Postcard from Ireland: Do FUJIFILM Film Simulations End the Raw vs. JPEG Debate?

16Share

Raw vs. JPEG. The debate has persisted since the early days of digital photography. With modern digital technology, in-camera JPEG processing has never been better. Across brands, some photographers claim to have switched their workflow to JPEG exclusively, forgoing the advantages (and disadvantages) of shooting raw files. Others shoot raw + JPEG simultaneously to enjoy the benefits of both. Of course, many shoot only raw images. With a week in Ireland to focus on photography, I decided to dive deeper into the raw vs. JPEG option and see if it would change my raw-only workflow, moving forward.

Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp

Sliabh Liag, County Donegal, the highest sea cliffs in Europe. PRO Neg. Std film simulation.
Sliabh Liag, County Donegal, the highest sea cliffs in Europe. PRO Neg. Std film simulation.

I traveled to Ireland to join the Dakota College at Bottineau Photography Program (specifically the Outdoor Photography course) as we were welcomed by our wonderful hosts, Dr. Niamh Hamill and John O'Connell of the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland, in Bundoran, Ireland. DCB students and ISAI staff not only explored the Donegal countryside but enjoyed lessons on Irish history and how the Irish landscape ties directly into the culture of the nation—allowing a deeper photographic perspective of the surrounding areas.

For more information on Institute of Study Abroad Ireland, please click here.

And, for more information on the Dakota College Photography Program, please click here.

The Institute of Study Aboard Ireland is located at the Atlantic Apartotel, in Bunduran. County Donegal, Velvia VIVID film simulation.
The Institute of Study Aboard Ireland is located at the Atlantic Apartotel, in Bundoran, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.
Arranmore Island, County Donegal. PROVIA STANDARD film simulation.
Arranmore Island, County Donegal. PROVIA STANDARD film simulation.

What Do I Shoot?

When I started in digital photography, I was a JPEG-only shooter. Some early cameras would "choke" when too many raw files were fired in quick succession and the buffer filled, and I didn't have patience for that delay.

Arranmore Island, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.
Arranmore Island, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.

Grad school arrived and I made the semi-reluctant switch to raw images and have not looked back since—shooting JPEGs exclusively only when at airshows or when shooting casual events.

Hamilton Castle, Manorhamilton, County Donegal. PROVIA STANDARD film simulation.
Hamilton Castle, Manorhamilton, County Donegal. PROVIA STANDARD film simulation.

The Quick and Dirty of Raw vs. JPEG

Raw files give you more colors, expanded post-processing flexibility, and superior performance when it comes to adjusting exposure and white balance/color temperature. The downside? The files are large and fill up memory cards and computer hard drives quicker than smaller JPEG files.

Tullaghan, County Leitrim. At this location, the ISAI is hosting an environmental class and a tree-planting program for each new group of students to help offset the carbon footprint of air travel to Ireland. Velvia VIVID film simulation.
Tullaghan, County Leitrim. At this location, the ISAI is hosting an environmental class and a tree-planting program for each new group of students to help offset the carbon footprint of air travel to Ireland. Velvia VIVID film simulation.

JPEGs have some post-processing baked into the files, so they do not need to be processed (as much) after capture. They will likely appear with more saturation, contrast, and sharpness than a similar raw file. The downside? Less latitude for exposure and white balance tweaking after capture.

Glencar Waterfall, County Sligo. Velvia VIVID film simulation.
Glencar Waterfall, County Sligo. Velvia VIVID film simulation.

FUJIFILM JPEGs + Film Simulations

FUJIFILM, in particular, is known to have some of the best JPEGs in the business, partially due to its popular analog-based film simulations. FUJIFILM cameras give users the option of selecting from several analog film stocks and simulated filter combinations. Also, the FUJIFILM camera's software allows customization of the analog film simulations—an option that has allowed the creation of "recipes" that simulate dozens of other film stocks.

The camera automatically applies a film simulation to all JPEG files—you cannot shoot a FUJIFILM JPEG without a film simulation applied to it. The default simulation is PROVIA—designed to simulate the general-use film stock.

