JPEG?! Are you kidding me! Maybe. Definitely yes.
If there is one word that you don’t want to use while talking to a typical “pro,” it would be JPEG. However, if you were foolish enough to make such a grievous mistake you would notice typical symptoms: sudden mood change, eye rolling and dismissal, quickly followed by an extensive and in-depth lecture about the superiority of RAW over JPEGs. Once it starts, forget about winning. The best way to come out of such a hostile situation is to surrender and retreat. Believe me, there is no other way out!
And believe me I know what I am talking about – I used to give such lectures (yes – including eye rolling)!
My switch to digital photography wasn’t easy. I have always had a very special relationship with film. Its physical presence, slowness and limitations made me a better photographer. However, when the time arrived I succumbed to the digital world with a certain thrill of anticipation.
Initially, I started shooting JPEGs since it made the most sense to me. While fiddling with settings it felt close to shooting different types of film. However, with time I noticed its limitations. Other photographers’ images appear to be sharper, perfectly exposed, and flawless. “Wow, what brilliant people,” I thought. That led to the RAW format and all the advantages and disadvantages it brought. As usual with digital photography, my first impression was sensational. I couldn’t believe what I could do with the files. Since then I have been shooting RAW exclusively. During this period I was working with Nikon and Canon gear and each time I looked at my JPEGs and compared them with the processed files, I praised the superiority of the latter.
With time, I found the nearly limitless possibilities became a trap. I spent more and more time in front of the computer and less time taking photographs. My hard drive had all the possible programs and plug-ins you could get. In time, I got pretty good but sitting down for a few hours just to process images from multiple events became quite a daunting task.
Then, the Fuji X-series entered my world. I proceeded as usual. By accident I covered one event by shooting just JPEGs so there were no RAW files to process. My first reaction was panic, followed by a careful examination of the JPEG files. Not bad, I thought. Then I started photographing events in both formats to compare. To my surprise some carefully executed JPEGs were equal or even superior to the RAW files in one aspect in particular – skin tones. I have never seen anything like this while shooting with Canon or Nikon (although Olympus was pretty close).
The Fuji has had a long history of brilliant rendition of skin tones, which goes back to their expertise in film. Then the series of Fuji digital cameras, S2 and S3, despite their quirks, were very popular with wedding photographers for their rendition of skin tones.
This experience led to today’s X-series Fuji line of cameras. I will not deny that there have been some issues with the processing of the X-Trans sensor files (mostly resolved now) but I found the in-camera JPEG engine produces the best JPEGs I have ever seen from any camera manufacturer. The skin tones, in particular, are truly stunning. On many occasions I tried to replicate the same look while processing RAW files, with mixed results. Sure, something similar could be achieved but it took a huge amount of time. Why spend hours in front of a computer just to get something similar to what you can get straight from the camera?
Keep in mind that shooting JPEGs comes with a proviso – you must pay attention to the light and exposure. I noticed my finger works really hard with the dials to get the exposure perfect because JPEGs don’t hold as much information as the RAW files. One way to help yourself is to turn on the Auto DR function on your camera – it works great!
For the last few months while photographing people we have been shooting exclusively JPEGs and the results are astounding (including 12 x 18 prints). (All of the above relates to photographing people. While shooting landscapes we still process RAW files for the best results).
Below you will find images shot at different events, all JPEGs straight from the camera; Provia (STD), sharpening +1 (+2 also looks great), most of the time Auto DR. Usually I only adjust the white balance and on a few occasions exposure (yes, there is some room there) in Lightroom 4.
See for yourself.
Look at the kids’ skin tones – just beautiful.
Here are some adults. Look at the first photo of the man. It would be extremely hard to reproduce such tones just using software.
Again, superb skin tones.
Recently Kasia and I photographed a wedding with the Fuji X100s and Fuji X-Pro1 paired with the latest XF 55-200 OIS lens. Again, JPEGs turned out really well with just the right skin tones.
How about some concert shots?
The last two photos are also JPEGs from the X100s, Velvia film. RAW is not the only option!
© Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.