The X-Pro1: Jpegs, Blast from the Past or Way to the Future?

Continuing the blog serialisation of my popular X-Pro1 lust/hate/love story:

Part Ten: The X-Pro1: Jpegs, Blast from the Past or Way to the Future…?

You don’t have to try very hard to find an article on the internet praising Fujifilm’s jpeg engine, (and a few here and there that don’t…)

These articles are 10 a penny (spoiler: about to be 11 a penny!) it seems that so many people are delighted and enamoured with what you get ‘Straight Out Of Camera’ (SOOC) with a Fuji X camera that some even feel that shooting raw is redundant.

There was (and perhaps still is) a snobbery about shooting raw… that somehow if you didn’t shoot raw then you were denying yourself the very best image quality possible, and that your shots were in some way worthless.

This is clearly a big crock of crap, if a camera derived jpeg does the job, then job done in my book. But the naysayers, a minority though they may be, cite a rather narrow minded approach in my opinion… (YMMV)

Some describe the various Fujifilm film simulations as a bit tacky.. personally I wonder if these are the very same people that once they’ve finished with their raw editing immediately fire up something like VSCO or DXO film pre-sets, so that they can add back in the (Fujifilm??) colours that they so callously discarded with their SOOC jpegs?!

But I digress, besides – there is no right or wrong, only what works for you, which will probably change over time, and certainly will change depending upon application. One size doesn’t fit either everyone or everything.

But are the Fuji X camera jpegs really that good, and should you really switch off RAW capture completely?

Well the X-Pro1 is a pretty slow camera, you’ll be most reminded of this when the camera is writing a lot of data to the SD card, the (comically oversized, it has to be said) data light will illuminate red for what seems like an age if you ask the X-Pro1 to commit a chunk of data to the card.

So immediately we can see a benefit to turning raw off on the X-Pro1, data transfer sizes are substantially reduced when raw is removed from the equation, having the net result of a speedier camera.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here… is it really the end of the world that the “little” (sic) data light stays on a while? I mean other than preventing you going into playback mode, the camera still works, still takes more shots, still lets you change menu parameters.

But even if you’re a die hard jpeg shooter, there’s plenty of good reasons to still shoot RAW + Jpeg Fine (in large size)

The first is that rather than rely on either RAW or Jpeg, why not have both? If you feel the need to process the raw, then there it is, if the jpeg is bang on the money then you’ve got that too!

One of the advantages of shooting raw is that you have far more raw (hence the name!) data to play with, need to recover some highlights or some shadows? Perhaps you want to apply a grad filter or clone away a errant frame intrusion? Or crop or straighten? Although these things can all be done with Jpeg, the extra data contained within a raw file will greatly facilitate you to make big changes to your final image.

And PERSONALLY I think this is where the RAW diehards stop thinking it through, and you can’t really fault the logic, RAW offers the most scope to change your image after the fact, so why go with the format that doesn’t offer the same benefits?

Unfaultable really.

Except that, the raw is just that. Raw. Binary. 1s and 0s. By the time you’ve loaded it into your image manipulation software of choice it has already been through a demosaicing process, whereby the 1s and 0s have been decoded and an image extrapolated.

The various bits of software we have available for this task, perform their demosaicing differently to one another. That’s why the photography forums ring to the clackety-clack of keyboards typing out the inevitable ‘my raw convertor’s the best in the yard – I’d show you how but I’d have to charge’ narrative that seems to follow Fujifilm’s centre left X-Trans sensor solution where ever it goes!

But let’s take a step back from the 400% view for a moment and actually think this through a little… So RAW’s best, except that the actual tools available to use it vary, and no one can agree on exactly what the best one is… OK…

Then of course we have the complication of actually being able to process the RAW file competently, the Jpeg out of the camera is also derived from RAW, but instead of using *insert RAW convertor software name here* the camera has used it’s own software to create the image. Y’know? The software made by the people that made the camera, and in the case of Fujifilm, the people who made their name in the industry by making film, (not cameras) is it at all conceivable that Fujifilm might know a thing or two about how an image should be processed?

I think it is.

The other downside to RAW is that even after demosaicing, it’s not done! It’s only getting started, first you have to work on it to make at least as good as the SOOC jpeg, then if your Post Processing (PP) skills allow, you need to work a bit more to make it even better!

Another point worth mentioning, is that if RAW offers the best scope for recovering/repairing and enhancing the image, then is RAW still needed if all of these things were done adequately when you pressed the shutter?

I’d suggest not.

But are you ready? Do you feel comfortable with forsaking the safety net of raw and trusting entirely in your ability to always capture the perfect exposure in the camera?

No, me neither!!

But your Fuji camera offers the ability to create Jpegs from RAW within the camera itself. You can have your cake and eat it!

Instead of summarily dismissing Jpegs as waste of space, in conjuncture with the in camera RAW processing, your camera actually offers you 3 ways to process the shot you want

1)SOOC Jpeg
2)SOOC Jpeg created via the in camera RAW convertor
4)A file created externally from the camera, in an aftermarket RAW convertor

Which do I use? Well I use a combination of all 3! Why would I want to truncate my potential output by dismissing any of the available options?

In case you’re wondering – more often or not I process RAW externally. But I regularly use the SOOC Jpegs, I sometimes PP SOOC jpegs to preserve the way Fuji made them. But I do like to work with RAW.

Yes I know, I know – I just wrote all that stuff above… But the point of the above is that you shouldn’t just accept that XYZ is better than ABC, you should see what works for you, and you may very well find that a combination of the 3 choices available works for you too.

Next time we’ll take a look at the DR expansion modes, their relationship to ISO, what they do and how they work. It might just change your opinion on whether to use them or not…

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