Unprocessed Raw
Unprocessed Raw
Unprocessed Provia Standard
Unprocessed Provia Standard
Unprocessed Velvia Vivid
Unprocessed Velvia Vivid
Unprocessed Acros Astia Soft
Unprocessed Acros Astia Soft
Unprocessed Classic Chrome
Unprocessed Classic Chrome
Unprocessed Pro Neg HI
Unprocessed Pro Neg HI
Unprocessed Pro Neg Standard
Unprocessed Pro Neg Standard
Unprocessed Eterna
Unprocessed Eterna
Unprocessed Acros
Unprocessed Acros
Unprocessed Acros YE
Unprocessed Acros YE
Unprocessed Acros R
Unprocessed Acros R
Unprocessed Acros G
Unprocessed Acros G
Unprocessed Monochrome
Unprocessed Monochrome
Unprocessed Monochrome YE
Unprocessed Monochrome YE
Unprocessed Monochrome R
Unprocessed Monochrome R
Unprocessed Monochrome G
Unprocessed Monochrome G
Unprocessed Sepia
Unprocessed Sepia
The coastline in Bundoran, County Donegal. Here is the same image showing the full range of FUJIFILM film simulations with the simulations applied to the raw file on my computer using the FUJIFILM X RAW Studio software and the X-T3 camera. These are "SOOC" JPEG images with no additional processing.

Since I was shooting with the FUJIFILM X-T3 on this one-week trip to Ireland, I wanted to broaden the raw vs. JPEG experiment to include deliberately selected FUJIFILM film simulations to my capture workflow.

Post-processed raw image versus a post-processed JPEG with the Velvia VIVID simulation.

With Great JPEGs, Do You Need Raw?

You may have heard the occasional buzz about modern photographers abandoning raw shooting because of the quality of today's JPEG files. With that in mind, I decided that it was time to revisit JPEG shooting to see if I might abandon raw files.

Bunduran, County Donegal. PRO Neg. Hi film simulation.
Bundoran, County Donegal. PRO Neg. Hi film simulation.

To "cover my bases" on this trip, and give some control to the experiment, I would shoot raw + JPEG files simultaneously while using different FUJIFILM film simulations.

Mullaghmore, County Sligo. ASTIA SOFT
Mullaghmore, County Sligo. ASTIA SOFT film simulation.

Simulation Fun

Choosing the best-looking film stock for each scene really adds a bit of fun to the process of capturing images. One of the thumbpad buttons on my X-T3 is assigned to select from the menu of film simulations. This allowed me to cycle through the different film stocks easily while looking through the EVF.

Near Glencar Waterfall, County Sligo. CLASSIC CHROME film simulation.
Near Glencar Waterfall, County Sligo. CLASSIC CHROME film simulation.

The EVF and LCD on the camera show the film-simulated JPEGs, so I could see exactly what the JPEG processing would look like while setting up the shot. If you shoot raw files, you can set your EVF/LCD to any of the film simulations while shooting without baking the film simulation into the raw file. In fact, more than a few digital photographers have been known to set their EVF/LCD to a black-and-white film simulation to help them focus on composition without distracting color in the image.

Rinawros Point on Arranmore Island, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.
Rinawros Point on Arranmore Island, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.

When scrolling through the film simulations, the camera displays a short description of each simulation. For example, for FUJIFILM Velvia it reads, "Vibrant reproduction, ideal for landscape and nature." I certainly found these descriptions to be useful—especially when simulating yellow, red, or green filters on the simulated black-and-white ACROS film.

Arranmore Lighthouse, County Donegal. PRO Neg. Hi film simulation.
Arranmore Lighthouse, County Donegal. PRO Neg. Hi film simulation.

Cycling through film simulations while composing each image was awesome. By adding this quick step to the capture process, I deepened my involvement in the image creation. I recommend it!

Bundoran sunset, County Donegal. Post-processed raw image versus a post-processed JPEG with the Velvia VIVID simulation. I loved the film/grain look of the JPEG and could not really get the raw image to match the aesthetic. If I had been shooting only raw, I wouldn't have this look.

Favorite Simulations for Ireland's Landscapes

The Irish landscape is known for its lush color palate and I certainly wanted to show that in the images. I also wanted to simulate black-and-white film when the scenes were monochrome-friendly.

Arranmore Island, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.
Arranmore Island, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.

I mostly steered clear of simulations that muted the colors because our exploration of Ireland was all about colorful landscapes. I found myself gravitating to Velvia because it was really bringing out the greens of the vegetation on the JPEGs. Also, when working on the coast, Velvia brought a deeper blue tint to the ocean waters.

St. John's Point Lighthouse, County Donegal. ACROS film simulation.
St. John's Point Lighthouse, County Donegal. ACROS film simulation.

