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Thread started 28 Jul 2009 (Tuesday) 15:36
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Canon sRAW considered harmful

 
Daniel ­ Browning
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Jul 28, 2009 15:36 |  #1

Three topics are discussed in this thread:

  • Artifacts caused by sRAW
  • Misconceptions about compression and sRAW
  • Superior alternatives to sRAW
The first problem with sRAW is the aliasing artifacts: jaggies, stair-stepping, unwanted sparkling, "snap to grid", wavy lines, bands, patterns, fringing, popping, strobing, noise, and false detail. Here is an example courtesy of Graeme Nattress:

IMAGE: http://thebrownings.name/photo/misc/sRAW_v_RAW.jpg

The center of the image (a zone plate) is a low spatial frequency (large details), and it gets progressively higher as you go out to the edges. It's easy to see the artifacts increase for the fine details in the raw image. But the sRAW image has false detail much sooner, at lower spatial frequencies, in the form of circles. Here is what the original image looks like:

IMAGE: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/66/Zonenplatte_Cosinus.png/210px-Zonenplatte_Cosinus.png

Some photographers desire aliasing artifacts and describe them with positive terms such as ”crunchiness”, ”sharpness”, etc. They prefer Sigma Foveon images for the same reason. But aliasing artifacts cause an unnatural and telltale ”digital” look that distract the viewer from the image. Then there are the de-Bayer artifacts that are are exacerbated by aliasing.

There is at least one aliasing artifact that everyone hates: moiré. Moiré does not occur in every image like the other artifacts do, but it does happen sometimes. In real life, when you pour two liters of water into a one liter container, water spills out and makes a mess. But camera design is different: when you pour two liters of water into a one liter container, the water folds back on itself and corrupts the entire container. The amount of water is the level detail (spatial frequency), and the volume of the container is the number of megapixels in the camera. Moiré is the corruption.

Of course, aliasing is not fundamentally necessary for sRAW. It would be possible for Canon to resample to sRAW with much more care and heavy computation to avoid aliasing at lower spatial frequencies. But even if it was fixed in the future, there would still be one avoidable downside of sRAW: loss in resolution.

If there were no better and simpler methods for reducing file size, then such a trade in resolution might be an acceptable compromise. But the plain fact is that there are many other alternatives, and they are all superior to sRAW in every way.

The first is to stop adding Marketing bits to the files. None of Canon's high end cameras, not the 5D2, 1D3, nor even the 1Ds3 have read noise low enough to warrant 14 bits. The last two bits can be replaced by random noise in post processing and it makes absolutely no difference to the image, because they're already just random noise. This is demonstrated very clearly in this image courtesy of John Sheehy (click the thumbnail):

IMAGE: http://thebrownings.name/images/sensor/canon_40d_14_vs_12_bit.jpg
IMAGE LINK: http://forums.dpreview​.com …rum=1018&messag​e=31239793  (external link)

A longer explanation is available in the Noise, Dynamic Range, and Bit Depth (external link) part of Emil's essay.

After getting rid of the two bits that are *always* wasted, Canon should then get rid of the bits that are only wasted at certain settings. That is, to remove bits as the analog gain (ISO setting) is increased. ISO 1600 only needs 9 bits to record every last ounce of data from the camera, and ISO 25,600 can only ever make use of 5 bits!

Next is to allow the user to remove even more bits if they so desire. Most people aren't going to use all 13.5 stops of dynamic range, and sometimes they will be willing to sacrifice finer gradations for smaller file sizes, especially if they know it will never be used at full resolution. The choice to truncate bits and dither to a smaller bit depth would give the user more power.

In the the 50D, as much as *half* of the sRAW2 size comes from the two embedded jpegs (thumbnail and full size). The user should have control over the size and compression quality of the large jpeg: some people such as my self never even use it as a part of the workflow, it just wastes space. Of course, this may result in a trade-off between review speed (i.e. to check focus at 10X) and file size, but that should be left up to the user. One simple solution is to just allow the review images to be stored separately from the raw so they may be deleted in post without changing the read-only state of the raw file, which is highly necessary for safety against bugs.

