I read a couple of articles over the last several days that bothered me, both of which stated that you must shoot RAW. These articles come up often—it’s nothing new. I’ve written about it before, and even before that. The sentiment of “only amateurs shoot JPEG” and “you really should shoot RAW” get old. Those are tired, worn out statements that are largely based on “truths” that are no longer true. My hope with this article is to simply provide a counter-point. This blog and all of you who use Film Simulation Recipes are a strong testament that speaks louder than this article ever could, so I’ll try to keep it brief.
First, I want to make this very clear: do what works for you. If RAW works for you, do that. If JPEGs work for you, do that. If editing JPEGs works for you, do that. If film works for you, do that. Or any combination of those things or anything else, do that. Whatever you have found that works for you, that’s what you should be doing. If what you are doing isn’t really working for you, try something else. There’s no right or wrong way to do things, just different ways, some of which work for some and some of which work for others. Different strokes for different folks, right?
One reason why I think the “RAW vs JPEG” debate keeps coming up is because more-and-more photography consumers (not photographers, but those who view photographs) detest photo manipulation. Photoshop has become a bad word. Whether it’s a photo contest where the winner exceeded the editing allowed by the rules (and so has their title stripped), or the magazine cover where the girl no longer looks like how they really look, or the picture in the news where things were added or subtracted to change the meaning of the image, or the image that’s just been edited so much that it’s no longer believable—whatever the story, sometimes photography consumers feel that photography is dishonest, and the manipulation of an image equals a manipulation of the one viewing it. There appears to be a lack of honesty by photographers, particularly when they edit so much. You might agree or disagree with this sentiment, but the sentiment is real. I know this because I once defended Steve McCurry’s use of Photoshop, and because of this someone accused me in a college paper of wanting little girls to have low self-esteem.
I think a lot of these “RAW is better” articles and videos stem from a response to this sentiment, which is fine. I don’t blame anyone for trying to defend what they do when someone criticizes it. Trust me, I get it. Where I do have a problem is that many times in the defense of RAW the JPEG photographer is insulted. The argument is, “I have to shoot RAW because JPEGs suck.” Or, “Only amateurs use JPEG.” It’s as if the JPEG shooter must be put down in order to make the RAW shooter feel superior. That’s just lame. Yes, there was a time early in the development of digital camera technology where the straight-out-of-camera JPEG was no good and so RAW really was the only viable option for quality images, but that day has long passed, especially for (but certainly not limited to) those who use Fujifilm cameras. That argument is old and tired and no longer based in truth. It once was true, but now is a myth. Perpetuating that myth helps no one. Insulting people definitely doesn’t help.
Of course, Ansel Adams is always brought into this. Well, he was the darkroom master, so obviously he manipulated his photos to a significant degree. Usually an Ansel Adams quote is included, which proves the point that you should never rely on straight-out-of-camera pictures. Adams never would have. Except this ignores his work with Polaroids—he loved Polaroids, something a lot of people are unaware of. There’s a whole chapter (entitled One-Step Photography) in one of his books where he discusses the benefits of not having to use a darkroom. Ansel Adams is hugely inspirational, and his words are highly motivating, but I don’t think he would be strictly a RAW shooter and staunchly against straight-out-of-camera JPEGs—it is a disservice to the legendary master to just assume he would be against JPEGs.
The real arguments that should be made to defend the use of RAW are these:
– It’s my art, and as the artist I get to decide how it’s created. I understand that not everyone will like it, but a lot of people seem to, so I’m going to keep doing it my way.
– I capture undeveloped digital images that, like film, must be developed through a process, and I have a specific process for it that works well for me.
– Images have been manipulated to create the final picture since the beginning of photography—over 150 years!—so what I’m doing is nothing new and well within the traditions of the art.
– I enjoy using photo editing software, and adjusting the pictures is half the fun for me.
