raw or jpg, it’s not about quality

RAW OR JPG IS NOT ABOUT QUALITY                            in 14 pictures     (may 2016)

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autumn mountain scene (jpg)t1 DSCF3199

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Since the beginning of digital cameras, the choice between raw and jpg is mostly discussed from an image quality perspective. This was certainly true for considerable time, with the outcome that raw generally gave some better image quality at the price of larger files and more processing time. But over time things moved up.

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lady with earring (jpg)t2 DSCF6644

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With nowadays cameras I think the quality discussion is hardly worthwhile and longer. With most cameras jpg is now as good as raw. Only in dark circumstances, needing very high iso, the difference is worth to consider. Where APS-C sensors are fine until iso3200, the smaller m4/3 sensors are fine until iso1600. At lower iso every camera produces outstanding jpg quality.

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spain. siesta time (jpg)t3 DSCF7783

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netherlands. last sun rays (jpg)t3 DSCF9841

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An often mentioned reason to use jpg, is the nasty neccesity of time consuming post processing of raw. I don’t agree, while some indeed don’t like post processing, others do like it. Just as in the former analogue darkroom days it is a personal like or dislike.

But in Lightroom, which is a many photographers favourite, raw processing does not have to be time consuming. Going easy you can make every kind of immediately accessible preset, tweak every already available film simulation/colour profile you want, just like the jpg in-camera settings. In one single click the image is processed. You can further use the synchronise button to process a whole bunch of images in seconds. I feel faster in Lightroom than in jpg camera manipulating, but others may feel otherwise. Speed is not a decisive factor. An instructive article with detailed information on using Lightroom with Fuji’s (but equally helpfull for other brands) film simulation, sharpening and tweaking presets, is presented in the very nice website of FUJILOVE: http://fujilove.com/lightroom-vs-fuji/

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two harley davidsons (raw, self made preset)t4 DSCF1108

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serious motor bussiness (raw, tweaked astia soft preset)t5 DSCF5539

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Quality and speed considerations being equal, we can happily attention our focus to what matters most: trying to take nice pictures. To achieve this our attitude towards our camera is important and personal, as we use our gear in different ways. I read fellow photographers who exactly for this reason swear by jpg, using their camera as a full digital tool. Carefully choosing the jpg in-camera settings slowing you down, forcing you to think and visualise, in order to be deliberate when taking the picture. I do understand this reasoning, but for me the same principal is just working the opposite way.

Grown up with analogue cameras for 30 years, only a few basic essentials mattered: choice of film, iso, focus point, aperture and exposure. Without the nowadays abundance of digital possibilitys, my mind was free to concentrate on the subject: light, composition, expression, moment. Darkroom development choices came afterwards. The simplicity of raw suits me as the digital negative, leaving in-camera settings mostly untouched. For me, the jpg choices are a hinderance in focus on the subject.

There is controversy whether to approach cameras as a digital or analogue tool. Some call retro/analogue cameras, with direct aperture, exposure, compensation, iso dials,  flawed nostalgia. But it’s the photographers preference that counts, and happily different camera systems exist. Like this, the lesson about jpg or raw, is that there is no best advice. Being not about image quality or speed, find out in practice what  for you is the best worklow attitude to achieve satisfying results.

To illustrate the excellent APS-C and m4/3 sensors, I show some Lightroom processed examples. All images are taken handheld, as in an average day-to-day use. The first 5 pictures are crazy 100% crops.

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glass with flowers (raw)t6 DSCF5260-6

Fuji XE2, 35/1.4@4.0, iso2000 jpg,100%crop.

To illustrate Fuji’s high iso capability,this crazy 100% crop is usable as a normal picture. Good sharpness, detail, contrast, colour, tonality. Discussion about jpg quality is over after this one.

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flowers (raw)t7 DSCF5316

Fuji XE2, 35/1.4@11, iso2000 jpg, 100% crop

Some argue that the 35/1.4 lens suffers from corner softness. This 100% crop from the right/upper corner is sharp and detailed at even iso2000. Yes, at 1.4 to 2.8 the corners sometimes seem to show some softness, which I think is caused by the curved field design of this lens. Two insightfull articles on this topic are written on the always informative website of ‘The Wandering Lensman’:  http://www.thewanderinglensman.com/2016/04/is-that-lens-sharp-in-corners-no-are.html                                                           http://www.thewanderinglensman.com/2015/08/curved-field-and-flat-field-lenses.html

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netherlands. utrecht cathedral tower (raw)t8 P1160156

Panasonic GX7, 14-45/3.5-5.6@6.3, 20mm, iso400 raw, 100% crop.

Viewing 100% crops, quality differences between Fuji and Panasonic are visible. Comparing the 35/1.4 with the 14-45 kitlens is not honest, but comparing iso2000 (bad light)  with iso400 (good light) isn’t either. The Panasonic image is a bit less sharp and detailed, having less punch. But in normal format the picture is excellent.

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along the city canal (raw)t9 P1160150

Panasonic GX7, 14-45/3.5-5.6@6.3, 14mm, iso400 raw, 100% crop.

Crazy cropped I see some noise, some softness, lack of detail. Being about atmosphere I don’t mind using this crop as a normal picture, which is about human interaction. Two girls sitting vividly close together, two uncertain looking boys sitting at a little distance. The awakening of mutual attraction, the girls already young women, the boys needing more time to become men.

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marble statue (sculptor, george minne) (raw)t10 P1160232-2

Panasonic GX7, 20/1.7@1.8, iso1600 raw, 100% crop.

Shot in bad light. Lightroom processed, noise reduction at default (+25), adding contrast, clarity and sharpening, all resulting in more noise/grain. I estimate the Fuji and Panasonic noise difference about 1 1/2 stop. The noise I see here is way better than that of my first generation G1 and GF1 cameras (see some of my GF1 low and high iso pictures: HERE ). Having analogue fine pointed silver grain as reference, I still have some mixed feelings about digital noise, showing artificial dust like structures.  However looking at normal sized pictures the noise-grain is not bad at all.

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Berlin. the money centre (jpg)t11 DSCF9372

Fuji XE1, 18-55/2.8-4.0@8.0, 20mm, iso6400 jpg.

At night with iso6400 jpg, absolutely nothing to complain.

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spain. traditional dressed girl (raw)t12 P1090786

Panasonic G1, 45-200/4.0-5.6@5.6, 150mm, iso400 raw.

Shot with the very first (m4/3, 12 mp) digital mirrorless system camera. The sensor now judged outdated, the 45-400 judged as mediocre but affordable, shot at low iso I think the image quality is already astoundingly good. Detailed eyelashes, subject isolation and bokeh. Yes, at 100% cropped I notice artifacts, but at normal size, what’s to fault.

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memorial flowers (jpg)t14 DSCF7328

Fuji XE1, 18-55/2.8-4.0, 35mm, iso200 jpg.

In bright sunlight (you can spot the shadows) the white flower is still showing detail and texture, while at the same time the black granite is showing detail and tonal seperation. The midtones from the green to white flower are smooth and subtle. Another technically difficult subject, perfectly rendered.

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