Ralph III wrote in post #17862287
The Jpeg image has less noise while the RAW file maintains a slight amount of more detail. From everything I've ever been told or conversed in, I would have thought the RAW file would have outperformed the Jpeg file in every aspect, but it doesn't. As per my example, the camera Jpeg with some minor tweaks in Photoshop is capable of equaling (overall) the best possible result.
Unless someone can tell me what I'm doing wrong that I cannot get superior results from the RAW file, then I'm really now questioning the need to use it....
One thing to understand is that the JPEG came from the raw file. You are trying to compare your attempt at raw conversion to the engineers at Canon's algorithm for performing raw conversion. I think that the conclusion you can draw from this exercise is that you are not able to recreate the Canon algorithm for raw conversion using the tools that you choose to perform the raw conversion. There is no problem with this, and what you have working in your advantage is that you are aware of the content of the scene and you are in control of the intent of your conversion - the engineers do not know what you are taking pictures of, but they have the advantage of studying thousands and thousands of "typical" images and developing an optimized algorithm that makes most images look "good."
There may be any number of reasons for the difference between the JPEG conversion and your attempt at matching or exceeding it. I would not say you are doing anything "wrong" per se, but experience with raw conversion does help achieve quality results.
Try starting your comparisons by using the software that came with your Canon camera - Digital Photo Professional (DPP). You can essentially recreate the JPEG conversion using DPP and selecting the appropriate Picture Style in DPP. Underexposure of an image may not be the "test" that will uncover some of the benefits of shooting raw. By understanding exposure for your camera, you will find that shooting JPEG in certain situations (compared to raw) will result in missing highlight information and color issues. Highlights in a raw file are recoverable or able to be reconstructed from remaining highlight channels - JPEG will clip this information to pure white. White balance can be set after the fact in raw, whereas adjustments to JPEG white balance are difficult and can further destroy details in highlight areas. Noise reduction, whether applied by the camera to the JPEG or applied by you during raw conversion, is a very subjective process for many people and the amount and quality of the NR can vary with the intended output and look you are trying to achieve. It may be important to you to defer the decision on NR until conversion, instead of having a less than desirable amount of NR applied in-camera to the JPEG. Who knows...
To summarize, the JPEG that is your reference is created from the raw that you are manipulating and comparing to the JPEG, so the raw will always be equal to, or superior to, the JPEG; however, it requires skill and the right tools to achieve this result. Raw files contain all of the captured data - the corresponding JPEG contains a subset of that data. Raw files can be manipulated after the point of capture far beyond the JPEG file. In terms of whether or not a raw file will be superior to the JPEG in the final output, it depends on the scene you are capturing and how you set up the capture. There is no reason that you cannot capture an excellent image directly to JPEG, but there may be situations where JPEG capture and workflow will not be able to cope with the scene and the extra work associated with raw workflow will benefit your final image.
Raw workflow also gives you the freedom to pursue the final image the way you want to, not the way the engineers at Canon think is "good enough."