I greatly enjoyed diving into the black-and-white ACROS simulations–using the simulated filters to change up the contrast of different scenes. Again, the short descriptions attached to the simulations proved useful to me because I was able to tailor the filters for each image.

Bunduran night, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.
Bundoran night, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.

Post Processing

With raw and film-simulated JPEG files to process (for the purposes of this article), my post-processing workflow was more daunting than usual because I was dealing with at least two (and sometimes three or four) versions of the same photograph.

Arranmore Lighthouse and The Old Church at Dunlewey, County Donegal. ACROS film simulation.

Important note: I usually shoot at -1EV and, in hindsight, I should have probably dialed that to zero for this raw + JPEG test knowing that the raw files would have a bit more latitude in post processing.

Arranmore Island, County Donegal. ASTIA SOFT film simulation.
Arranmore Island, County Donegal. ASTIA SOFT film simulation.

I will say that the JPEG files looked fantastic straight out of the camera and I would have zero hesitation to post them to the Web or send them to a printer as is. They are very usable files and they looked great.

Bundoran and Rutland Island, County Donegal. ASTIA SOFT film simulation.

Even though they looked great, I did post-process the JPEGs a bit. Some of the -1EV shots were intentionally dark, but I found that the files had enough latitude to recover shadows cleanly on the JPEG files. When shooting high-contrast scenes, I was a bit worried that the -1EV setting would bite me when it came time to processing the JPEGs, but this fear was unwarranted. Overall, I found that processing the JPEG images to a final product was faster than it was when processing the same raw file to a similar aesthetic.

Hamilton Castle, Manorhamilton, County Leitrim. ACROS film simulation.
Hamilton Castle, Manorhamilton, County Leitrim. ACROS film simulation.

With raw and JPEG images to adjust, I found that I could not really operate in a void or with a control for each image experiment. I often found myself trying to process the raw files to match the look of the accompanying film-simulated JPEG for some reason. I guess this defeats the purpose of having the raw file, right?

For the images where I processed the raw file and then did some basic adjustments to the JPEG image, I found myself preferring the overall look and feel of the JPEG on my screen in almost every case.

McSwine Castle, St. John's Point, County Donegal. Raw file processed in the FUJFIILM X RAW Studio and using the FUJIFILM Film Simulations in Lightroom. You can see how the in-camera film simulation processing differs from what you get when applying the simulation in Lightroom.

The End of Raw Shooting?

Can you ditch raw capture and blissfully head out into the world shooting great JPEG-only images?

Yes… but there are caveats.

Classiebawn Castle, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.
Classiebawn Castle, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.

Based on my intense one-week experiment, I would be comfortable setting my camera to capture only JPEG images with the following exceptions and stipulations:

  1. If, like me, you shoot at -1EV regularly, I would recommend removing the EV shift (set to zero), only going to -1EV for brighter scenes when shooting JPEGs.

  2. For nighttime photography with mixed light sources, I'd recommend either shoot raw or raw + JPEG so that you will have more flexibility for white balance adjustments in post processing.

  3. If your scene has a challenging dynamic range, or you are known for your ability to mis-expose images, the raw file will give you a better chance of salvaging a tough lighting scene or bad exposure.

Killybegs Harbour, County Donegal. ETERNA CINEMA film simulation.
Killybegs Harbour, County Donegal. ETERNA CINEMA film simulation.

Going back to JPEG shooting requires a paradigm shift to my workflow―and a leap of faith in the technology of the modern JPEG. Part of me wants to keep embracing raw capture and the knowledge that I am getting the most from every file. However, I am intrigued by fact that I preferred the look of the JPEG version of almost every image I brought home from Ireland. I guess there is no harm or foul in shooting both raw and JPEG images and then giving yourself permission to delete the large raw files when the JPEG meets your visual needs. Of course, you can save the raw version of your very best images for future post processing opportunities.

Mullaghmore, County Sligo. CLASSIC CHROME film simulation.
Mullaghmore, County Sligo. CLASSIC CHROME film simulation.

The Debate Continues and JPEGs from Other Cameras

What are your thoughts on the modern JPEG? Have you removed the shackles of raw image processing completely? Do you shoot both? Or are you raw only… forever?

Bunduran sunset, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.
Bundoran sunset, County Donegal. Velvia VIVID film simulation.

