Just a quick couple of questions:
That was four, by my count...
Is any noise reduction at all applied to RAW files in-camera e.g. at a lower level than or in a different way to in-camera jpegs?
Not by Canon, AFAIK. There is circuitry that's designed to generate less noise (and this is one thing that Canon has stated as am improvement in the 5DIII and 1D X), but that's not the same as noise reduction. Some Nikon cameras to apply NR to the RAW file before it's written.
Can you suggest the best alternative to "standard" picture style for general shooting (i.e. when shooting jpeg/ RAW+jpeg)?
Depends on your use for the jpg file, I think. If you are going to use jpgs as final images, pick the Picture Style that you prefer. Personally, I just shoot RAW only and convert later, and in that case Neutral or Faithful would be the best representation of the unprocessed RAW file. Some people claim that if you shoot in RAW, the Picture Style is irrelevant. I would argue that's incorrect - while the picture style doesn't affect the RAW image data, it is applied to the in-camera jpg conversion that's used as the preview image embedded in the RAW file, and that same preview image is also used for the post-shot review (blinking highlights) and the histogram - therefore, even though the picture style doesn't affect the RAW image data, it may affect the exposure settings you choose (i.e. you may take a shot, then decide to reduce the exposure on the next shot based on the histogram, but that histogram may be right-shifted by the saturation settings in the picture style).
In tab 3 of the shooting menu, third item down is "High ISO speed NR", By default this is set to "standard" on my camera. The other options are "low", "high" or "off" and the help note at the bottom of the screen reads "Reduce image noise. Especially effective at high ISO speeds." This implies that the noise reduction is set for all ISO speeds, just has a more noticeable effect at higher ISO speeds. If NR really is the 'problem' has anyone experimented with e.g. turning it off and then processing the jpegs using third party NR software?
That setting applies only to the in-camera jpg image, and yes, there is NR applied at all ISO settings, and the degree of NR applied increases with increasing ISO.
Finally, I noticed that in tab 1 of the shooting menu, lens aberration correction (peripheral illumination and chromatic aberration) is enabled by default, at least with the 24-105 kit lens. On tab 2 of the shooting menu, "auto lighting optimiser" is also set to "standard" by default. I'm guessing that any one of these in-camera corrections could potentially have an effect on sharpness?
To some extend, yes. Vignetting correction and ALO affect exposure, and that affects noise, which affects perceived sharpness (and real sharpness if the jpg engine then applies NR to compensate for the increased noise that comes from pushing exposure). CA correction would actually increase perceived sharpness.
Again, as good as the Digic processor is at jpg conversions, keep in mind that your computer will be much better, especially once the better RAW converters (DxO, ACR) will handle the files. Plus, any changes to WB or exposure of a jpg file have IQ penalties that are reduced or absent when the RAW file is manipulated. Bottom line, shoot RAW and convert later, unless you have an absolute need for immediately
usable files (journalism), or your shooting requires the deeper buffer (nearly unlimited) that you get when shooting only jpg.
I would really recommend against shooting RAW+JPG unless you need the jpg files immediately. Many people go through a similar progression:
- get a dSLR, shoot jpg because that's easy and it's what they're used to
- realize the benefits of shooting RAW, and start shooting RAW+JPG, editing the RAW files for 'special' images and just keeping the JPGs for the rest
- find themselves wanting to go back and modify a 'non-special' image for which they only have the JPG file, and smacking themselves in the head for not saving the RAW file
- switch to shooting RAW only
I'd say, skip steps 2 and 3, especially the smacking yourself in the head part, and go straight to RAW only.
I was not expecting the mkIII to be sharper - good point - but I did not expect it to be less sharp as well...
I really hope this is due to the RAW converters, but I am starting to doubt it. SO many of us experience the same things...makes me wonder.
I would not expect it to be less sharp, and indeed, the RAW converter(s) may be to blame. If so, that's an easy fix. But I think I saw you write that you didn't do an AFMA, and in that case, if you were relying on phase detect AF for shots used to judge sharpness, that may be the issue. I suspect that's the case for many people with 'soft' images.