Notice how all of those arguments are strong, and none of them insults anyone. Unfortunately, there will always be those who disagree, and you’ll never change their minds. Perhaps just being as honest and straightforward as practical will help. If you swapped the sky with another sky, just say so. If you removed people from the frame, don’t hide that fact. Don’t make the manipulations that you did a big secret, which makes people believe that you’re hiding something from them. Or do keep it a secret—it’s not really any of my business what you do or don’t do, and I don’t really care. It’s your art, after all, so you get to decide what you do and what parts of your process you want to keep a mystery.
My process is straightforward. I program Film Simulation Recipes into my cameras, and I use camera-made JPEGs that are unedited (aside from minor cropping and straightening). While I basically don’t edit anymore, I certainly used to. I used to be a RAW photographer. I used to spend up to 30 minutes on each picture in software. That process worked alright for a time, but my current process works for me now. It saves me so much time, it makes creating photographs more enjoyable, it allows me to be more in-tune with my camera and the scene (because I have to get it right in-the-field or else), and I still get the look I want—the aesthetic I would have made if I had edited a RAW image in software. I love it! But I fully understand that it’s not for everyone. If it works for you, great! If it doesn’t work for you, great! If it works for you sometimes but doesn’t other times, great! You’ve got to do what works for you, and ignore those who say that there’s only one “right” way to do things.
The “RAW vs JPEG” debate needs to end. Photography consumers don’t care how you achieved your picture, except in those cases where people feel that they were duped by a heavily manipulated image. I suggest being upfront about how much editing you did, if you did a lot—but that’s up to you, and is between you and your audience. Otherwise, nobody cares if you shot RAW and edited in-software or if it’s a straight-out-of-camera JPEG, or anything else in-between. One process isn’t better or worse than another—they each have advantages and disadvantages, so it is simply a matter of if what you are doing works for you or not. If it works, that’s awesome! If it doesn’t, then try something else. Mic dropped, debate over.
So, someone spends 4 figures on a state of the art camera, and then has to sit behind a computer “fixing” the things that it couldn’t do right for you.
I’d rather be out shooting. Happy JPEG user here.
I prefer to be shooting, too. 😀
I Usually put (remix) in my title if looks different.
One always has the option to shoot RAW + JPEG. The best of both worlds. It’s akin to answering the question, “Do you like red wine or white wine?” My response, “Yes.”
Lol, exactly! 🤣
Yepp, way to go. Keep the raw file, apply another simulation and/or recipe if you want a different look. Sooooooooooo easy!
I shoot with RAW to not process RAW he he, what I mean is that I shoot with one recipe but save it in RAW. I extract the JPEG in camera, with some photos when I feel they would benefit from applying other recipe I apply it to the RAW in the built-in editor and extract them, then delete the RAW in camera. If I use any editing software or app it is over the JPEG, just as killing time.
Manipulation in photography exists since its beginning, but the difference is that the number of photos with film is a fraction in comparison to digital photos. Is not practical to edit each one of a series of 250 photos, batch editing still requires to check each photo individually. 36 photos, or 12 photos in film are less of a burden. Nevertheless I have an exception: I think there should be not manipulation in the body of models besides lightning or so. Yes, there is use of make up, but I think there is a kind of pressure on women, a goal to achieve that doesn’t exist in reality, of women without spots, without natural skin, with hips that distort straight lines, and so on. Is the reason I prefer Fujifilm to another brands, the rendering, even if it is fully digital and with curves and so on, still feels natural; other brands can get very nice renderings but they feel closer to movies like Frozen, very beautiful but in a digital fantasy way. I don’t say my choice is better or more ethical than others, is just what I prefer.
I prefer natural myself. I would rather my photographs be known for genuineness. Thank you for the input!