Are you NOT a FUJIFILM shooter and you are still reading? If so, what are your thoughts on your Sony, Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Panasonic, Olympus, Leica, and other JPEG files?

Let us know in the Comments section, below, and thanks for reading!

16 Comments

The Fujifilm JPEGs are great. I still shoot JPEG+RAW as a belt-and-suspenders photographer. It’s just a matter of creating a backup in the field. When I import them into Lightroom, it’s no real extra effort to tag two photos with keywords, etc., at the same time. If the JPEG is everything I hoped for, I’ll archive the RAW file on a high-capacity external drive if I think I may need it in the future. Storage is relatively cheap today 

I also use Fujifilm’s X Raw Studio, which is a program any Fujifilm user should have. By connecting the camera to the computer with this software, you can reprocess any RAW file in the camera, using the camera’s processor. This give you the ability to examine an image using any JPEG film simulation.

X Raw Studio also allows tweaking the profile just as you would in the camera at capture time. It also allows saving and archiving custom simulations (“recipes”) that greatly add to the fun of using Fuji (hello, fujixweekly.com)

While you can set bracketing to capture three difference simulations at the same time, that gives me 6 images for every shot (3 JPEGs and 3 RAW). I much prefer testing other simulations with X Raw Studio (which is free, by the way).

I’ve made prints as large as 40 inches by 60 inches from my X-T4’s original RAW files. That’s one instance in which the original JPEG may not cut it.

Hi Stanley,

Great input. I'll have to do a web search for "belt-and-suspenders photographer." Sounds like you found a small, but critical, niche in the fashion photography industry!

Thank you for reading and sharing your tips!

Best,

Todd

The reality of trying to "show" the difference online when you are displaying color limited 8-bit sRGB jpg is kinda missing a large chunk of the point. That said, on all of the "compare" examples, even at display res I preferred  the RAW (the last one has WAY more sharpening on the jpg, so not really a good comparison).  High quality jpg can definitely be fine, but there are zero advantages to quality (and substantial disadvantages with post manipulation). Anyone focused on quality over other measures (speed, cost) will shoot raw and not think twice about it. Photo storage space isnt trivial, but files also arent THAT large, especially compared to video (now do I want to shoot 12-bit 8k Raw at 60p, that is a scarier proposition) . Saving time on post is absolutely a valid concern with baked in looks, but again, it isnt that much time, and one can do jpg + raw if you really want to unless you're doing large bursts.

Hey Tristan,

I don't disagree with any points you made there. There is no question that a raw image is a superior file in almost every way, but it is comforting knowing that, unless you botch the exposure, you can crank out quality JPEGs with today's camera and press on and make more photos!

Thank you for reading and commenting!

Best,

Todd

Congrats on your excellent article Todd!

I have been shooting with a Sony A850 for over 12 years now. From all of my clients none has complained about a single quality issue, the pickiest inspectors are at iStock, and I learned to submit technically flawless images to them and for over a decade have not had a rejected image. All rejected images had either noise or jpeg artifacts, so for uploading to iStock purposes, do you think shooting jpeg mode produces inspector acceptable levels of noise and jpg artifacts?

Thank you!

Hi Jorge,

Thank you so much for the kind words!

Great question. I cannot speak for the stock image sites, but, if creating stock imagery, I might lean more towards processed raw images to help produce "cleaner" files. Feel free to do a test with two files of the same image to see if they pick one and reject the other! I would be curious to know what would happen.

In the examples in the article above, I think the JPEGs looked a bit more "artistic" and had a sense of applied interpretation to them—not as clean and sterile as my usual raw images. That makes their attraction a bit more subjective in some ways, if not also technically not as clean.

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

A question for those that shoot both.....

The downside of shooting Raw and JPG is that you have two sets of images that need to be stored, cataloged, metadata coded, reviewed and named.  In post production, if one makes adjustments to either type of file in a program like Capture 1, you now have variants that will be exported as JPG as well and need to be named and stored etc.  Keeping track of this seems like it would be confusing.  Can someone who shoots both, explain how they manage the whole process from beginning to end.  Thanks in advance for your perspective.

Hello Dr. H!

Great question and, as I have just started doing some raw+JPEG shooting, I honestly haven't figured out the best approach to this. Hopefully a reader will chime in to help us both out!

One thing I will say is that my file naming/workflow/cataloging system is not tripped up by having two files for each image. I re-name my photos on export with a unique number and that eliminates the need to differentiate between the source (raw or JPEG) file.

