Back in love with JPEGs?

I have never made any public comment on the RAW vs JPEG debate mainly because like most such “discussions” they are rarely constructive and simply become another forum for the antagonistically inclined to vent their one-sided, narrow-minded views without engaging brain or debating anything (Canon vs Nikon is another “discussion” I avoid, to the extent of leaving groups where such topics are a regular ingredient).  The other reason I’ve not bothered to comment is because I don’t think it matters whether you use one or the other; we are not talking life or death or even a “lifestyle” choice after all. Oh, and don’t try to tell me it’s just blokey banter as we all know that to the antagonists it is an article of faith … but I’m getting up on my soap box now!

As any of my photographer friends who know me well will know however I have shot RAW almost exclusively for a long, long time now. I simply like having the control and making the main decisions myself despite the attendant downsides to RAW shooting.  It has also been my experience that the RAW file often does have a little more detail in shadow areas that can be pulled out with sympathetic post processing and on occasions this can benefit the type of landscape images that interest me considerably.  RAW files also, undeniably, take up more room on my computer, take longer to download from the cards, open slower and can take longer to process.  The latter point is arguably less of an  issue if you enjoy the post-capture creative experience. But my decision to shoot RAW rather then JPEG doesn’t mean that JPEGs are inferior, just simply that RAW fits my preferred working methods better and that decision has been made after having tried both approaches, having carefully evaluated the experience and considered the pros and cons of each.

(c) Dave Whenham

Classic Chrome jpeg – as shot

It’s fair to say the availability of RAW is a major factor in any purchasing decision that I make.  Even my wife’s camera, which she uses in auto-everything to shoot JPEGs, has the capability to shoot RAW. In fact, she doesn’t “shoot JPEGs”, she simply takes photographs – worth remembering!   In any event, I’ve not yet used a digital camera where I’ve felt a need to reevaluate this decision from my own perspective.

Until now.

I used to own the first edition Fuji X100 and whilst they have since considerably improved the camera with firmware updates (even after it was discontinued) I sold it in frustration at what could have been but wasn’t.  It was a difficult decision, in so many ways it was a joy to handle but it could be a frustration to actually use and despite its image quality (I won a club competition with an X100 image) I found myself using it less and less. When I sold all my Canon gear for the switch to Nikon I added the Fuji X100 to the list to boost the finances a little. I cried quietly inside at how little I got for it but that’s another story.

Recently I’ve been looking again at the Fuji X100, now in its third iteration as the Fuji X100T.  I initially started looking at classic film rangefinders with no intention of reentering the premium large sensor, fixed prime lens digital market.  However, wherever I looked the Fuji X100T kept cropping up in articles, blog posts and discussion groups. Which naturally meant I followed the threads and dug deeper. And deeper. And yet deeper still.

(c) Dave Whenham

Classic Chrome jpeg – as shot

Until I found myself researching the Fuji X-series of cameras in more detail particularly their X-Trans sensor. One thing that cropped up time and again was how good the JPEGs were especially given the film simulation modes that are an important part of the X package. By the time I came across this video from Lee Varis entitled “Fuji Rethink RAW” I was already well on the way to seriously considering buying the X100T having been through the whole X-series comparing and contrasting.

(c) Dave Whenham

Classic Chrome jpeg – as shot

Whilst I still spent a few days researching I can see in retrospect that it was at the conclusion of this video that I’d actually made the purchasing decision. I was just delaying to be sure it wasn’t too impulsive and that I wasn’t likely to be starting to look for a classic film rangefinder in a few months time. As many of you will know, purchasing a classic film rangefinder is not a cheap option at the moment.

(c) Dave Whenham

Classic Chrome jpeg untouched

So, the new camera is here. It’s been set-up to record both RAW and JPEG but it’s my intention at the moment to simply use the RAW files as insurance; I shall be relying on the out-of-camera JPEG. What are my initial thoughts?

(c) Dave Whenham

Velvia jpeg – untouched

 

(c) Dave Whenham

Astia preset jpeg. Cropped and -8 vignette in Lightroom

Some of the JPEGs are a little underexposed to my taste in this selection but I’ve left them untouched for the purpose of this review. Not a big deal as exposure compensation is a doddle on the camera anyway. The Velvia of Zac shot indoors is too rich for my blood but the Classic Chrome gets it just right (and was the first image I shot with the X100T).

Trying the other film simulations I have to say the Classic Chrome does appeal. I wanted to dislike it as it seems to be the subject of much hype in the Fuji community but I have to say it has a certain “something” and it is likely to be my standard setting for this camera in JPEG mode moving forward.

(c) Dave Whenham

B&W green filter jpeg as shot

I only shot a few black and white images this morning, playing with the Classic Chrome was more fun than I’d admit to I guess, and on the whole they lack contrast to my taste. That again is no issue though as the presets can be tweaked and customised to taste. Something I shall certainly be experimenting with on my next trip out with the X100T.

(c) Dave Whenham

RAW file processed in Silver Efex Pro simply, just applying one of my own presets

I did shoot RAW plus Fine JPEGs today – well a guy needs insurance! There’s a lot of talk in the Fuji forums about how poorly these X-Trans RAW files are handled by processing software. I imported via Lightroom but in the event processed the RAW file above using the Silver Efex Pro plug-in. I applied the Classic Chrome profile in Lightroom along with a -13 vignette and then simply opened it in SEFEX, applying one of my presets and exporting the resulting file.  On this limited experience I cannot make a decision regarding how well the RAW files will perform but I’m less concerned than I had been earlier today.

(c) Dave Whenham

Classic Chrome (again!)

(c) Dave Whenham

Classic Chrome. JPEG cropped and -9 vignette added in Lightroom.

So, in short I have enjoyed this first trip out with the X100T and whilst sixty frames is not enough experience on which to base a sensible review I feel that I am going to love this camera. I need to invest some time now in tweaking the monochrome JPEG presets to my taste and in setting the camera up exactly how I want it. However, I have a feeling that for a large proportion of images captured with the X100T I shall happily use the straight-from-camera JPEG.

I’ve not seen enough yet to convince me to turn of the RAW safety blanket but for the first time in a long while I have turned on the RAW plus JPEG option and I can see it staying that way with this camera for some time to come. Whether or not I eventually lose the RAW safety blanket remains to be seen but I am feeling very positive about the time-saving potentials that these Fuji JPEGs present.

 

Back in love with JPEGs? Maybe … watch this space!