Most important of all, Canon should stop wasting so many bits on random photon shot noise. Unless they're expecting light itself to stop obeying the laws of physics, there is no reason to keep bloating the file. Emil Martinec explained this concept lucidely in the above essay. Instead, Canon should only use the necessary amount of precision. That is what Nikon does with one of their NEF formats, shown in this image, again courtesy of Emil:

IMAGE: http://theory.uchicago.edu/%7Eejm/pix/20d/tests/noise/NEFcompfit3.gif

It shows that the number of raw levels corresponds to the amount of photon shot noise.

The NEF format is sometimes called "lossy", but that is really a misnomer. Photon shot noise itself is what causes the loss of level precision. No amount of bit depth is ever going to get that back. Using the minimum number of bits necessary is no more "lossy" than using 100 bits: it's just less bloated with useless data. Using a bit depth that is far larger than necessary is only a delusion of higher accuracy where none actually exists.

Of course, Nikon made some mistakes in their implementation of this design, such as performing white balance preconditioning and a sub-optimal LUT, that cause posterization (quantization error) in rare circumstances. But those mistakes in the implementation do not take away from the soundness of the underlying design principles.

One of the biggest reasons that users want sRAW is not the filesize, but the post processing time. But why are they slow? Because they are designed to spend as much time as possible extracting every last ounce of detail possible with timeconsuming context analysis and other techniques. But when only half the resolution is needed (like the use case for sRAW), a different demosaic method can be used. In fact it's not really demosaic at all, so it can be lightning fast and still come up with the same quality as a full demosaic-and-downsample, particularly at regular factors (2X linearly), such as 24 MP raw -> 6 MP RGB.

In fact, it's actually *faster* to demosaic 24 MP into a 6 MP RGB than to demosaic a native 6 MP itself, and the quality is even higher. The only reason that all raw converters don't have this feature already is that people are still willing to accept long post processing times for higher resolution.

The advantage of just doing a "fast de-Bayer" (whatever the actual algorithm) over sRAW is that if high resolution is needed (years later, even), one can still do the slower demosaic and extract the full detail possible.

With all these simple improvements, which would not take any more time to develop than sRAW, Canon's 21 MP RAW would be be 5 MB instead of 25 MB, yet it would have absolutely no difference in image quality, even under heavy post processing and close scrutiny by the strongest compression hater.

But why stop there? Those are only the simplest ideas and easiest methods for reducing filesize with no loss. There is an entire world of advanced ideas and non-simple methods they could apply to the image to reduce files even more at the cost of an imperceptible (or at least nearly so) effect on the image. Cineform RAW and REDCODE show that technology exists to reduce file size in ways that are undetected by the eye. These are the types of compression that are more fairly described as "lossy", even if they are not lossy to the eye without extreme post processing. At the very least, the "lossy" effect will be much smaller than just dumping entire pixels like sRAW does. However, this type of compression truly does take a lot more development effort than anything else, and may require more horsepower in the camera. Although I could argue that the cost of a few ASICs combined with the increased market size would make up for it, I'd just rather focus on asking Canon to replace sRAW with something equally simple.

Only after all the other options have been exhausted does a scheme like sRAW begin to appear as an acceptable compromise.

All that said, I must admit that I can see the shrewd logic behind sRAW. Canon knew that most photographers are very uniformed about all these issues and are the victims of many misconceptions and myths, namely:
  • Photographers should hate anything labeled "compression" (false).
  • Compression is worse in some ways than a downsampled raw (false).
  • Small pixels are worse (false).
  • More bits are always better (false).
  • Canon's cameras actually use the 14 bits (false).
In the face of these many false myths, sRAW is the perfect moneymaker for Canon:
  • They can sell to all the people with an irrational fear of small pixels: "I can get 5D1-sized large pixels with sRAW? I'll buy it!"
  • And they also get all the people with an irrational fear of compression ("I can get 5D1 file sizes without compression? I'll buy it!")
  • But without losing any of the snake-oil believers who were taking the extra 2-bits placebo ("Still 14-bits? I'll buy it!").
For these reasons, sRAW is good for Canon's bottom line, but it's bad for Canon photographers.

