Aperture: RAW 1.0 vs. 2.0 (Self Portrait in Red)

Self Portrait

A couple of days ago as Ben and I were biking into work, we stopped at an intersection and chatted with one of the folk who maintains the stoplights in the Cupertino / San Jose / Sunnyvale area.

He was in the process of changing out some of the lamps in the cross walk signs, eliminating at least one incandescent lamp and replacing an LED element with a newer model.

I took a moment to examine the LED element that he had removed and he gave it to me. SWEET!

It is somewhere around 60+ reddish-orange LEDs arranged on a printed circuit board in the form of the standard “don’t walk” hand. It is backed by a power supply such that it can be plugged into a standard 120v outlet.

And it is bright. Seriously, blindingly, bright.

I figured it would also make a neat light source for photography and decided to use it as the sole source of illumination for a self portrait. I put the camera on a tripod, used a remote switch to control the shutter, and aimed the LEDs at my head from a slightly down and off-to-the-left position.

Interesting shot. I dig it.

That is pretty much the natural color of the image. I did very little post-processing beyond cropping the image.

Self Portrait in Red (RAW 2.0)

The one processing parameters that I did tweak that had a major impact on the resulting image, was to use Aperture’s RAW 1.0 processor instead of the 2.0 processor.

Much to my surprise, the difference between the two is huge!

Normally, I use the 2.0 processor and don’t think much about it. It does a great job, to these unprofessional eyes.

However, it appears that photos in the extremes of range are not necessarily best processed by the 2.0 pipeline.

Specifically: the only difference between the image on the right and the image above is the use of the 2.0 (right) vs. 1.0 (above) RAW processing pipeline. All other adjustments are the same.

That is a significant difference!

Certainly an eye opener and I will be re-evaulating certain images in light of this.

A bug? Hardly. Converting a RAW image to something that can be rendered on screen requires a relatively complex bit of math that is specifically designed to yield reasonable results given a wide range of reasonable inputs.

This is not a very reasonable image. It is lit by an intense light source comprised of relatively narrow bands of color; mostly orangish red.

I wonder what other RAW pipelines might do with this image? I dropped the original RAQ (w/sidecar) in a zip file on a server, if curious.

Peter asked some interesting questions in the comments.

I played with the image a bit with both the 2.0 and the 1.0 pipeline. I couldn’t post-process the 2.0 image to bring out the level of detail/features found in the 1.0 image. Caveat: I barely know what I’m doing.

Honestly, I’m not sure which image is “less correct”. I like the 1.0 image a lot better in that I like the range of oranges that seem to be utterly missing in the 2.0 image.

My general impression of RAW pipelines is that there is a tremendous amount of math behind the RAW conversion process, but there is also a whole bunch of tuning for aesthetics. Camera sensors simply do not have the dynamic range of the human eye and, thus, RAW conversion is partially about compensating for the limitations of the sensors.

4 Responses to “Aperture: RAW 1.0 vs. 2.0 (Self Portrait in Red)”

  1. rama says:

    try using the raw converter from canon for comparison (assuming they provide one). the nikon converter is supposedly better than CS3/LR conversion at the moment, could be true for canon as well.

  2. Mike says:

    Interesting discovery. I wonder what the differences between 1.0 and 2.0 are when using blue or green as primary light.

    @rama – From what I’ve read and seen on dpreview.com’s tests, Canon’s RAW converters tend to get more detail from images compared to Adobe’s RAW converter, but it’s a minor difference, from what I recall.

  3. Peter says:

    It’s unclear: is the 2.0 picture less correct, or do you just like it less? The 2.0 picture looks flatter, but LEDs are essentially monochromatic. Narrow bands of color, indeed! Could the 1.0 pipeline be “helpfully” expanding the dynamic range across the color space because it can’t deal with this? Put another way, can the 2.0 picture be adjusted by hand to give the 1.0 picture, but not the other way around?

  4. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Roger in Red says:

    […] is but days away from his 8th birthday. In this photo, he is illuminated by the same LEDs I used to illuminate my self-portrait with a bit of emphasis on the less extreme range of […]

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