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

        Let me begin by saying I have from the analog days been a fan of Fuji's analog color reversal film simulations. As a consultant for Fuji in those days, I helped in the developement of Fuji Astia, the only color reversal film made with all three color curves running parallel. The result was a film with no color crossovers, a truly neutral film. As we moved into digital, I gave Fuji the recommendation to have on their S1 digital camera, the choices to simulate the various film types. I was glad to see that twenty years later they finally incorporated these as options. 

        As to your preference to shooting jpeg over raw. Besides only being 8 bit, the jpegs are only capable of Adobe1998 color space. Raw files can be processed into ProPhoto, a dramatically larger color space.  In addition jpegs sacrifice some of the dynamic range that the sensor is capable of. Since the final art form for my photography is a print, a jpeg workflow sacrifices too much in my opinion.  If you're just shooting for social media it really doesn't make any difference.  If you use a good raw converter like Capture One, there are additional advantages over jpeg in camera. If I need a jpeg I generate it in Capture One and then get all of the advantages of raw processing but with a smaller file. I use this workflow along with selective sharpening with Nik Sharpener Pro and generate a high res jpeg for internet use.

       Probably more information than needed but maybe some food for thought...  

Hey Douglas,

Awesome stuff and a big thank you for being on the development side of the film and digital simulations!

You make some very valid points. I wish I could tell you that the print was the final destination for my image(s), but it rarely is. I have no more wall space and not much room in cabinets to store prints, too! If someone buys me a bigger house, I am happy to make more prints! :)

You've made some great points here and I appreciate you sharing your experience and knowledge.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to share!

Best,

Todd

Hey Todd, great article. Like you there have been times where I’ve tried to match the Fuji raw files to the jpeg, and no matter how hard I try the jpeg is just “better” sometimes.  I do have one question for you. Are you using the film simulations at their default settings? In the article you mention usually shooting at -1EV, do you modify/change the color, shadow or highlight tones, noise reduction, etc? 

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the kind words! I appreciate it!

Not to go in circles, but, as you have seen with the "better" JPEGS, the irony is that I have been raw only for years and had no idea I was missing out on a beautiful JPEG. On the other hand, if I was shooting JPEG only, I would likely be frustrated with a few images here and there where I needed to fix an exposure or pull out shadow detail. I guess raw+JPEG, as frustrating as double-files can be, might be the best solution.

Regarding your question. Yes. Default simulation settings. I do generally shoot at -1EV, but that is applied to raw and/or JPEG files. I did not dive into the customization options for the film simulations (including film recipes...which seem like they'd be really cool to play with!)

Let me know if you have more questions and thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Thanks again. I used to be the same with regards to raw. The idea of shooting jpeg only was absolutely ludicrous. Until I discovered Fuji. So far though, the only issue I’ve run into with Fuji jpegs, something which you also mentioned, is white balance and exposure. Shooting jpeg only requires I pay much closer attention to both. 
 

Still, the SOOC jpegs still blow me away. Back in 2016 when on a whim I bought my first X-Series camera, a used XPro1, as a lightweight alternative to my 5D MkIII for carrying around on a trip to Disney, I had thought all the hype about the Fujifilm jpegs was just that, overblown fanboy hype. Until I realized that 80-90% of the time I was using the SOOC jpegs I made on that trip. 
 

Thanks again for the great article and feedback. 

Hi Jeff,

You are welcome! Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your experiences. Great stuff!

Best,

Todd

JPEG is limited to 8 bits/channel (unless you are using a very uncommon JPEG engine). That in itself ends the discussion for me. Plus I do not want to have to make the profile selection when I am shooting. I want to take time to study the overall color balance, contrast, etc. on a large screen. Even more, I want to produce my own images according to my own style, not let a computer make them for me. RAW forever? Who knows. But JPEG is not what will pry me away.

JPEG is convenient for some things and, on rare occasions, I use it. If you feel that RAW processing is a "shackle" then definitely shoot JPEG.

Hey Ed,

Great points there. I do not disagree with anything you say, but I will tell you that my experiment was eye-opening a bit and I was really happy with the way the JPEGs looked on the screen with minimal tweaks. I think that shooting raw+JPEG might be the way forward for me—to keep having fun with the film simulations and to capture images where the look of the JPEG works better for my  eye than the processed raw.

Thanks for reading! I hope the blog and your images are going well!

Best,

Todd

Close

Close

Close