Daniel

  
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Lazuka
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Jul 28, 2009 15:47 |  #2
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I'm not going to lie, i'm a little lost.


I suck at Photoshop.

  
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CJinAustin
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Jul 28, 2009 15:49 |  #3
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Lazuka wrote in post #8358315 (external link)
I'm not going to lie, i'm a little lost.

I'm a little dizzy!


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Jul 28, 2009 15:51 |  #4
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I'm re-reading it and it's starting to make more sense.


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Jul 28, 2009 17:04 |  #5

Hmm. Well it appears Canon is evil and Nikon is stupid. And we already know Sony is venal.

Woe is us.


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Jul 28, 2009 17:20 |  #6

It's a fascinating Read and I have been wondering about the effects for some time.
Clearly the image data has to be reduced in some way,. and I don;t think anyone thought that an sRAW could be "just as good" as the full file.

I've never used sRAW on the 1D, as it just doesn't make any sense to bother,..

On a 5D 22MP sensor however, I could see some advantage at times.

food for thought, but IMHO, we could (and do) write papers on all the info we lose when we shoot jpeg.

People still shoot jpeg.

People will still shoot sRAW.

The trick and the helpful aspect, is to be armed with the knowledge of the compromise we are making when we chose any of the above.



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Jul 28, 2009 17:38 |  #7

I read it and still don't get what its going on about? I shoot in RAW and think that its the best. Why would I want to shoot in sRAW and get a smaller file size? Doesn't make sense to me.

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Jul 28, 2009 17:46 |  #8

Saint728 wrote in post #8358811 (external link)
I read it and still don't get what its going on about? I shoot in RAW and think that its the best. Why would I want to shoot in sRAW and get a smaller file size? Doesn't make sense to me.

Take Care,
Cheers, Patrick

The point of the article is that shooting in sRAW degrades the image. If you really care about the image, in other words, shooting Raw is still the best way of ensuring image quality.

For casual, snapshot stuff, well, whay not sRAW, unless you are looking at those casual shots and thinking "man, I would sure love to make a 20"x30" print of that -- you may at that point wish you had shot in Raw, and regret the artifacts of sRAW.


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Jul 28, 2009 17:48 |  #9

Saint728 wrote in post #8358811 (external link)
I read it and still don't get what its going on about? I shoot in RAW and think that its the best. Why would I want to shoot in sRAW and get a smaller file size? Doesn't make sense to me.

Card capacity, buffer size, suitability of the shooter's PC hardware to handle 22MP files, etc.



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Jul 04, 2013 01:08 |  #10

I'm skimmed it. Jack Daniels and I are confused...but still having a good time regardless.


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reappear
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Jul 04, 2013 02:14 |  #11

Umm... I fail to see the point of OP. Yes, if I want to use the full potential of the camera, I shoot RAW. Yet, if I want to shoot on lower resolution and still have RAW capability, I shoot sRAW. It's that simple, isn't it.

Why on earth would you upscale the sRAW to match RAW resolution? It isn't a matter of the resolution that you could produce, but rather a matter of how much are you going to use. Why do people "settle" on old 1D series, when they could "enjoy" more with gigapixel 1DXCVI? If I like a feature on a camera, I probably want it because of that feature, almost no matter how many megapixels it has. If it has 18 megapixels, and a feature I really desire, I will buy it, but I wouldn't be using full size RAW when going to a party and taking couple of hundreds snapshots, but I still would like to shoot sRAW to keep the RAW conversion possibilities.

