HDR photo : JPEG or RAW file

I did some tests with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos and every Monday for the next few weeks, I will share my findings here. The software I use to process a HDR photo, Corel Paint Shop Pro X6, gives me two options to create an HDR photo. I can take one RAW file, split in three photos (one overexposed, one under-exposed and one correctly exposed) and then re-assemble the photos together creating the HDR photo. The second option is it takes three to five JPEG files (one overexposed, one under-exposed and one correctly exposed) and assemble those together.

The first test I wanted to do is there a difference between an HDR photo made out of 3 to 5 JPEG file and one made from one RAW file.

The answer is YES but not from where I expected it. In the example below, I took three shots one underexposed (-0.3), one correctly exposed and one over exposed (+0.3) of a sunset on a cloudy sky. I also used a pre-set option from the software to make sure I have all the same option for both photos. I like to compare apple with apple. The settings used for converting the RAW file in HDR were the same I used with the camera -0.3 – 0 – +0.3.

On photo A, between the three shots, the cloud and water moved giving a different finish to the cloudy sky and the river. On photo B done with one RAW file and you see that there is no movement in the clouds and river. Also you can see that the colors are a little bit more saturated on the one with three JPEG photos.

The last photo is the correctly exposed JPEG to show you the difference between JPEG and HDR

Now what I do not know is would I get the same results using different software. I tend to believe that different software would produce slightly different results.

Photo A – HDR photo (three JPEG files version)

HDR 3 JPEG

 Photo B – HDR photo (one RAW file version)

HDR RAW

 Photo C – JPEG version

HDR 1 JPEG

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26 thoughts on “HDR photo : JPEG or RAW file

  1. Bonne idée ce test! J’ai une préference pour le RAW avec son ciel plus structuré.

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    1. C’est ce que mon test m’a permis de découvrir, à partir d’un fichier RAW tout ce qui bouge est plus clair et honnêtement il a beaucoup de chose qui bouge lorsque l’on photographie

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      1. Pour le HDR, le RAW est conseillé et je dirais même pour la photo en général mais le fichier est plus lourd, un bon processeur I7 est recommandé.

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      2. Je prends toujours mes photos en JPEG basse résolution et en RAW, effectivement ça prend plus d’espace disque mais le fichier RAW permet de récupérer certaines photos qui autrement seraient pas bonnes et donne plus de flexibilité pour travailler avec les autres. Par contre avant de faire ce test j’étais sous l’impression que pour le HDR, le format JPEG donnait de meilleur résultat ce qui n’est pas le cas parce que je préfère le HDR à partir d’un fichier RAW

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      3. On parle du Raw comme à l’époque de la pellicule, on développe son film via un logiciel dédié, comme tu dis cela permet de récupérer certaines photos.
        Le HDR avec 1 fichier seulement donne d’excellent résultat. Dire que j’en connais qui prennent 5 voir 7 clichés pour du HDR à 40/50 mo chaque en full frame….

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      4. Pour l’amateur que je suis un seul fichier RAW fait parfaitement l’affaire, pour des pros qui visent la perfection c’est une autre histoire

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  2. Je préfère la photo B, je n’ai lu qu’après quels étaient les titres de chaque photo pour ne pas être influencée par mon attirance sans conteste pour le RAW, je ne shoot qu’en RAW. LA dynamique est plus grande et les possibilités sont incomparables. Les contrastes sont plus intenses sur la photo B et les détails et la structure du ciel me plaisent beaucoup.
    Comme le souligne très justement Stéphane cela prend plus de place mais tu sauve des clichés définitivement perdus en JPEG.
    Bonne soirée Nelson

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    1. Je pensait que le HDR donnait de meilleur résultats avec le format JPEG avant de faire ce test mais moi aussi je préfère le RAW

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      1. et puis en RAW tu peux bracketer puis assembler les images sous photoshop, ou utiliser un logiciel qui passe en HDR un photo unique mais c’est moins puriste comme voie. Moi je fais la seconde mais je compte bien essayé la première façon pour voir la différence.

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  3. Great work on the images, personally I much prefer the RAW version, the sky has so much more depth to it. I’m no expert, but it might make a more dramatic image if you were to crop out some of the foreground as the sky has so much to say! Good idea to compare the two methods, I hope you have decided which you like best. 🙂

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    1. I also prefer the RAW version but before doing that test, I though that JPEG would give better results which is not the case …. well in my eyes RAW gives better results

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  4. Some people love it and some hate it , I think it suits some subjects and looks wrong on others . Great to experiment though . My favourite software is Photomatix for this, and I have tried others also On One Software is also good. Nice work!

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    1. HDR is interesting but sometime it does gives an artificial look, it can be artistically interesting but it’s like any special effect, too much can detract the attention of the viewer from the subject of the photo

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    1. I try to keep my HDR simple and not overdo those except in some occasion where a lot of HDR gives a special finish that will bring a something to the photo

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  5. In my opinion HDR should always been processed with raw files at 16bit with a minimum of 3 exposures. This is because a raw file contains more information that can be utilised compared to a compressed Jpeg.

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      1. Photomatix in my experience has the best gjost renoval tool for movement in HDR and it is best to have least amount of movement possible. Hdr means high dynamic range ie more than on image. Hdr with one shot is just a filter.
        For the last 6months I have been doing 32bit hdr which you tone in Lightroom or camera raw. And you have so much flexibility.

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