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Watch the Histogram!

The histogram display is one of Camera Raw’s most useful but often most-overlooked features. Throughout this chapter, I’ve emphasized the usefulness of the histogram as a tool for analyzing the image, and especially for judging clipping. But the histogram in Camera Raw differs from the histograms you see on-camera in an important way.

Camera Raw’s histogram is more trustworthy than the histograms that cameras display—they show the histogram of the JPEG you’d get if you shot JPEG at the current camera settings rather than raw. As a result, they’re useful as a rough guide to exposure, but not much more. The same applies to the overexposure warnings offered by most cameras—they’re usually quite conservative. Camera vendors tend to apply a fairly strong default tone curve to the default, in-camera raw-to-JPEG conversion, perhaps in an effort to produce a default result that more closely resembles transparency film, so the histogram and exposure warning derived from the JPEG very often are not an accurate reflection of the raw capture.


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