There are interesting things discussed in the OP, but I don't understand the dissing of sRAW entirely.


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Jul 04, 2013 02:59 |  #12

reappear wrote in post #16089787 (external link)
Umm... I fail to see the point of OP. Yes, if I want to use the full potential of the camera, I shoot RAW. Yet, if I want to shoot on lower resolution and still have RAW capability, I shoot sRAW. It's that simple, isn't it.

The message was: sRAW is a lousy method to get that advantage you strived for when you wanted "lower resolution". The camera can produce a lower-resolution file with better quality if it was a bit smarter.

Or the camera can produce a file with same size and that is not slower to process while still keeping the full resolution.

Why on earth would you upscale the sRAW to match RAW resolution?

I never saw him make such a claim. The reason for quotes is so you can point at the part where you consider him make such a claim.

It isn't a matter of the resolution that you could produce, but rather a matter of how much are you going to use.

But even if I'm only going to use fewer pixels, I still want these pixels to look good, wouldn't I? And what if I could get the pixels to look good, and still consume half the space on the memory card or in the backup?

Why do people "settle" on old 1D series, when they could "enjoy" more with gigapixel 1DXCVI?

Wrong route. The debate isn't the difference between old or new, but why have something new that doesn't take advantage of what it has?

If I like a feature on a camera, I probably want it because of that feature, almost no matter how many megapixels it has.

If you want that feature then it probably isn't the feature you want but the "service" that feature brings. So wouldn't you prefer to get that "service" supplied in an even better way?

If it has 18 megapixels, and a feature I really desire, I will buy it, but I wouldn't be using full size RAW when going to a party and taking couple of hundreds snapshots, but I still would like to shoot sRAW to keep the RAW conversion possibilities.

So - why not want a sRAW++ that keeps your raw conversion possibilities but takes half the card space or half the conversion time or gives higher quality? sRAW is an attempt at delivering a service. Why not another attempt that can deliver that same service in a much better way? Why save space with sRAW and have 50% of the file consumed with JPEG previews that are just duplicates of the actual sensor data?

There are interesting things discussed in the OP, but I don't understand the dissing of sRAW entirely.

The dissing is that sRAW is a bad way to deliver the service that people originally wanted when they turned on sRAW.

The camera could produce RAW sensor data in that same file size with better image quality.
The camera could produce RAW sensor data in higher resolution with the same card space, transfer time or conversion time as sRAW.
The camera could produce RAW sensor data with less moiré artifacts.
The camera could allow faster uploads of images to a newspaper while still delivering the same quality.
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Jul 04, 2013 03:22 as a reply to  @ reappear's post |  #13

One other thing to remember. When using DPP for post processing, Digital Lens Optimiser can only be used on a RAW files and not on sRAW, or mRAW. So for me it's either, RAW, or JPEG.

Probably not an issue with other PP apps.


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Jul 04, 2013 03:52 |  #14

I never saw him make such a claim. The reason for quotes is so you can point at the part where you consider him make such a claim.

Daniel Browning wrote in post #8358240 (external link)
Three topics are discussed in this thread:
  • Artifacts caused by sRAW
  • Misconceptions about compression and sRAW
  • Superior alternatives to sRAW
The first problem with sRAW is the aliasing artifacts: jaggies, stair-stepping, unwanted sparkling, "snap to grid", wavy lines, bands, patterns, fringing, popping, strobing, noise, and false detail. Here is an example courtesy of Graeme Nattress:

QUOTED IMAGE

The center of the image (a zone plate) is a low spatial frequency (large details), and it gets progressively higher as you go out to the edges. It's easy to see the artifacts increase for the fine details in the raw image. But the sRAW image has false detail much sooner, at lower spatial frequencies, in the form of circles. Here is what the original image looks like:

pwm2, here he uses the upscaled sRAW vs. RAW pictures as part of his post. Isn't that just a resolution thing, opposed to the quality of the RAW and sRAW?