I generally agree with what you’re saying here, but I think there are certain situations where the photographer is able to do more with the RAW image than the JPEG because the former has more latitude for adjustment – I’m not talking ‘manipulation’ here but things like highlight and shadow recovery etc. I don’t think there’s any right answer, as you say, and there is no right or wrong, but the digital negative (RAW) is always going to be capable of more processing to achieve the effect that the image maker is looking for than a JPEG image ever can. Of course, if the SOOC JPEG or a slightly tweaked JPEG produces the desired result, especially using a Fuji X Weekly film simulation, then BINGO! 😀
Yeah, there’s no right or wrong way, so if one picture needs RAW editing, then edit it! And if another picture needs small adjustments to the JPEG, then do that. And if another picture is perfect coming out of the camera, that’s awesome! No single approach is always the best. I could preach that SOOC using recipes is by far the best approach (for me it is), but I definitely understand that it doesn’t work for everyone, and even if it works for someone, it might not work for them all of the time. I appreciate your input!
Well said. Internet trolls be damned!
I used to always shoot raw up until two months back when I sold my Sony A7iii and went for an X100V. I love having jpg’s that looks stunning saved directly to my iPad or iPhone.
But – I still shoot raw+jpg, but that’s just for backup if I don’t like the filmSim that I used. If I could shoot two jpg’s (filmSim + natural) or if the camera had the ability to change the filmSim post shot, raw files would have been turned off.
I shoot RAW+JPEG, but only use the camera-made JPEG. The RAWs come in handy for creating new recipes. Definitely nothing wrong with RAW+JPEG. Thank you for your comment!
To the core of your argument – I’ll always remember how “she EDITS her photos!” was used against me when I first started out in photography. Years later, in a darkroom, there we were, learning how to burn and dodge old film photos, emulating how the “original film photographers” incorporated artistic merit – yes, manual editing! – into their final products. The whole JPG vs. RAW debate is bizarre. I agree with your ‘to each his own.’ The only thing that RAW shooting means to me: that person’s got lots and lots and lots of of storage.
Yes, lots of storage and lots of time in front of a computer! 🤣 But, more seriously, if one’s art demands dodging and burning (something that I’ve done plenty of) or masking and curve-adjustments (also something that I’ve done plenty of)—whatever it is—then you do what you’ve got to do. If someones art doesn’t require those things, no reason to think less of them or look down on them. I appreciate the comment!
I fully agree with your comment.
But I would appreciate very much an additional statement from you to the advancement of JPGS over the last years. What did change to the better and why? Did it happen everywhere or at Fujifilm only? Can you get fine pictures with 256 colours only, compared to much more when editing RAWs?
Keep up the good work, thank you.
Greetings from germany
What changed was simply an investment in R&D, making camera-made JPEGs better—that combined with better sensors and processors and such. I would say most cameras produced over the last 10 years can make pretty good JPEGs. Fujifilm has led the way, but Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, etc., are still very capable (check out my Ricoh and Nikon recipes). Go back 15 years and it’s a different story. However, I think when a lot of people think of SOOC JPEGs, they’re imagining (and judging) JPEGs from 15-20 years ago, and not what’s possible now, which just stems from ignorance.
Your last question requires a few different answers.
First, JPEGs don’t produce 256 colors, but 16 million (8 bits of r+g+b, 24 bits total); GIFs only have 256 colors (not JPEGs).
Second, your RAW file, once processed and saved, is either exported as a JPEG or TIFF. If exported as a JPEG, all of the unneeded data is thrown out. If exported as a TIFF, only the necessary data is displayed (pretty much the same as a JPEG), but much of the unneeded data is retained in the file, just in case someday you want to access it. Either way, your finished file, once exported, doesn’t display any more colors or anything else more than the SOOC JPEG is capable of.
The question is: are you going to edit your pictures? If you are going to edit your pictures, the JPEG will degrade much quicker than the RAW, because the JPEG has already been processed once, and the unneeded data discarded. Well, maybe now you want that data—that’s where RAW makes sense; however, the JPEG still has a surprising amount of room for editing, and can certainly handle much in the way of minor editing (clipped highlights being the exception). If you plan to edit a lot, RAW is the way to go. If you plan to edit only a little, the JPEG is likely plenty good enough, but the RAW might be better. If you don’t plan to edit, the SOOC JPEG is the way to go, letting the camera do the work for you. So it all depends on your workflow and what you do. I personally don’t edit (aside from a little cropping and such), so the SOOC JPEG works out perfect for me. Everyone is different, though.
