Film: The Real Raw
A digital raw file is not an original image.
A digital camera's raw file has already sampled and quantized the image, which loses information, while film retains the original image to be retrieved at any time in the future.
I'm consistently amused by innocent hobbyists who go through the aggravation of shooting digital camera raw files just to get what they think is marginally better technical quality, or the ability to go back and do it right a second time, but who completely forget that if you're willing to shell out this extra effort, you could shoot film and get better results today, and even better results tomorrow.
Film is the original raw, and holds far more information than any digital file from a camera sensor. Film records the original living, breathing, natural image in tangable form forever. Film images last forever, versus memory cards and hard drives which we rarely are able to read after more than 10 years. Quick: can you read 3-1/2" floppies or play a VHS tape, right now? Probably not, but you always can look at film.
20 years from now we can re-scan our film and get 2029-level image quality.
The Wizard of Oz was shot on film in 1939. Today it looks great on Blu-Ray High-Definition DVD.
All we had was radio in in 1939, so how did they know how to make High-Definition DVDs back then? They didn't, but by having the forethought to shoot on film, they knew they always could scan the original raw film images with better equipment in the future. This way we always get results which are to modern standards, regardless of when something was shot.
With film, we always have our original images.
With digital raw files, your images are forever locked into technology that was probably already obsolete as you shot them.
Digital raw files are not the original image. Digital camera raw files are merely approximations of the image before it hit the sensor.
At best, digital raw files are a close approximation of what came out of a sensor, not what went in. Digital raw files have already folded, spindled and mutilated the original image with the limitations of that era's technology. Digital camera raw files have already limited the original image in at least three different ways.
Film capture gives you at least three more degrees of freedom in extracting your image than digital camera raw files do.
Archiving film always allows you direct access to your original living, breathing live images at any time in the future.
If you demand the best quality for serious subjects, and don't mind investing a lot of time to get it, then step all the way up to film.
A camera raw file already has sampled the image in two dimensions. These are called pixels.
Pixels are the imaginary grid into which the camera shoehorns the image. Pixels are merely an approximation of the original image.
Pixels were invented in the American space program of the 1950s and 1960s to allow computers to process images. The concept behind using pixels to approximate an image is that so long as you have enough of them, you'll have a close-enough approximation of the original image.
Once split into pixels, you no longer have your original image.
If you want more or less resolution, you're screwed with a raw file, because you no longer have access to the original image to sample at a different resolution. You can go down in resolution, but you can't go up.
Most digital shooters are wary of this, knowing that whatever they shoot today in digital may or may not be good enough to sell to tomorrow's market. Got raw files shot in 2002 on your then state-of-the-art $5,000 Nikon D1H? Enjoy going back to your 2.7 megapixel files! You may as well delete them now.
The digital camera sensor has to make the choice of how to divide the living photons into buckets (pixels) for you. Raw files merely document these approximations.
You can't go back to a raw file and get more resolution. With film, you don't have to make a resolution decision until you scan it.
With film, you can scan at any resolution. With film, you can scan it again in 30 years with whatever technology we have then, because you still have your original raw image captured alive and well.
With digital raw files, if you have to rotate a degree to correct a slight camera tilt, you lose half your resolution depending on your choice of rotation algorithm. With film, just rotate the film correctly before you scan it and you lose no sharpness, or scan with way too much resolution, rotate electronically and resize down to what you really need.
These gyrations sound silly to me, but they are the sort of thing which keep raw file shooters up at night. If you worry about this, then why not shoot the best raw format: film?
Light is analog. Digital cameras sensors are analog. They provide analog outputs which are then digitized inside the camera in order to create a digital raw file.
Digital cameras use linear analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) of whatever technology is current, typically 14 bits as of 2009. This linear-coded data is stored, and converted to log data before it's eventually viewed. Raw digital files have very fine differentiation in bright parts of the image, and much less in the dark sections.
ADCs are analog, and thus they have different quality levels relating to their conversion accuracy. ADCs have limited linearity and monotonicity. They have to work at extremely high sample rates to convert each analog value from each pixel well to a number. Many 14-bit ADCs are only 12-bit accurate, for instance.
