JPEG is Freedom

Hello! Right from the beginning, I would like to say, as the title clearly shows, that shooting in JPEG mode will offer you more freedom in photography. And in your life, too. Let me explain.

As a novice, you start your first shy steps in photography with (maybe) a compact camera, or a smart-phone, but for the first time, you will enter in the world of photography by shooting in Auto Mode. It is something natural and I truly recommend you to shoot in Auto Mode, when you begin this journey. Because there are some priorities you have to take into account, like keeping the horizon line horizontal, correctly frame your subjects, maybe learning and applying the Rule of the Thirds. You need to focus on all those aspects and, at the beginning, there is no time, or resources to suddenly switch to Manual Mode and play with those settings, doing more harm, than good. But from the Trial and Error approach, you can start to learn sooner than your friends, how Manual Mode settings affect your outcome in your photography.

But there comes a time when you want more from your photography and you start to learn Aperture Mode, Shutter Speeds and eventually, full Manual Mode, where you can manually tweak every setting: aperture, ISO values, shutter speeds, exposure compensation, focus points, metering types, bracketing and some other factors. And you find out about RAW and you start to shoot using it. The most common setting for this is using JPEG + RAW, where you have the same photo in 2 different files.

Then, you start to learn how to process your RAW files. The amazing thing is that a RAW file comes with 100% of your digital sensor capabilities, retaining a lot more details and information than a JPEG file (which is also a compressed form of storing your image information). I won’t go into explaining how to process your RAW files and how you can recover information from the too white and too dark areas of your photo. The Internet is full of tutorials on how to do it. Just remember that a well-developed RAW file will finally show you (most of the times) a miraculous result, compared to your JPEG file. Bad exposure? Wrong white balance? Not to worry, you can fix them while developing your RAW files.

This is a natural transition in the personal experience of a photographer. Starting by using JPEG files, first, then upgrading to RAW format. Most of us are obsessed with image quality (although this is not everything that counts for good quality photography). You have a good digital camera, you have invested in some good quality glass for it and even if there are technical limitations everywhere, you would like to get the best from it. Why not using your gear at 100% of its capacity? I hear you! And you are right.

But RAW requires more hard-disk storage. More time to process it. And time is money. Or freedom you sacrifice. That’s it, I’ve said it! Do you value your time in your life? Do you spend many hours in front of your screen, post-processing your photos? Isn’t it better to have more time to just go out and photograph, instead of processing your photos, to make them “look better”?

JPEG is freedom, as I have also discovered another way to free myself, when switching from a DSLR system to a mirrorless one, as I have explained in a previous article.

When I had a DSLR system from Canon, I used to shoot 80% RAW and 20% JPEG. Because the quality of the JPEG files was only good for photos that I will never exhibit anywhere (some street photography, family moments, etc.). Now, owning a Fujifilm camera, it’s the other way around: 80% JPEG and 20% RAW. And you know what? My image quality expectations did not change over the years. Only my gear and the quality output, while using JPEG mode. The JPEG files that Fujifilm cameras can produce are simply stunning. With the perfect settings, there is little to improve in post-processing. Sometimes you can do more harm, than good, while trying to “enhance” a perfect Fujifilm JPEG file.

RAW is the best choice for studio work, or high quality professional well-paid work, where you cannot take your chances – you need to walk on solid ground: provide the best for your clients. But apart from that, I see no reason for shooting in RAW. There are professional photographers out there, that are so sure on their skills and camera, just to easily shoot in JPEG mode and provide excellent quality material to their clients. I needed a great camera that can deliver fabulous JPEG files. Fujifilm just did that for me. They offered me more freedom, more time to just photograph more. The fact of making even 90% of my photography in JPEG makes me smile, while looking to myself and to the past.

There are some people out there, trying to impress the others, by stating they are 100% forever fans of RAW shooting, as a superiority show-off manoeuvre to intimidate and present themselves as the real image of perfectionism and professionalism. Only to see their less than mediocre work results. And in RAW, too! 🙂 Or people who, when handed a new, different digital camera (yours, for example), immediately try to impress you how well they “see the light and the settings” by quickly adjusting everything in your camera, just to shoot a test image in fully Manual Mode. They know better. Of course the image looks worse than if taken in fully Auto Mode. After all it’s a new, different camera. Things like that happens a lot. Just don’t let them impress you in any way.

Most of the times, I shoot in Aperture Mode. Sometimes I change ISO values, sometimes I impose a certain Shutter Speed, but a lot of my photos are made while controlling only the aperture. The camera does the rest – and it does it wonderfully, most of the times. I am not ashamed to say that Manual Mode (although I know how to use it) is not my main shooting mode for my cameras (except film cameras, that I love and still use – fully Manual Mode, there is no other way). Yes, I shoot in Aperture Mode and by doing that, I miserably fail to impress others with my “professionalism”. 🙂

Don’t you love getting the “decisive moment”, instead of missing it because you were busy, making some tweaks for the “ideal” shot that just passed away? Don’t you think it is more important to shoot street photography, travel photography, environmental portraits, events or other types of photography in an almost automatic mode (in JPEG, too, if your camera delivers the quality) and to use the time to shoot more, to think more about what’s really important, like composition? When you will free yourself of the burden of technical aspects in your photography, out there in the field, or streets, you will have the mental resources to connect yourself to your feelings, the source of inspiration, see the scene in a different “light” – the stuff that really matters in photography. Isn’t it great to be free?