Or am I just misunderstanding the whole thing?

Of course the method to create sRAW could be much better, but it's the same with the RAW. There is always room for improvement.

Wrong route. The debate isn't the difference between old or new, but why have something new that doesn't take advantage of what it has?

When talking about this, I think it's important to define whether to discuss about physical features or programmable features. I take it as you mean the programmable features (RAW and sRAW efficiency etc.). We always learn new ways to do things, and often get blinded by the headlines about what's possible now. But how well does it compare to real world? Magic lantern is making something work better for sure, and camera manufacturers might not use their R&D money on old releases that much, but is it really that they're not making any effort?

killwillys point is valid, own product should be able to handle the files better:

One other thing to remember. When using DPP for post processing, Digital Lens Optimiser can only be used on a RAW files and not on sRAW, or mRAW. So for me it's either, RAW, or JPEG.

Probably not an issue with other PP apps.


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Jul 04, 2013 08:43 |  #15

reappear wrote in post #16089959 (external link)
pwm2, here he uses the upscaled sRAW vs. RAW pictures as part of his post. Isn't that just a resolution thing, opposed to the quality of the RAW and sRAW?

No it isn't. The two photos shows the increased amount of interference in the sRAW photo because the low-pass filter is adjusted for RAW and not for sRAW. And sRAW doesn't perform pixel averaging but instead throws away lots of readings within the sensor.

Or am I just misunderstanding the whole thing?

Yes - the camera could have produced a low-resolution image with better quality that would not show as much interference if it had perform an intelligent down-scaling of the full-sensor readout instead of just dropping some sensel values.

Of course the method to create sRAW could be much better, but it's the same with the RAW. There is always room for improvement.

No it isn't. The RAW is the full sensor data. There it's just a question of how to massage the sensor data to produce the RGB triplets of a normal image. That is something you always have to do when handling a Bayer sensor.

sRAW on the other hand is a selection process where many of the RAW sensel readings are thrown away instead of being used to reduce noise and moire. So sRAW is the result of a data-destruction pass that could have been made much less destructive and still produced an output file of the same (or even smaller size). But with better quality data available for generation of TIFF, PNG, JPEG or whatever the end user might want.

When talking about this, I think it's important to define whether to discuss about physical features or programmable features. I take it as you mean the programmable features (RAW and sRAW efficiency etc.). We always learn new ways to do things, and often get blinded by the headlines about what's possible now.

We don't need to learn new things. The image processing world have known way better ways to downscale data for a huge number of years - even quite cheap when thinking about processing power.

sRAW wasn't even near any "best effort" from Canon. It's was the simplest possible way to solve the problem. It was the kind of task that could be implemented within hours. And then do some hours with the RAW->JPEG converter to verify the conversion. The creation of sRAW was the trivial road. Which also made it a very sub-optimal solution.

If you are going to throw away two-thirds of the sensel values, then you can produce an output file that contains weighted averages of the raw readings and still produce something you can call sRAW. But that is based on three times as many captured photons. And that correspondingly suffers way less from undersampling interference.

On the other hand - if the goal isn't to get an output file with fewer pixels but instead just with smaller size, then you could take the logarithm of every sensel reading. A linear reading for a 14-bit sensor means that the pure white pixels have a resolution of 0.000061. This is totally impossible for our eyes to see for the white parts of the photo. So totally wasted information to store in the image file.

But how well does it compare to real world? Magic lantern is making something work better for sure, and camera manufacturers might not use their R&D money on old releases that much, but is it really that they're not making any effort?
Don't worry about old cameras. Worry instead why Canon selected a solution that took them 1 day to implement instead of a solution that took them 10 days to implement - but would have resulted in much better images. And that they had the knowledge to do without having to wait for any research papers to be written.

Better implementations would not have been expensive to implement. They would still be almost trivial, compared to the full R&D costs invested in a modern DSLR.

killwillys point is valid, own product should be able to handle the files better:


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