Friday, 18 September 2015

A month shooting Jpegs

I'm going to try a little experiment.

Early this week, I gave a talk on portraiture at my local camera club. It went very well, and there was lots of discussion during and after the presentation on various aspects of taking portraits. But one of the members, at the very end of the night, asked me a question which was slightly 'off topic', but that strangely I had been thinking about myself just recently.  The tired(?) old subject of Raw vs Jpeg.

Jessie. Olympus 17mm f2.8. 1/60th @ f3.5 ISO 400
When I first started shooting digital images, the mantra was "Shoot Raw, Shoot Raw, Shoot Raw". Raw is 'lossless,' Jpeg is 'lossy'. Raw is the digital negative, Jpeg is just a poor copy. Raw is unedited data, Jpeg is baked-in and fixed. Only 'real' photographers shoot Raw - amateurs and newbies shoot jpeg.

All of the above is true - except maybe for that last one. But even if not completely true, it's certainly the predominant view amongst photographers. Real men shoot Raw.

But in the discussion I had with a fellow photographer the other night, we both agreed that the camera manufacturer's Jpeg engines in their cameras are now so good, that the jpeg straight out of the camera is certainly 'good enough' for most use cases. In fact, they're not just 'good enough'. In most instances, they are amazing!

Are you shooting predominantly for your blog, the web, or for a camera club to be viewed on a monitor? A few posts ago I made the comment - "who prints anymore"? I certainly don't. Most of the images I take are intended for the web, to illustrate this blog. If I do end up printing them, then I can make beautiful 8x10" prints from well exposed jpegs. What do I need the Raw file for?

To make matters worse for Raw, I can't even read the .ORF (Olympus Raw Files) files I take on my E-M5 Mk2. My version of Photoshop and Lightroom don't support them. Yes, I could use Olympus Viewer... but no thank you, I think I'll pass. My work-around to convert to .DNG has been going well, but it adds a lot more time to the workflow. And is it really time well spent?

Lake Brunner Boats. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk2 Jpeg
So yes, I'm going to do a little experiment. I'm going to spend a month shooting only in-camera jpegs. If it goes well, I may even give up on shooting in Raw as my 'default' position?

I want to see if I can truly minimise the time spent post-processing images - to practically zero, by getting exactly what I want from the jpeg engine processed in the camera. To this end, I'm starting off with the camera in the 'Vivid' setting (since I almost always increase saturation in Lightroom), and I've increased sharpening to +1 - again since I almost always do some sort of overall sharpening later on. I may find this is too aggressive and I have to dial it back to 0? But ultimately, I would like to get the images to where I an happy using them straight out of the camera, with no Lightroom or Photoshop processing necessary.

It's only because of the E-M5 Mk2 - and more specifically its EVF, that I am seriously considering switching to shooting jpegs instead of Raw. As much as Raw is touted as the 'best' file you can get from your camera, I also think it is used by many as a security blanket (I know I do). If you blew all your exposures by two stops - either over or under - she'll be right, you shot Raw didn't you? We'll fix it all in Photoshop/Lightroom later. The stress of shooting weddings is alleviated to a great degree with the comfort of knowing that all but the most horrendous mistakes in exposure and white balance can be sorted out in post processing if you've shot in Raw.

Reach for the Sky. Te Kinga, Moana.
In many ways, the Raw vs Jpeg debate is very similar to the Negative vs Slide film debate - except maybe in reverse. What do I mean by that?
Well, in so far as Raw is called a 'digital negative', you have the flexibility to 'process' it in almost any way you want after the fact. Need to 'push' or 'pull' it to get a better exposure - no problem. Raw has that latitude that negative film has. As such, negative film was looked down on by many photographers as 'amateur' film. It didn't matter if the newbie got it wrong, the lab could fix it later.

Slide film, however, was for the 'serious' photographer. You couldn't get slide film wrong. You had to nail the exposure, so you had to know what you were doing. If you got it wrong - it was horrible! 36 unusable frames. But - if you got it right... wow! Amazingly crisp, clear, vibrant images that you didn't have to do anything with. Kinda like Jpegs. Except, of course, nowadays Raw is seen as pro and jpeg is seen as amateur. Go figure...

Getting back to the E-M5 Mk2 and its EVF - it's the 'nailing' of the exposure before taking the photo that's got me so jazzed about the possibility of seriously shooting jpegs. I've already said (in other posts) that my shooting style now is to have the camera's lcd turned around and shut against the back of the body so it looks and acts more like a film camera. I use the EVF with the live histogram to confirm that the exposure is exactly what I want before I take the photo, so there really are no surprises - and no need for 'chimping'.

So that's what I'm going to do for a month - maybe longer. Shoot Slides (Jpegs) rather than Negatives (Raw). Olympus (and Fuji) are well known for their amazing jpegs straight out of the camera. For the next month, I'm going to put that to the test. It could be very illuminating.


  1. An interesting idea. I will be interested to see how it goes and if you significantly reduce your post processing time.

  2. I have an E-M5 and agree that the EVF in mirrorless is a real time visual exposure meter. You dial in exposure or WB changes and you see it. It is surprising the exposure over-ride to get the look you want is often remarkably less , or more, than "standard" advice recommends. By trusting the EVF I have saved a lot of heart ache over blown highlights or blacked out shadows.
    This is huge advantage which as you say is virtually ignored by most reviewers and most mirrorless users apparently.
    Looking forward to more of your exploration of the MkII and mirrorless world.

  3. Hi mdhoffman

    Thanks for the comment. The EVF is one of the major reasons I don't see myself ever going back to an optical DLSR finder. I've also started playing around with the highlight/shadow curve in the viewfinder to tweak the levels BEFORE shooting! Crazy stuff.


Thanks for your reply. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment on this post. I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Thanks again