All the images I have used in this article were made with a Fujifilm camera, in JPEG mode. Please take my word that they are exactly as I wanted them to be. I had no need to capture them also in RAW. They are not perfect, technically speaking, but who needs that kind of perfection in art? You may not like them, or you could say “I would use different settings”. I don’t care. The most important thing in the photography that I make is that firstly, it should please my spirit. I think it is a great thing to do photography to please yourself – but about that, soon, in a future article.

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2017 / www.sebastianboatca.com

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30 Comments

  1. Interesting how I have perceived some things contrary to you. Hipsters and snobs brag about only using jpg and how the others are sloppy. You make a few assumptions, like that if you shoot it has to be street photography, a truly boring genre this days. Capturing the moment can also be a chosen one where you don’t need a fully automated point and shoot camera.

    You said that freedom is saving time by not shooting RAW, and hence probably produce many more images. Even if Lenin did say that quantity is a quality in it self, I would argue that picking up the best jewells in a shoot and process them with joy and giving them your touch is both more artistic and more ambitions. Creating images is so much more than snapping a camera. Try that.

    1. Thanks, Joohans for your comment. My “theory” is not only mine – there are many out here that feel the same way. But I need to make one thing very clear: This “theory” is just that – an opinion, related to a personal style. And it is true, that there are many opinions, as styles and if you may partially, (or totally) disagree, it’s only natural. Let’s not take the absolute meaning in what I’ve said. Consider it more of a guideline for a new style (that may not apply to you, your needs and work-flow type). I simply know I don’t have the ultimate truth, but no opinion, mine or yours, could do that.

  2. Hello Sebastian:

    I really enjoyed reading your article. Although I agree with, and already knew, much of what you said, I was compelled to read the entire article because of your inviting writing style and sincerity. I appreciate you point of view and I agree with most of it, although I shoot more RAW than JPEG at this point. Maybe its because I am new to the Fuji world, having my camera for less than two weeks (X T-2).

    I will keep your words in mind as I embark upon my Fuji journey! Thank you for taking the time to share your insights!

    Regards from the Southwest Desert, USA

  3. Hi Sebi

    Love your shots, and I shoot raw for the same reason you don’t lol. I like the greater freedom to interpret the image as I envisioned it when shot. To be fair, this usually just pertains to DR, but it can have other implications. Either way, you are right to shoot as you enjoy and if it makes you more inclined to shoot you should share it with others as it may offer the same benefit to them.

    All that said, it takes the same amount of time to set up your kit for faw as it does JPG, so I don’t see how it would have any impact on missing the D moment.

    Great article, well written and fun to read…

    Shadowside 🙂

    1. Dear Bradley / Shadowside,
      Thanks for your comments. It is just another way of going out, record feelings and memories, indeed. If it would be a job for a client, RAW is more than understandable, but if you’re your own “client”, the best JPEG I have ever worked with sounds just fine.

  4. Great article, I too shot 80/20 when on Canon, and now shoot 10/90 on Fuji. I find the Fuji gets me to my final JPG goal faster than I can do it from scratch with a RAF file. It’s also made me work properly at my white balance, exposure and composition. Shooting JPEG has actually made me careful and now my photos are improving because I “don’t” have the option of revisiting the RAW.

    1. Paul, this is exactly what I was talking about. If you can rely on a JPEG that was carefully taken care of (exposure, white balance, other settings) it will actually improve your skills. Get it right in the camera / no more additional work at home! Cheers, Sebastian.

    2. I shoot Raw + Jpeg so that way I have a backup plan if there is something I wish I had shot in RAW.

  5. Interesting article.
    For me I shoot often manual mode which is a joy on fuji camera ( auto iso is not really manual mode but it’s so easier) .
    For the files I prefer raw + jpeg and do some very light adjusment in the in camera convertor ( WB , exposure , basic highlights and shadows … ) for three reasons :
    – I don’t have time to process to much on the computer.
    – I lack some skills to process my files ( maybe one day … as someone said earlyer it’s part of the artistic process)
    – Jpegs out of camera or out of camera raw convertor make me happy

    Regards

    1. Pierre,

      Thanks for your comment. The In Camera RAW converter is great and fast. I wish I had a preview of each modification I choose, before applying it. Here is an idea I was writing on my first review, back in 2015:

      I would like Fujifilm to create a piece of hardware, an external device, a Raw Converter, based on the algorithms and electronics found inside the X cameras, with maybe some more features, if possible, which can be also an external back-up storage drive, with a LCD, bigger than what we have on an X camera (at least 4″). With SD card reader, USB, wi-fi to communicate with the camera, or a smart phone. Why?
       
