I recently wrote about how to move the excellent photos from the Google Pixel phone Camera app into a desktop Lightroom workflow. I was pleased that it’s easy to tell the camera to generate DNG “RAW” files and include them in the process. But apparently, the camera’s JPGs are better and more useful than the DNGs. That’s weird.

Here’s a pair of pictures to illustrate. This morning, the cat found a sunny corner of the back porch and was squirming around out of pure joy.

Cat on the back porch (Google Pixel DNG)
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Cat on the back porch (Google Pixel JPG)

The DNG is above, the JPG below. Of course they’re both JPGs now in the blog, but both are straight out of the camera, resized and JPGized by Lightroom with no sharpening or anything. It’s not that dramatic here, but flipping back and forth in Lightroom, the difference isn’t subtle. The JPG has had some lens correction, the blown-out highlights have been recovered, there’s been a bit of sharpening (look at the cat’s belly hair and the broom bristles), and the color’s been tweaked — that watering-can is dead-on in the JPG but has extra yellow in the DNG.

In this CNET piece, Marc Levoy, who invented the term “computational photography”, says “The JPEGs from the Pixel camera may actually be more detailed than the DNGs in some cases” and yeah, no kidding. In fact — and this puzzles me — the JPG is 4032x3024 in pixels while the DNG is 4016x3008, which is to say it’s 112K bigger. But I don’t think that’s what Levoy meant.

Also: “Our philosophy with raw is that there should be zero compromise,” Levoy said. “We run Super Res Zoom and HDR+ on these raw files. There is an incredible amount of dynamic range.” That doesn’t match my experience, but then he was talking about the Pixel 3 and I still have a 2. Also, Stephen Shankland said: “I rather like Google’s computational DNGs from Pixel 3. They HDR-ize the raw input to create the DNG. It’s not perfect but I find it darned useful. (I also generally like the Pixel camera app’s JPEGs, though they can look overprocessed to my eye.)” So I look forward to giving Pixel 3 (or 4) DNGs a try.

Why do you want DNG anyhow? · Photographers like RAW versions of photos because they’re more editable. One of the most common editing modes is rescuing lost data from highlights or dark areas that look blown-out or dimmed-out in the original — you hear people saying that a good camera RAW is “deep”, and that’s certainly true of the files from the Fujifilm X-cameras.

Consider these three pictures. Once again, the first is the DNG, the second the JPG, and in the third, I decided to see if I could recover image in the dark area behind the hydrangea blossoms. (Not a thing I’d normally do on this shot, I like the dark framing.)

Hydrangea (Google Pixel DNG)
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Hydrangea (Google Pixel JPG)
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Hydrangea (Google Pixel JPG, edited)

I think the results speak for themselves. There’s a lot of useful data in this JPG.

Which raises one more question: By aggressively digging in with Lightroom, could I replicate what the Google camera software did, or maybe even improve on it? So I tried that, and there was progress but at no point did I think I was really replicating that tasty JPG, and I got bored trying.

So for now I think I’m going to turn off the DNG capture on the camera app. Sshhh, don’t tell any Real Photographers.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Jon Ellis (Jul 28 2019, at 03:49)

in my experience (with iPhone) you can reproduce the "look" by:

- increasing local contrast (clarity) +15

- increasing the vibrance by +10

- increasing the sharpening, to around ~50 - 75

- hitting J and bumping the shadow area / pulling the highlight and whites

however, if you do that to everything you process it starts to look hyperreal and unnatural. that might well be a personal preference / aesthetics thing...


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