Thank you, very helpful,
I have not used Adobe and Capture One for so long that I guess I’ll keep paying for both until I get some good out of them (yeah, I gotta quit pretending!).
I went digital with a Sony DSC-P200 in 2004; those jpeg pics (memories!) remain as good as anything since. Shooting casual Zeiss glass on my Sony 5100, too, infuriating the wedding photog, because my in camera jpegs were better than his ‘pro’ shots, I haven’t needed to improve them.
I sometimes (ok, I am always certain) think that the reason no postprocessing will improve my raw pics is because I did everything right before I took the image.
Old school. Zone system.
There’s no school like the old school, right?! Many slide films had such a narrow window that if it wasn’t exposed perfectly, you missed it—there was no highlight or shadow recovery. It was a challenge, but it was also fun, and it required skills… not just camera skills, but more importantly, understanding the light and how it would affect the exposure.
The Zone System took me almost the entirety of Photography 201 to understand (I guess I’m dense, lol). I remember when the lightbulb went off, I literally said out loud, “I get it!”
Thanks for the comment!
I think it’s stupid to play out one against the other. The advantage of shooting in JPEG is that you shoot pictures that are ready to use. With RAW you have to develop the pictures, but you have the advantage that you can adjust more settings and can control the process. There are probably further pros and cons, but photographers shoud do what they think works best for them.
Pros and cons to each, for sure! There’s not any one way that is superior or right for everyone. Thanks for the input!
I think the EVF was the game changer for me. Since I can now get the exposure where I want it before I take the shot, I’ve eliminated almost all of what I used RAW for. I actually do still shoot RAW+JPEG “just in case,” but it’s quite possible I haven’t actually touched a RAW file in over a year.
I’ve also found that, since I’m not fussing with RAW files to get the exposure “just right” as a required part of my workflow that I’m now a lot more satisfied with “close enough” and more of a snapshot aesthetic in general vs. a carefully edited look.
Don’t get me wrong, some of those folks pursuing that carefully crafted look do beautiful work. But for me, especially since “fixing” a photo was all I really ever used RAW for, I’m happy to be done with it.
As for “real photographers,” Saul Leiter used a compact point and shoot digital in the late 2000s/early 2010s, and even in the film era I think he just dropped his film off at the lab for processing.
The EVF is indeed a game-changer. With “what you see is what you get”… there’s no mystery. You know what you’re going to get even before you press the shutter button. Don’t like it? Change something. It takes a little more thought, and perhaps a little more work, in-the-field, but saves you work at home, for certain. Excellent point about Saul Leiter. There’s a very famous Ansel Adams picture that I bet most people don’t realize was captured with a Polaroid.
8 bit JPEGS are a bit archaic at this point but still very useable. I do wish they would add a third option of a newer format like a HEIF with 10 bit. Video options usually offer h.264 or h.265 it would make sense to have the option for photos.
Oh, they’re very useable! 8 bit is well more than enough for a finished picture. Extra bits really only matter if you are editing, and need to access the extra data to manipulate the picture into something different. TIFF, for example, has more bits, but it just stores away the portion of the data that’s not needed, and allows you to access it if you should ever need it in the future (for editing), but otherwise doesn’t display anymore information than a JPEG. HEIF is interesting… while it’s debatable if there’s a difference to image quality (over JPEG or TIFF), the advantage is in file compression. With HEIF, you can have a similar image quality as a JPEG but in a fraction of the space. It’s amazing! RitchieCam uses HEIF as the default file type, but JPEG is an option for those who prefer that.
