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A RAW Look at iPhoto 5
Pages: 1, 2

RAW Files

One of the most common complaints I've heard about iPhoto 4 from advanced photographers is its lack of support for RAW files. Apple must have been listening in on the conversation. iPhoto 5 supports RAW files from selected Canon, Konica Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, and Sony digital cameras. I'm sure the list will grow as time goes on. You can view the specific models on Apple's web page. If your particular model isn't listed, don't despair. If it is relatively current, chances are good that iPhoto will recognize its RAW files. But test before you buy.

As you would guess, importing RAW files takes longer than importing JPEGs. I suspect part of the reason for this is that iPhoto builds a JPEG preview of each RAW file on the fly so you can still watch your pictures as they travel from the memory card to your Mac.

After the RAW data has been imported into iPhoto 5, you actually work on a JPEG that's generated from the RAW data. This makes sense to some degree, because you want to be able to work with the pictures as easily as possible.

To test iPhoto's handling of RAW, I imported a dozen .crw files from a Canon 10D camera. The images were shot under tungsten light with auto white balance. As you would expect, the initial preview generated by iPhoto was overly warm in tone.

Here is the unretouched picture captured under tungsten light in RAW mode.

I then used iPhoto 5's Advanced Editing Dashboard to try to correct the color temperature. After some fiddling, I improved the image as shown below. I didn't get the whites as clean as I wanted, and I had trouble holding the neutral dark gray background as I adjusted the whites, so this is my best compromise.

I used iPhoto 5's Advanced Editing Dashboard to improve the color temperature of my original image.

I then wanted to use the Camera RAW function in Photoshop Elements 3 for the same image. I selected Photoshop as my optional image editor in iPhoto 5's preferences. Then, when I double-clicked on the image in iPhoto, Elements did open it, but it opened the JPEG that iPhoto had generated, not the original .crw file as I had hoped.

I contemplated a workaround for this. What I wanted to do was manipulate the original RAW data captured by the 10D, not the JPEG image that iPhoto had generated from the RAW data. I remembered the "Original" option in the Export function from previous iPhotos, and how it never seemed very useful to me. Well, it is now!

When I selected Original under Export, iPhoto 5 exported the .crw file to my chosen destination. When I opened that file in Photoshop Elements, I was greeted with Camera RAW. Woohoo!

I made my adjustments in Camera RAW and was able to produce a cleaner image than I had using the Advanced Editing Dashboard in iPhoto 5, as shown below.

When I opened the same original file in Camera RAW, I had a much easier time correcting the color temperature and exposure than I had in iPhoto 5.

Clearly, I have lots more exploration to do with RAW files in iPhoto 5. But my initial thoughts are as follows:

  • iPhoto 5 can store original RAW data. We now have a much needed digital shoebox for those files.

  • iPhoto generates a JPEG from the RAW data. This is convenient, but it seems to limit your ability to manipulate the file from within iPhoto 5. There's more to learn here, such as is it true that iPhoto 5 actually regenerates a new JPEG from the RAW data every time you edit the file? I've heard that it does, but I haven't been able to verify it one way or another.

  • To work on a RAW file that's been imported to iPhoto 5 with a different image editor, such as Elements 3, use iPhoto's Export command and select Original as the format. That way you'll export the RAW file and not iPhoto's generated JPEG from it.

  • If you double-click on an imported RAW file in iPhoto to work on it in an external image editor, you'll actually be working on the JPEG generated by iPhoto, not on the original RAW data. Use the Export command instead, as explained above.

  • Adobe's Camera RAW provides better editing of RAW files (that I tested) than does iPhoto 5.

  • iPhoto 5's editing tools will probably suffice for quick editing of RAW files as long as the lighting or exposure isn't too tricky.

The bottom line is that iPhoto has made a huge step forward toward handling RAW data in the same environment that you use to store and organize your pictures. Its editing tools for these files fall short of those included in Photoshop Elements 3 or Photoshop CS. But then again, iPhoto does not claim to be as powerful at editing as is Photoshop. I'm sure we'll see enhancements to handling RAW files in iPhoto during the coming months. For now, we're off to a good start.

QuickTime Movies

As I mentioned at the top of the article, iPhoto 5 lets you import and organize the video you record with your digital camera. In the case of my Canon S400, these are .avi files. I should mention that Steve Jobs said MPEG-4 in his talk, and the same information is listed on the iPhoto 5 site. But it appears that iPhoto 5 can handle just about any movie file created with a digital camera.

This is a great convenience. Now I can keep my short video snippets organized along with my .jpg and .crw files. But for the moment, the good news ends there. If you click on the Edit button or double-click on the movie file, iPhoto 5 launches QuickTime Player, which is what I expected.

What I didn't expect was that if I altered the movie in QuickTime Player, such as trim off some bad footage, and then choose Save, QuickTime asks me where I want to save the edited movie file. In other words, the edited movie does not go back into iPhoto 5 like the still images do.

This needs to be corrected if iPhoto is going to strive to be our digital shoebox for video clips as well as for still images, and I suspect it will be corrected in future releases.

For now, iPhoto is great for storing your original snippets, but if you want to edit them, you have to save them outside iPhoto, and then reimport the files.

Final Thoughts

There's much more I could write about iPhoto 5. This version represents a terrific effort by the entire iPhoto team at Apple. For example, they totally rewrote the engine that iPhoto uses to lay out the variety of custom books we can now create and purchase using our very own images. This function works much better in version 5 than it did in version 4.

Other enhancements include a robust search engine similar to what we've been enjoying in iTunes, and the addition of "objects" for our slideshow and book projects. These objects allow us to create separate environments for those outputs enabling us to manipulate the images without affecting the pictures in the master library. Very clever. And the slideshow tool has undergone many improvements making it much easier to create dynamic presentations from our still images.

But I'm going to save those discussions for future articles and for the next edition of iPhoto: The Missing Manual. In this article, I wanted to get your feet wet with what I consider some of the most important aspects of version 5.

Bottom line, existing iPhoto users should be thrilled with this overhaul, and I suspect we'll see many converts too. After spending just a little time with it, I'm already hooked. iPhoto 5 is fun to use, and it shows great promise for improvements up the road.

So back up your existing libraries and give it a spin. Let us know what you think in the TalkBacks below.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit

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