Your jpegs are fully processed in-camera e.g. using your chosen picture style, saturation and sharpness settings etc.
Your raw images get the Adobe default settings, but this is meant to be a starting point. If you fine tune the sliders you can save the settings that look good as a preset. You can then apply that preset to all future raw imports automatically as you import.
I think quite a few of us who first moved from jpeg to raw found the initial results less than pleasing, but with experience we found that raw files have a greater dynamic range to play with.
To phrase what 99jon said in my own words ... unedited RAWs usually don't look good next to the corresponding JPG. Properly edited RAWs usually are superior to the corresponding JPG.
Yes, I agree with 99jon, it takes time and effort, but it is worth it.
I appreciate it! So, that makes a lot more sense. They are more "raw" and require some work. Since I am new to Lightroom (and I do miss my darkroom ) would you be able to say in general that there is one or two good places to start on getting the RAW images in the ball park? Something you always do with them? I know I am going to need a lot more time to play with it to get things right. If I can first get a RAW image to look just like it's corresponding JPG then I'll have a better understanding of what changes when a JPG is created in my camera.
I can't specifically tell you what YOUR photos need, but MY photos almost always need more contrast and more vibrance and more clarity.
I can also tell you that the primary difference you will see between properly edited RAW and JPG is that the highlights and shadow areas will have more detail in the RAWs.
If I can first get a RAW image to look just like it's corresponding JPG then I'll have a better understanding of what changes when a JPG is created in my camera.
A lot of people say this, and I always jump in and try to talk them out of this mindset. The RAW can look superior to the JPG. You gain nothing by working to trying to emulate the JPG. My process is:
RAW->Final product (which is superior to the JPG)
What you have described is more work and an extra step, and the extra step to me adds no value:
RAW->JPG appearance->Final product (which is superior to the JPG)
You may find one of the Camera Style profiles works better for you than Adobe Standard. Regardless of the camera profile you should be able to get better results with raw files. There are plenty of learning resources available on the Adobe site and the Web:
The main “quality” thing you’ll probably see different your camera’s raw conversion (to JPGs) and Adobe’s is that there is no default luminance noise-reduction so there will be grain you can see and that the sharpening is more subtle.
You can adjust both the noise-reduction and sharpening to taste, just don’t overdo it. When I look at a camera JPG I typically see too much noise reduction which has removed too much fine detail, and sharpening halos along edges, both of which I dislike, now that I’ve worked with raws for so long.
Here is the first part of a three-part tutorial about the three types of sharpening, capture, creative, output, that you can do to raw files in Lightroom. The links to the other two parts are at the bottom of part one:
You should also be doing your capture and creative sharpening with the zoom set to 100% or 1:1. The resampling algorithim used to show smaller-than-100%-zoom views in Lightroom Develop will give inaccurate sharpening preview results, so what you think you’re doing will be different than what is actually visible in the output you produce with LR, unless you use 1:1.
and I do miss my darkroom
A raw file is in many ways similar to a film negative. It needs to be interpreted, and contains a lot of information that may not be immediately visible. So when you see the image for the first time in LR, it's a bit like the first print you make from a new negative in the darkroom.
Start out by adjusting exposure and contrast, then setting white and black points with the Whites and Blacks sliders. Similar to dodging and burning, you can recover blown highlights with the Highlights slider, and reveal shadow detail with the Shadows slider. The latter may also reveal noise.
I suggest that you do some experimentation, and come back here if you have questions.
Hopefully, you'll find (like me) that you can do everything you could do in the darkroom, and more.
I've found that my digital prints are far superior to anything I've done in the darkroom, and there are things you can do with a raw file that are just impossible to do in the darkroom.