It would be interesting to have HEIF and/or TIFF as an option on Fujifilm cameras. The X-Pro3 can save a TIFF, but you have to reprocess the RAW file in-camera and export as a TIFF, and not auto-save as a TIFF. It’s my understanding the X-H2 models have the ability to save HEIF, but I’m not sure if it is like TIFFs on the X-Pro3 where you have to go in and reprocess it as that.
What if you’re printing large prints?
I print 2′ x 3′ with my SOOC JPEGs and they look great! I’ve printed as large as 40″ x 60″ (once) and it looked good from a normal viewing distance. Not sure how large you want to print, or how RAW+editing would make it better for enlarging, but I’ve had no issues printing large from SOOC JPEGs.
What are your settings for printing sooc, I’m trying to way up the pros and cons of using tiff vs jpeg for final print. Although I’ll stick by your wisdom, as I like the film recipes and prefer having everything in camera, rather than try to replicate a raw from jpeg image
I use a good lab, I think that’s most important. Otherwise, I don’t do anything special… just use the SOOC JPEGs.
Totally agree. The critical question is “Does ________ work for my creative vision?” If it does and somebody still thinks you’re wrong, then (as we say in my part of the US) “bless their little heart.”
I don’t mind sitting at the computer and editing RAW files, but I’ve also found that with Fuji, I can get some really nice results in JPG. And heck… my first two digital cameras didn’t even support RAW, and I got photos out of them that I think look fantastic (and I even have 11×14 prints of some of them).
It really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, but for some reason some people seem to think that their opinions are the gold standard, and everyone else should do exactly what they do. There’s never been a “right” way or even “best” way to do things, only various ways. I appreciate the comment!
I usually shoot RAW, but only because Fuji X Studio is now my sole editing suite, and I have all your recipes saved in it so I can just switch between sims to see which one suits the scene better 🙂
Awesome! I’m so glad to hear that this works out well for you. 😀
Thanks for the input!
Why would I need to shoot RAW if jpeg is ripe for my communication needs?
If you found a way that works well for you, that’s awesome! Doesn’t matter even one iota what anyone else thinks about it. Thanks for the input!
Hi Ritchie, I had a question about using film simulation recipes:
If I shoot with RAW+JPEG and one of the film simulation profiles I have saved, and then use the in-camera raw conversion on the file, I have to manually go through and change all the settings (clarity, film sim, etc) to their default values if I want to get a ‘normal’ jpeg.
Do you know if there is an easier way to do this? The ‘reflect shooting conditions’ menu option will change everything back to the simulation’s settings, but they’re already set to that by default.
I don’t think there’s an easier way to do it, at least I’m not aware of one. You could use X RAW Studio if you have a bunch you want to apply it to, might be faster/easier.
I love ot when I hear someone proclaim no editing is done and their images are straight out of the camera. It is a convenient way to say ‘I’m really good’ without actually saying it. I’ll bet these people are enjoying all 5 of their photos out of the thousands of shutter click and making a fortune in the NFT market.
Wow, what a weird comment. Obvious troll. My general policy is to not feed the trolls, and most often I remove these types of comments because they add absolutely no value to whatever is being discussed—they’re more parasitic in nature. The reason I am allowing this comment to stand is because it allows me to mention something that I love to talk about.
I’ve never claimed to be “really good” (such a subjective term, anyway). What I can say is that shooting straight-out-of-camera and not editing saves me SO much time. My photography has become WAY more productive because of it. It literally changed my life, no hyperbole, in such a positive way. I don’t understand how anyone can speak negatively about that, except out of envy or hurt, having something to do with their own reflection.
If I only had five keeper pictures out of thousands, that would be pretty pathetic. Back when I shot film, if I had three good frames on a 36 roll of film, I considered that a success. My hit rate now is much higher than that. Still, Ansel Adams stated that 12 good pictures in a year is a good year. I hope that in any given year to capture a dozen or so images that I’m really proud of.
I’ve never done anything with NFT and have zero interest in ever doing so. Like most trolls, the judgements are based on ignorance, and they’re simply meant to be destructive for the sake of being destructive. The world has too much of that already, so let’s try to be more kind to each other—build up and not tear down.
