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How to best process RAW files
My question is: Is there a setting( or button (lol yea a button)) in photoshop/Zoner Photo Studio/LR or any other post processing program that makes the changes reflecting the TRUE image captured?
I hope I explained myself well enough. If I do become known as a photographer I would like it to be mainly for my skill using the camera and not for my post processing skills (even if it is a requirement sometimes....(AND I DO NOT MEAN TO OFFEND ANYONE, this is just how I want to do photography).
Also, just in case anyone knows, is the button "quick fix" in Zoner Photo Studio a possible candidate for the answer I am looking for for the first question I asked?
If you shoot RAW, and you have no means of calibrating the RAW conversion of a third party software, you can do two things: either use the RAW conversion software provided by you camera manufacturer, e.g. CaptureNX or ViewNX by Nikon, or convert the files in the camera itself (in post), setting the Picture Control to neutral.
If you don't want to do any correction at all in post, you have to shoot slide film, because the full surface of a digital sensor is not used to pick up image data, it's more like shooting through a grid, and you always need to process to get a usable image. For instance sharpening is absolutely necessary, and so is mid tone contrast tweaking, because these parameters define how the image capture voids between the pixels are interpreted. Also digital sensors are made for variable white balance, which is not the case with film, although you can use different film for different lighting temperatures. The white balance setting does not affect the RAW data, but the sensor is not made to render a usable image with any white balance, you really have to set the white balance to render any picture. If you shoot JPEG, the camera processes the RAW file in camera with at least the following adjustments: white balance, sharpening, contrast enhancing, noise reduction, and selective brightness adjustment. In Lightroom you can mimic faithful reproduction by using the "Camera neutral" calibration setting, but Lightroom/ACR causes some discoloration of NEF files, which causes an ugly red/magenta cast but can easily be calibrated, and that's a 10 second tweak that is pretty much set and forget, so you only have to do it once.
There are other RAW converters, some are quite good, for instance the standard Microsoft codec which can be downloaded from the Microsoft site, which has the parameters provided by Nikon, and the colours are really good, but that RAW converter has no tweaking features, it can only convert without any corrections. Others are RAWTherapee, Apple Aperture, etc.
On some other cameras, you wouldn't be able to use the RAW file without heavy processing, for instance RAW files of cameras without IR or low pass filter on a Bayer type sensor. The Leica M8 for instance had no IR filter, and there was a heavy magenta cast on all the dark bits in the picture. Or the "Canon flakes" effect on Canon DSLR cameras, which have older sensor technology and older tech metering systems (Nikon has been using colour metering systems for almost 20 years, whereas for Canon and others this is very recent technology only available on selected models), and this causes the shadow areas to be really flaky, and without heavy post processing the images would just not be usable.
Maybe the most important thing is to take control over the post-processing, just like when processing film. Just like you wouldn't send a black and white negative film off to a big lab to be processed because they would screw up the exposure decisions you made when shooting, it's important to develop the sensor data yourself in the same way.
I usually shoot RAW, and use Lightroom the develop the sensor data, and Lightroom is set to use individual develop settings depending on the camera serial number on import, with a variable colour calibration set individually for each camera, but based upon the "camera neutral" calibration profile. I don't think that there is a more convenient process for faithful RAW conversion anywhere else. When I shoot black and white digitally (I normally use film though) for fun (because that's just how I shoot for fun), I often set the camera to 1:4 compression JPEG, Picture Control to Monochrome, D-Lighting, lens correction and noise reduction off, and use a yellow, orange, red or green filter on the lens, pretty much like I shoot black and white film. I don't post process the JPEGs from the camera any further.
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