We’ve found that there are several advantages to shooting with different brands of cameras including helping people with their gear during our photo workshops. But another intriguing side effect that we’ve noticed but never really thought more about is how the cameras record a scene differently. We often shoot side-by-side but of course have our own interpretations of the same subject matter. Darwin would be the first to say he is attracted to warmer, more contrasty scenes and my images always seem to be more moody, quieter and flatter. We’ve always chalked it up to differences in our personal style, and certainly there is some truth to that idea. On the recent winter photo tour on Abraham Lake, Darwin was showing me an amazing shot he’d just taken. The image on his Canon 1ds Mark III was gorgeous! In fact, it almost looked like he was on a different lake compared to what I was capturing. I had a bad case of LCD-envy.
“Darwin,” I whined, “Your pictures always look great on the LCD! I’ve been photographing the lake all morning and my images look nothing like that. Where is that spot?” We walked back to the location on the ice where Darwin had been shooting. We decided to see how differently the two cameras would render the same scene. We set our jpeg settings to ‘vivid’ (Nikon) and ‘landscape’ (Canon), chose auto white balance, and roughly composed the same image with our different cameras. So here are my photographs of Darwin’s Canon 1ds Mark III LCD playback of the scene:
And here is Darwin’s capture of my Nikon D300s playback of the image:
You can see in the LCD of the cameras that there is some difference to the jpeg displayed. Darwin’s camera displays a warmer, more contrasty file than the monochromatic, cool image displayed on the Nikon. We figured the difference was probably due to variation in the cameras’ algorithms churning out the jpeg for the LCD, and this is not very surprising. But the raw files should be essentially similar if all camera settings are comparable — right? We actually didn’t expect to see much difference in the raw files; after all, raw data is raw data! But, surprisingly, there were some differences in the raw files. Here is Darwin’s unprocessed jpeg of the raw file:
And here is mine:
As you can see, Darwin’s raw file seems more contrasty and warmer in temperature than the Nikon file. When we inspected the files in Camera Raw, we saw that the Canon file set to ‘auto’ white balance came up at 6000k while the Nikon on ‘auto’ white balance came up at 5000k. In other words, the auto white balance for the two cameras returned different results: ‘auto’ for one camera is not the same ‘auto’ for another. This matters a lot if you shoot jpeg and matters less if you shoot raw, because of course you can alter the temperature of the raw file to be whatever you like. Why would anyone care about this? Well, we think that, unless you have a strong vision in mind, what your camera captures influences how you process. This would be especially true if there were differences in the raw files. Could there be an insidious side effect? Could the raw file actually influence how you process? I tend to spend less time processing images than Darwin and usually end up with cooler, flatter images. Darwin favours warm hues and higher contrast and steers his images more in this direction. But is this a result of our artistic vision…or are we being secretly led by our cameras to deliver a particular result? We processed our two shots (without peeking at the other person’s image!) to see if the final, processed result would be very different. Here is Darwin’s:
And here is mine:
What a difference! The subtle differences captured in the raw files are even more apparent in the final, processed results. By the way, the dark green-black colour in Darwin’s photograph is closer to the real colour of the ice (although of course Darwin’s shot is more saturated and contrasty) than in my photograph. This is by no means a scientific study, and of course there are some limitations when comparing different cameras and lenses, but we do find this relationship of Canon=warm/contrasty and Nikon=cool/flatter consistent across our photography. So, what do you think? Is Darwin really a warm/contrasty photographer or is he just following the lead of the Canon files? Do I really favour moody, flatter scenes or just suffer from lack of artistic vision to deviate from the raw file? Have you ever noticed a consistent ‘look’ to your camera’s files even on automatic settings?