BOOK REVIEW: Two Books On Camera Raw

The books I’ll review are Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS3 by the late Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe, and Photoshop CS3 RAW by Mikkel Aaland. The Real World series has been around for a few years and are highly regarded, and Bruce and Jeff are widely known as digital photography experts and helped Adobe develop Camera Raw. Some of the features you’ll find in Camera Raw are a result of Bruce’s and Jeff’s work. I hadn’t heard of Mikkel before reviewing this book, but I’ve learned he is also a prolific author (11 books) and has done some great photography work over the course of his career, almost 30 years of work. What I’ll do in this review is look at both books separately and then compare and contrast the two. Each book tackles the subject in a slightly different way, and depending on your work and goals one or the other (or both) may suit you.

About Real World Camera Raw

Real World Camera Raw

This book is an excellent resource for Camera Raw. Like Martin Evening’s book on Photoshop Lightroom, this one has an intimate knowledge of Camera Raw because the authors helped create it. The first three chapters are all about how Camera Raw processes images “under the hood,” and if you enjoy learning about the nuts and bolts of your software and want to know what Camera Raw is doing to the camera data, this book is for you. It’s not overly technical either—the writing is very accessible, even when discussing topics like linear capture and color space conversions. Subsequent chapters touch upon essential topics such as Camera Raw controls, Adobe Bridge, digital photography workflow, metadata, automation and more. My favorite chapter is the fifth, “Hands-On Camera Raw,” which walks through the Camera Raw processing of a variety of images. The process is clearly outlined and explained, and the reasons for making each move help readers apply the knowledge to their own work. The subtitle of this book is “Industrial-Strength Production Techniques,” and I’ve seen a few books that strive to truly teach production but end up simply showing knowledge (settings, features, tools and buttons) without explaining how to use them in one’s daily work. This book gets it right.

About Photoshop CS3 RAW

Photoshop CS3 Raw

This book’s focus is on how to get Raw images from the camera to the archive in the best possible way. After the obligatory chapter on what Raw is and the advantages of using it, Mikkel moves on to the standardized workflow process and covers everything from downloading (using Adobe’s Photo Downloader) to editing (first in Bridge, and then in Camera Raw) and then some production such as contact sheets, packages and web galleries—all within Bridge, using the Tools –> Photoshop menu, except for a few techniques in Photoshop CS3. The process is easy to understand and there’s plenty of step-by-step instructions to walk you through the process yourself. The text is well-written and the step-by-step instructions are easy to follow, so it’s ideal for those who like to follow the instructions and watch the finished image emerge. I’d also say that I think Photoshop CS3 RAW is focused on the art of digital photography and how Raw can help in this regard. It’s hard to find a specific example, but it does say it right on the cover (“Transform your RAW images into works of art”) and the photography selected for the book feels very artistic and expressive.

Which one is for you?

If you are an expert user and passionate about Camera Raw, I recommend Real World Camera Raw. You can’t go wrong with a book written by two people who helped create Camera Raw in the first place. Moreover, you won’t find many simple step-by-step instructions: even in the hands-on section, you’ll need to read through the text and absorb what is being done and the thought processes behind the actions. It’s not to say that there’s no processes being discussed, it’s just that they aren’t laid out in a “1-2-3″ fashion like with Photoshop CS3 RAW. Ultimately, however, I think you will get more out of Real World Camera Raw than Photoshop CS3 RAW. Photoshop CS3 RAW follows a book design pattern that’s pretty common in Photoshop books nowadays: text in the sidebars, big images in the center. It looks good and I think it reads well, but you won’t have as much material to read through and to me it feels like there’s less knowledge to be gained. But if you are new to Camera Raw, or want a general book that’s easy to peruse and learn from, Photoshop CS3 RAW will serve you very well.

What I don’t like

In my opinion, a glaring omission of both books is the absence of Photoshop Lightroom: neither book mentions the application, let alone describe and display its unique interface. The Camera Raw engine is the same, whether you’re using Photoshop, Bridge or Lightroom, but at least a little coverage would have been helpful. Other than that there’s not much I can say about Real World Camera Raw: it has an excellent balance of image and text and most topics are covered with enough depth to get readers thinking about how they can apply the knowledge to their own production. If not for the omission of Lightroom, this book would get a perfect rating. Photoshop CS3 RAW is less complete: it covers less material, and what it does cover seems to be a little less deep than Real World Camera Raw. If you already use Camera Raw extensively, you may not learn much more from this book—that’s why I recommend it as a primer for those starting to use Camera Raw. One thing I do like about Photoshop CS3 RAW is its coverage of some basic digital camera settings that help users get the best exposures from their camera. Some people may be tempted not to worry about capturing good exposures, thinking Camera Raw can fix anything, but that’s not the case. To be fair, Real World Camera Raw also touches upon the importance of getting good shots from the beginning.

Conclusion

It was hard for me not to jump to the conclusion that Real World Camera Raw was superior to Photoshop CS3 RAW—after all, the book was written by two luminaries of the industry who helped shape Camera Raw. I do think that Real World Camera Raw is the better of the two books, but Photoshop CS3 RAW has its place as an extensive primer on Camera Raw and a good resource for those building their digital photography workflow from the ground up. Real World Camera Raw can help you do the same thing, but it has the added bonus of in-depth knowledge on the underpinnings of Camera Raw and some advanced techniques like automation, metadata and advanced workflow.

Real World Camera Raw
Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe
Rating: 9/10
Published by Peachpit Press
$44.99

Photoshop CS3 RAW
Mikkel Aaland
Rating: 8/10
Published by O’Reilly
$34.99