      1. Because it is cool and it is doable. Everything is based on existing technology. There is nothing new here, excepting the concept of putting all those pieces together. 2. This would end the problems when converting Fuji Raw file, using different softwares for post-processing, like Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. 3. Would be great to leave the laptop at home and travel really light, according to “Mirrorless Philosophy” as we use to do since adopting a Fujifilm mirrorless system, while making no compromise in IQ, using Raw files wherever you are.

      I still believe in this idea. A native Fujifilm RAW converter in your pocket (and also an external backup storage).

      Cheers,
      Sebastian.

  6. If you don’t like doing post processing, then don’t. Just don’t kid yourself that one file format or workflow makes you more “free” than another. We already have enough self-deception in photography!

    1. It may be so. Care to elaborate? In order to demolish a way, you need to build a different one. The easiest is to deny something, without putting something else in return. Cheers!

  7. I have to agree, although, I still can’t stop saving the RAW files on a separate drive as “negatives.” I am 90/10 leaning to JPEG. And it EXACTLY comes out to time vs result. I am not a pro. Some of my stuff has been used in the physical world (book covers, posters, etc) and each time, I think the JPEG sufficed 😉

    1. Thanks, Raymond. I don’t praise the complete oblivion of RAW. I guess if one can shoot at least 51% in JPEG and this is sufficiently enough, one can apply this very subjective concept I am talking about. Cheers!

  8. I love, love, love this article. For years I have been saying the same thing just to have people scorn me. Not everyone needs RAW files, especially people like myself who basically shoot images of family, friends, family get togethers, and stuff that will never be published nor sold. I have shot thousands for images in full Auto mode and they were absolutely fine, at least for my needs. I got the Fuji because it was easier for me to get out of Auto mode, but even with the Fuji, I usually only change the Aperture on the lens, occasionally I might adjust the ISO and if I want to get a certain type of movement shot then I will dabble with the shutter speed. But shooting in Auto mode on the XT2 and just adjusting the aperture seems to produce some wonderful jpeg files which are all that I need. Again, thanks for this wonderful post.

  9. I agree with you on the JPEG quality of what Fuji bodies can produce. I have two worries though –
    A- When modifying a JPEG (tweaking the few things that may need tweaking) when saving you compress again an image which has already been compressed, thus damaging it even more … (compared to the raw original) and B- Coming from the film days, i love printing my images (to me an image not worth printing is not worth keeping) … I am not sure how large I can print starting from a JPEG
    As you can tell I am ready to jump ship, but definitely lack experience !

    1. Just try to print both from JPEG and RAW. I also print some of my best. Even in A4 format, the print is more forgiving, it looks “better” than what I have on my screen. They say an image should not be looked at at 100% zoom.

  10. Anyone know why if RAW contains so much data, processing JPEG’s in camera can’t produce the same quality. Pull he shadows, exposure, etc…. Is it the processing power?

    If you should RAW+JPEG and then process the RAW in camera, would the JPEG process in camera from RAW be better or same as the JPEG developed when shot?

    1. Hey Tom,
      I never did a real scientific test, comparing JPEG to RAW, converted (in camera) into a second JPEG. Of course RAW has a wider latitude when you need to push/pull shadows and highlights, but this is more technical than I wanted my article to be. What I’ve noticed is that my old Canon JPEG files had almost zero latitude for post-processing, this is why with Canon, I used to shoot almost all the time in RAW. Fujifilm JPEG files have a wider latitude for post-processing. Even if I do not have the RAW version of a shot, I could still do more to that JPEG, than to a Canon JPEG file.

  11. Fuji JPGs are great, and often sufficient – still, I like to shoot both. Sometimes I tweak RAWs in the internal converter, i.e. making an Acros version – sometimes the full LR editing is done (probably months later, with a new style), or sometimes the JPG is fine already. For me, RAW frees me from technicalities. If exposure goes wrong a bit, I can save it still. But in many cases, a JPG is fine and reveals amazing detail.

  12. I shot RAW-only for 10 years, but I’ve been shooting jpeg-only on Fuji for a few years, and I love it. Either way, files are pliable enough these days to still work on jpegs, if need be.

  13. A good article and a fair point well made. Fujifilm JPEGs are, generally, very good quality and very usable. I, too, tend to favour Aperture mode over all others. I do shoot in RAW as well but this is more likely with my Sony/Zeiss combinations. (Just my personal preference to obtain the highest quality when a large image is required) It doesn’t slow me down in the shooting process. I set the camera up and off l go. Post production can be time consuming for those who make mistakes and need to rectify them. Otherwise, it’s just a few tweaks that take no time at all. As you say, learning the basics of composition and actually spending time taking photos is the most important thing.

  14. I guess it all depends on where you want the final images to end up. I tend to print a lot and RAW tends to offer more flexibility when I want to (theoretically) maximize the dynamic range and density offered by the chosen printer-ink-paper combination. Jpegs definitely have their place, and Fuji produces some of the best SOOC camera Jpegs in the industry, but simply having the RAW stored away somewhere so that I can get back to it one day in future using better processing/printing software than what’s available today is also a nice kind of freedom to have. I remember digging up some old files from a Nikon D2x a couple of years ago, and the amount of extra detail I was able to extract (and print) with 2015 Lightroom and Epson’s updated printer drivers was quite the pleasant surprise.

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