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Old Jan 19, 2007, 11:31 PM   #11
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Depending on where you live, birds are probably the hardest regularly occuring wildlife to shoot period. Maryland is probably like here. You can find the birds, but you can't get close and they often are only passing through (at least, the more interesting things like some raptors or many warblers.)

I've been shooting birds seriously for the last 4 years and I now teach bird photography along with selling my images. In Florida, bird photography isn't that hard (its hard to get a high quality image, but it's always hard to get good images of uncontrolled subjects in uncontrolled situations.) But in *most* of the rest of the US bird photography is very hard. I'm not talking about finding subjects (then things like wolves are harder because they are next to impossible to find let along photograph) I'm talking about just getting a good picture!

This came up in another thread. Here is my answer from that discussion (with more detail expanded on here because your question is broader):
For me, the reasons for RAW are these - in this order:
) Not having to worry about white balance in the field. Just makes my life eaiser (although auto-whitebalance has gotten better.)
) Having 12-bits per pixel instead of 8-bits per pixel means that I have more data to work with. This comes out in the next two reasons.
) Recovering burned out hilights that literally would have had *no* data in a JPG.
) Blending multiple exposures together to get more dynamic range
) Being able to fix exposure without drawing out dark noise as much.

With Photoshop CS3, you'll be able to put JPG's through the RAW converter, so fixing white balance in JPGs might not be an issue any more (it's possible that the results won't be as good as with RAW, but at least it will be as easy. I haven't tested it.)

Being able to fix exposure mistakes is big (not just blending for more dynamic range, but fixing blown out parts.)

This image is blown out in parts. In JPG I would have had no data to recover. Because I took it in RAW, there was data in the blown hilight that I could recover by blending multiple conversions:

Note that this is *full frame*, prints very large (13x19 - and larger), and I've sold it framed several times. I would probably have thrown out the image if I'd taken it in jpg because the hilight would have been unrecoverable (and my personal "morals" wouldn't have let me create synthetic data for the blown out part.)

That basically covers why I use raw.

There are downsides.
) The images are larger so they take more disk space.
) The images are larger, so it takes more space on your flash card.
) The images are larger, so the camera has to spend more time writing them to the flash card.
) The images are larger, so it takes longer to flush the internal buffer and free up space for more pictures.
) The images are larger, so the camera's internal buffer holds fewer images - fewer shots in a burst before the camera locks you out while it's writing.
) They are slower to work with on your computer because you have to "convert" them to a format you can edit them. This makes skimming the images slower, for example.

With all those downsides, I feel they are worth it.

When I switched to RAW I found I could produce better images in editing. I posted one of my tests (of a red tailed hawk sitting under a canopy of tree branches) -one using JPG one using RAW. The raw was clearly better. A pro shooter who used to frequent the site more downloaded my JPG image, edited himself using both some plugins he purchased and just his superior skill - and produced an image using my *posted JPG* that was as good or better than my RAW image in very little time.
He did it on something reduced for the web, even!

So skill does matter... but as you get better at editing, you'll start to get even more out of RAW than when you started.

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Old Jan 19, 2007, 11:59 PM   #12
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Great reply Eric and Donna, thanks!!

Being an old school darkroom guy it doesn't bother me too much to have to use the keyboard to do a but of post processing. When I think about how much time and effort and print sheets and chemicals I'd use to get one good image. The space and time are a non issue for me.

I'm still getting used to the camera and it's my first dSLR that had a RAW capability, so I'm still learning this particular camera. Coming from an Elan II, though, so at least I am familiar with the EOS concepts.

PS Eric, I'm in north central Massachusetts. I watched a hawk pick up a chipmonk the other day right out of my sliding glass doors where I feed my chickadees. Quite a site!
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Old Jan 20, 2007, 10:31 AM   #13
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Thanks Eric and Hippie...a full and pleasing explanation. You are right about birding...small birds like titmice etc...hide in the bramble, move in a nanosecond, and are tiny to begin with. Quite a challenge for a novice, even with good equipment. Well, I am off the post another thread about my teleconverter, for birding of course. Thanks again, Donna
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