Monday, September 12, 2016

Making The Case For Shooting JPEGs

Ever since I purchased a Fujifilm X-E1 camera, I've been shooting JPEGs. And I've received some criticism for that. Apparently, only amateurs shoot JPEGs. Anyone who is remotely serious shoots in RAW format.

Except for the last few months, over the last two years I've shot almost exclusively in RAW (with an occasional JPEG here and there). Even before that I used RAW format frequently. So why have I made the change?

The Fuji X-Trans cameras can produce excellent out-of-camera JPEGs. They look more like post-processed RAW files than typical camera-made JPEGs. I save so much time letting the camera do the conversion work for me, and the results are no worse for it.

When I have post-processed RAW files from my X-E1 they've never turned out much different than the JPEGs. Afterwards I thought to myself that I should've just used the JPEGs. I just have to ensure that the settings are correct in the field.

Even if I don't get the settings quite right in the field, because I shoot RAW+JPEG, Fuji gives me an opportunity to reprocess the RAW file with the settings adjusted. It's very quick to do this, and I get the camera-made JPEG that I was trying for.

There are two main reasons why people will argue that you should use RAW. One reason is if you don't get the settings right (such as white balance) you can easily fix it later. This is a lazy excuse, but, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, is no issue with the Fuji X-Trans cameras since this can also be fixed (just as long as you shoot RAW+JPEG).

The other reason is to extensively manipulate the image (since RAW is a lossless format and JPEG isn't). RAW allows you to manipulate an image to a maximum extent. Because JPEGs throw away some data that could potentially be useful, you can only manipulate it so much before it begins degrading significantly.

However, you might be able to manipulate the JPEG much more than you ever realized.

I captured an image in a harsh back-lit situation. The sun is just out-of-frame. The shadows were deep. It was about as contrasty as a scene can get with very bright highlights and very dark shadows. I adjusted the camera settings to give my JPEG a maximum dynamic range. Here's the straight-out-of-camera JPEG:
Uinta Evening (unedited out-of-camera JPEG) - Uinta Mountains, Utah
I used Nik Color Efex and a little Alien Skin Exposure X to manipulate the out-of-camera JPEG to pull out some of the shadow details (and otherwise adjust the image to my liking). I was surprised just how much was hiding there. Take a look:
Uinta Evening - Uinta Mountains, Utah
Some might ask that, since I was already post-processing the photograph with software, why not just edit the RAW exposure instead of the out-of-camera JPEG? Because it was quicker to make some simple adjustments (and, yes, they were simple adjustments) than to rebuild the photograph from scratch.

Would the results have been better if I had post-processed the RAW file instead of the JPEG? I think it would have been insignificantly better. You might see a small improvement in noise and perhaps slightly more shadow details, but to even notice you'd have to compare 100% crops side-by-side. I don't think the small gain would have justified the extra time and effort it would have taken to achieve it.

If I can get very similar results as RAW with out-of-camera JPEGs, why would I shoot RAW? It only makes sense to shoot JPEG. Or, in my case, RAW+JPEG, with the RAW file as a safety net backup. JPEGs are better than many photographers realize, and this is especially true with Fuji's X-Trans cameras. In return for shooting JPEGs I save a whole bunch of time, and time is a valuable and fleeting commodity.

No comments:

Post a Comment