By the way, “these people” are real people, with real cameras, and real feelings, too. I’m one of them. My name is Ritchie. Some other of “these people” are long-time professional photographers with recognizable names, brand-new hobby photographers who just got their first “real” camera, and everything in-between.
well geez. . at least I didn’t call anyone a troll. And having attended a lot of seminars where, with an air of superiority, the presenter proclaims everything done in the camera without editing, at some point it does make one wonder.
I let everyone see exactly what you said. I didn’t need to call you a troll because everyone could see it clear as day for themselves already. It is what it is. But I said it anyway—it’s my website, I can say what I wish.
Instead of “wondering” and judging the person, go up to them, introduce yourself, and ask (if you are so curious). Make a friend instead of making “them” your enemy by assuming things about them that you have no idea about. That’s prejudism, plain and simple. You made me and this whole audience “your enemy” with your prejudism and snarky remark, without knowing anything about me or “these people” as you put it. I mean, you’re kind of proving the point of the article if you really think about it, don’t you agree?
It’s not a question which is better. The question is when you do the RAW processing, in the camera or on computer, isn’t it?
Well, yeah. Do you want to do it yourself on a computer, or do you want the camera to do it for you at the moment the picture was captured? Either way works, but it is a matter of which way works best for you. Some will say that one way is indeed “better” than the other, and that may be true of them (for example, having the camera do it is what works better for me), but that shouldn’t be projected to everyone. Each has their own path, and should do what works for them without being belittled or bullied by those who think they’re doing it “wrong”. I appreciate the input!
What’s tiring to me is the idea that “professional” is better and “amateur” is just not good enough to be taken seriously. “Professional” means that you’re making a living from selling a product or service, whether full-time or substantially part-time. Professional photography, to me, is more of a trade than an artform. Of course a professional photographer’s product must be well-crafted, but it must also be on-time and it must usually meet a pretty narrow scope as to what the client wants. This means a professional is looking for tools that are reliable, and most importantly predictable, which usually means the tool does its job while staying out of the way. That’s partly a function of the design of the tool, and partly the user’s familiarity with how it works.
An amateur on the other hand has time, freedom, and often the desire to explore all sides of an artform. A professional on the clock has exactly none of these things. They aren’t on the clock, and there is no client with expectations. An amateur can explore different tools as part of the creative process. An amateur can use a tool that is part of the experience of making a photograph. The most efficient way to listen to music is streaming, but listening to music as an experience (and purchasing, and sharing with friends) is probably best achieved with vinyl.
I’m reminded of an Instagram reel demonstrating how to artfully and precisely craft a certain type of construction framing joint. Nearly every comment criticizing it was from a “professional” saying something along the lines of how slow it was, and that’s not how a construction jobsite works. None of them commented on how the quality of the finished product might compare to their own, faster “professional” work – no one ever said, hey, I can do it this other way that’s faster and looks just as good. Just “you’d never last a day on a construction site.”
There are professional photographers (those earning a living from it) who aren’t particularly good, but get hired anyway. People use the term “professional” to give credibility to something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything—I recently had a professional plumber do some work, only to have someone else fix the shoddy work a short time later. Both were professionals, but only one was actually good at their work. Similarly, “amateur” is used to put down someone (take away their credibility), which might be unfair, too, because Vivian Maier spent her entire life as an “amateur” and is now, only after her death, considered one of the greats. These terms really need to be phased out.
And yet we have how many apps out there which allow “photographers” to swap Skys, etc?? I draw the line there. I do use LR, Capture One and Photoshop – but not to the extent I see in some instances. BTW: I shoot both jpeg + raw. I usually wind up deleting the jpegs and working on the raw files, but memory cards are cheap.
There’s definitely a point of “over-editing” where it is no longer a photograph but something else… or at least a less honest photograph.
Just curious, have you ever tried my Film Simulation Recipes?
Thanks for the input!