The X-Pro1: Understanding the Jpeg Tone Curves

Last time we took at look at the dynamic range function (DR) and why I PERSONALLY don’t feel you should use it, if you shoot RAW at ISOs of less than 1600. If you want to maximise your image quality from RAW, then giving away up to two stops of dynamic range can (in some situations) work against you.

But I also, on the page looking at Jpeg and RAW, suggest that if you want to shoot Jpegs, then “don’t let the RAW snobs grind you down”. In that article I listed the 3 options that you have to create final images from your camera, namely:

1)SOOC Jpeg (including using the camera’s in-built RAW convertor)
2)SOOC Jpeg edited externally
3)RAW file edited externally

I use all 3 of the above. Personally, 99 times out of 100 I use RAW edited externally, but the SOOC Jpegs are not without charm or usefulness.

So, this presents us with a slight conundrum.. We don’t want to potentially sacrifice RAW data (by using DR expansion), but equally, we don’t want to make a bad Jpeg – in case that’s the file we end up using.

And of course, we don’t always know which file we might use at the time of image capture!

So we need to keep our options open. We need to have a way of maximising the DR of our Jpegs, but not at the expense of RAW data.

Don’t fret!! Fujifilm have got you covered!

Your Fujifilm X camera, has the ability to customise it’s default tone curves, in a way that doesn’t effect the RAW file.

The settings that you’ll need to adjust are called

Highlight Tone
Shadow Tone

They’re available in the Q menu as well as the full menu.

If you shoot Jpeg + RAW (as I thoroughly recommend) you can change these settings after the shoot, by performing in camera RAW conversions. In fact that’s exactly how I made the images below!

I often see people post about these settings, on the various Fuji X Forums. But not everyone seems to understand what they do…

In short:

Highlight Tone
INCREASING this value (eg +1 or +2) BRIGHTENS the highlights, and loses detail in bright areas
DECREASING this value (eg -1 or -2) DARKENS the highlights, and retains detail in bright areas

Shadow Tone
INCREASING this value (eg +1 or +2) DARKENS the shadows, and loses detail in dark areas
DECREASING this value (eg -1 or -2) BRIGHTENS the shadows, and retains detail in dark areas

Now, you may read that and think ‘well no brainer; -2 on both, max detail all round’ which while technically accurate, can lead to very flat looking image (because the overall contrast would be lowered)

Let’s take a look at some examples:

All shot with the STD (Provia) colour palette, with Sharpness and Noise Reduction and Colour set to zero (default)
 

First up; the highlight tone curve

#1 Highlight Tone set to the hardest setting (+2) Pay attention to the detail in the curtain and the bright part of the black couch

 
#2 Highlight Tone set to the hard setting (+1) Pay attention to the detail in the curtain and the bright part of the black couch

 
#3 The standard shot (+0)

 
#4 Highlight Tone set to the soft setting (-1) Pay attention to the detail in the curtain and the bright part of the black couch

 
#5 Highlight Tone set to the softest setting (-2) Pay attention to the detail in the curtain and the bright part of the black couch

 

To really bring home the point; let’s see the hardest and softest settings side by side. Remember, the ONLY change between these shots (which were developed in camera from the same RAW file) is the in-built highlight profile,

Hardest setting +2

Softest setting -2

Second up; the shadow tone curve

#6 Shadow Tone set to the hardest setting (+2) Pay attention to the detail in the coloured cushion and green blanket

 
#7 Shadow Tone set to the hard setting (+1) Pay attention to the detail in the coloured cushion and green blanket

 
#8 The standard shot (+0)

 
#9 Shadow Tone set to the soft setting (-1) Pay attention to the detail in the coloured cushion and green blanket

 
#10 Shadow Tone set to the softest setting (-2) Pay attention to the detail in the coloured cushion and green blanket

 

And again, let’s compare the hardest and softest settings:

Hardest setting +2

Softest setting -2

But it’s not just the highlight and shadow settings that change the tone curves, the inbuilt film simulation profiles also do too.

These next 3 shots are taken with everything set to zero. But with different simulations applied.

#11 Astia

 
#12 Pro Neg High

 
#13 Pro Neg Soft

 

OK, so the colours vary, because we’re using different film simulations, but pay attention to how the in-built tone curve of each simulation also varies. In these examples you can see that Astia and Pro Neg High have very similar tone curve, but Pro Neg Soft has more open shadows

Rather than the colour, you MIGHT find that you select your base film simulation on tone curve, rather than colour (colour is quite easy to tweak in PP, even on a jpeg)

And finally:

#14 Pro Neg Soft: Highlight set to -2 and Shadow set to +1

 
Compare this shot with the standard Pro Neg Soft shot above. Notice how by changing the tone curves, we’ve also changed the appearance of colour. Tone curves not only affect contrast, they also have a impact on colour. I personally really like the Pro Neg Soft simulation. But here we can see how changing the tone curve, changes the overall look of the shot.

You can experiment to your heart’s content, to find what works best for YOU.

And best of all… Your RAW file remains completely vanilla and unaffected by any of these changes.

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2 thoughts on “The X-Pro1: Understanding the Jpeg Tone Curves”

  1. “Shadow Tone
    INCREASING this value (eg +1 or +2) DARKENS the shadows, and loses detail in dark areas”. I tried increasing the Shadow tone but the dark parts (shadows) became bright and I can even see details I haven’t seen when it was zero. Decreasing the value to lowest made the image very dark that I lose some details on the dark side when it was zero.

    Like

    1. If you increase the shadow tone value, the shadow tones become darker.

      But other parameters such as exposure and film simulation also affect the overall tonality of the image

      Like

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