 2009. Both were resized in Affinity Photo.)

Though the above two images were made using two different programs, this is how my post-processing workflow itself has changed on my computer. Remember, this is not a comparison of programs or their updated versions. This is just about how the overall things have changed.

In the above two images, notice these differences –

  • recovery of information in the bright clouds.
  • overall color balance looks more natural in the second image (compare the sky color).
  • structure recovery and sharpening is also better in the second image.
  • though there are improvements in how an image is resized, I can’t show it here since I did not have the old image re-sampled to the size that I use in this website. Both the images were re-sampled and reduced in size using Affinity Photo.

 

The Promises

From what I have been reading about various updated programs now, these are the main regions where they have been focusing their energies on (when it comes to the quality of images) –

  • more natural color reproduction.
  • improved algorithms that resample the image with minimal loss.
  • lots of improvements in detail recovery from under-exposed and over-exposed regions (though I have not noticed any improvement in shadow recovery in my workflow. highlights? Yes. Shadows? Definitely no!).
  • improved reduction of noise.
  • a bigger collection of compatible plugins.
  • easier functionalities when it comes to working on small parts of images.

Combine that with increased experience in working with these programs, a more mature personal outlook and faster rendering on powerful computers, and the preposition to revisit the raw files looks very attractive.

 

Deer

(A photograph of deer captured on Nikon D200 and a soft tele lens. With the improvements, I have been able to recover this photograph to an acceptable level. Unfortunately, it was so bad and full of noise that I did not convert to jpeg when I had initially worked on this set of raw files.)

 

What Next?

Now I am faced with a dilemma. After noticing the difference, should I revisit all my raw files and work again on the photographs that I consider my best work from 10 years ago or should I wait for another 10 years for still more improvements to occur before revisiting my raw files?

After carefully weighing in the two options, I have decided to revisit my raw files now and not wait for another decade. My reason – I prefer seeing my photographs in print. I’ll get down to post-processing some of my raw files again and hopefully get some images which I could not recover earlier.

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