Does any camera maker specify ADC performance? No, because they hope you won't ask. (I used to work for an ADC maker where I wrote the specifications for the people designing these converters into digital camera systems.)
With film, you always have access to your original live image. Film does not have to convert anything into bits unless you want to. You can scan it in the future with better scanners, or just look at the naked film in all its original glory.
With film, you still have the original, unquantized, unsampled image. With raw digital camera files, you've already sampled and quantized the image a few microseconds after it was shot, and no longer have access to the original image if you need more information.
Film has a far broader capture range than afforded with current digital capture.
Digital cameras might, in their dreams, have a 14-bit linear range, but film has no fixed endpoints. With film, there is always something there that can be pulled out later. Isn't this why you were shooting raw on your digital camera in the first place? No one shoots raw for convenience.
Shoot the right film correctly, and you always can pull out the data later. With digital raw files, you're stuck with whatever came out of the camera.
Digital raw files offer the ability to open the files in various color spaces. This is good, and is usually at least Adobe RGB or broader.
Film knows no such limits. Every film is different, and remember, various color spaces were at best chosen to represent the range of some films at the time that color space was created.
Your choice of film will usually cover a broader range of colors than can be shown on a digital display. For instance, computer displays just don't do deep reds; all they do is approximate it with dim reddish-orange. Compare a live red LED traffic signal to your monitor: your monitor doesn't go there, but Velvia and Kodachrome do.
Film, as the real raw, always can be seen. Just look at it! Have a 150 year-old glass plate? No problem!
With digital raw files, good luck finding software to read it in 10 years, much less 20 or 50 years.
With new film cameras, you can see your film an hour after you unwrap your new camera.
With new digital cameras, you may have to wait months until your favorite software package can open its raw files.
Worse, raw is actually a conspiracy to addict you to having to buy software the rest of your life. Adobe makes you have to buy the latest version of Photoshop so you can look at files from new cameras. They deliberately don't provide updates for older versions of their software so that you have to buy the upgrades.
Software companies lie when they claim files are "digital negatives." They do this to help addict you into the raw cult fetish. Raw files are just unborn JPGs; they have no significant additional data.
Raw is a way that software companies make money. If you shoot raw files, you're obligated to have to keep buying new software to open your own files. Shoot real raw (film) or JPG like a man, and you always can see your pictures without even needing a computer.
Real Raw (film) uses no data compression to screw with your images. Film captures and preserves your original live image forever.
Real Raw (film) doesn't need to do any truncation, rounding or other mathematical foolishness, either.
Digital cameras are always issuing firmware updates to deal with these coding screw-ups. If you shot files before the update, they're all screwed forever!
Real Raw needs no noise reduction.
Details and textures are always crisp and clear on film.
Film images are never bunged-up by the detail-smudging noise reduction algorithms of digital cameras and raw software.
Film never needs sharpening because it's always sharp.
RealRawtm, RealRaw EX-Stm, RealRaw EX-Rtm, RealRaw EX-S/EX-Rtm and RealRaw Protm Formats
Film is the real raw.
RealRawtm, RealRaw EX-Stm, RealRaw EX-Rtm and RealRaw Protm are trademarks of Ken Rockwell used in the trade of his photography.
RealRawtm refers to any of the other real raw formats: RealRaw EX-Stm, RealRaw EX-Rtm and RealRaw Protm are also all RealRawtm formats.
RealRaw EX-Stm refers to RealRawtm Extended Sampling, referring to the unique way in which RealRawtm images are captured without the need for digital sampling.
RealRaw EX-Rtm refers to RealRawtm Extended Range, referring to the broader dynamic range captured with Ken Rockwell's RealRawtm process, and/or RealRawtm images captured with Extended Resolution, also unique to the RealRawtm process employed by Ken Rockwell.
RealRaw Protm is any kind RealRawtm captured with any format larger than 35mm.
As trademarks, the use of any of the RealRawtm, RealRaw EX-Stm, RealRaw EX-Rtm and RealRaw Protm marks are limited to use only by Ken Rockwell and his authorized representatives.
Want eternal access to all the quality of your original images? Then shoot film, which I also find to be far less of a hassle than dicking around with raw files.
I support my growing family through this website.
If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.
Thanks for reading!