With last night’s Camera Raw Update 3.7 came a most welcome addition: Aperture 3 support for the Fujifilm Finepix X100 camera. A nice surprise given Apple’s sometimes leisurely pace when it comes to supporting the latest cameras.
But strangely, I am now faced with a serious dilemma.
I know. Why should I be racking my brains over this right? Native RAW support means I should now simply hit the Image Quality menu, switch to RAW and be done with it. I mean, when I first started looking for a compact walk-around camera my one criteria was RAW files — I dismissed everything that was JPEG only. That’s how much of a RAW shooter I am. So what has changed?
I’ve been shooting JPEG for 40 days, that’s what.
When I look at what I’ve shot so far I can’t say I feel cheated in any way. The images look damn good. They look good at 100%; They look good printed.
When I found the Adobe DNG Converter trick I did quite a few RAW vs JPEG tests and in the end decided to stick with JPEG. I wasn’t that impressed with the difference and generally thought the in-camera files had better overall noise control, one the X100’s strength.
So I’ve gotten used to dealing with those JPEGs and have found them to be surprisingly sturdy in post. Less headroom and control? That’s the big trade-off. But as I mentioned in this discussion I’ve been approaching the X100 like a film camera, making sure I get exposure and white balance spot on when shooting instead of relying on the fluidity of RAW. It’s a much more deliberate way of shooting that I feel fits in perfectly with how the camera works. This isn’t a machine gun with 3D tracking.
From my initial tests I can say Apple has done a great job with the RAF files, making the decision all the more difficult. Converted files are pretty close to in-cam JPEGs and the re-appearance of De-noise in RAW Fine Tuning (which wasn’t there with DNGs) is a godsend.
There is however a difference in the quality of noise: the grain isn’t as fine and looks more mottled. It’s still ok, but it IS different. There also seems to be a bit more vignetting which points to Fuji adding tweaks when processing for the lens.
There are also slight differences in tone (especially reds) and the obvious shadow/highlight interpretation depending on how you’ve set the camera’s Dynamic Range settings (which don’t apply to RAW).
That’s always the thing isn’t it? Compromise, compromise, compromise. Obviously I can get the best of both worlds by shooting RAW+JPEG. But this — for me at least — adds a layer of confusion I’m not sure I’m prepared to deal with. The problem becomes one of self-editing: which version is the best one. Most of the time both will be perfectly fine... but different. There’s that word again.
In the end, with the X100 I don’t think I’d be choosing RAW for added file quality. The in-camera files are that good. I’d be doing it for peace of mind: the ability to tweak exposure and white balance after the fact, to recover highlights. RAW as my security blanket.
In a professional context, with my Nikons, this is a no-brainer. I want that peace of mind, that security. I also need to be able to change my mind in post, go with another interpretation I may not have thought of while shooting the scene. But I bought the X100 for personal use. We’re preparing our trip to France and I just don’t want to think about storage over there. If I shoot JPEG I’ll have more than enough cards on-hand and I’ll be able to backup to my iPad without even thinking about storage space.
I’ll also come back and edit what I shot, as is, no second guesses. Screwed up the exposure? Too bad. Next.
There’s a certain serenity that comes from knowing all the decisions have already been made. Am I discarding RAW entirely? Of course not. I also might flinch over there and hit that odd RAW button once in awhile. But for the most part I’m going to live on the edge. To hell with security.
This RAW shooter’s X100 will be bleeding JPEGs... for the foreseeable future at least.
More pics below.