Follow up ………

2008, Photography

My post ‘A raw rant‘ generated quite some traffic the last few days and let me make clear that I didn’t post it to start a new debate on RAW versus jpeg. And look, I don’t mind editing my photographs either. In fact, I think it is great fun to edit my photographs. So I will try to explain my feelings towards preferring jpegs for my general photography.

I use only one camera for my photography, the Ricoh GX200. I regard the camera as an huge improvement. handling wise. coming from the GX100, but I much preferred the image quality of the GX100. Since I use one camera for all types of photography I try to make it work for all disciplines. In RAW mode, good lightning, and working at base ISO the camera produces great looking files. In combination with the huge depth of field of these cameras that works really well for landscape photography in my opinion.

Low light
Ricoh GX200, f2.7, 1/60 sec, ISO 100, manual mode

But see, I don’t only like landscapes. I also like street photography for instance and I often work in not so perfect light conditions. Cameras with small sensors suffer from more noise, less dynamic range, and decreasing colors at higher ISO’s. Some think these are flaws, I see this as habits of the medium, the facts of life.

Recent serious compact cameras have gained much speed. Faster RAW writing times, continuous shooting modes and improved in-camera handling. But these RAW files can be large (17 MB for the GX200 for instance). These large files not only slow the camera down, but also the editing. Not much fun when you want to review and edit a lot of photographs. With applications like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture things have improved and it has become more intuitive to process RAW files. While I liked the way Lightroom processed the RAW files from my GX100, I dislike it how it handles the DNG files from the GX200. Sometimes Capture One works better, the other times Raw Therapee. Too many choices, too many different results. And despite shooting RAW more often I was more than happy with the jpegs.

low-light-4
Ricoh GX200, f2.7, 1/16 sec, ISO 200, manual mode

So here below I will explain how I make my compact camera work for me. I have tried several things in the past and I will likely be doing so in the near future. Recently I stumbled upon a great article about the Leica Digilux 2 on the website of Danish professional photographer Thorsten Overgaard. In that lengthly article he describes how he uses the Digilux 2 for his work and gain maximum performance from the camera. And best of all, he told me he still uses this 5 megapixel camera from 2004 for professional assignments. Even Peter van Agtmael uses the Digilux 2, instead of a Leica M8 which he disgusted (thank you for mentioning David Paul Carr). And remember wedding photographer Laurence Kim from the US who reviewed the Panasonic LX3 on his blog. He says: ‘As a professional photographer, I’ve never even considered using these “dummy modes” before. My thought was to just always shoot raw and then tweak the image in post to get it the way I want it. But you know what? These jpegs look so good straight out of the camera that I think I’ll stick with jpeg on this puppy, even after Adobe supports the LX3 raw files. Technology has evolved so why fight it?‘ So remember, it is not a rant. I just want to give some information on how you could use small sensor cameras in less than ideal situations. And Thorsten’s tips & tricks for the Digilux 2 certainly also applies for many serious compact cameras in my opinion.

Low light
Ricoh GX200, f3.0, 1/2 sec, ISO 100, manual mode

My tips & tricks
Whenever we read reviews or personal impressions of small sensor cameras, we always read that these camera are hardly usable at high ISO’s. Extensive noise, loss of details, and desaturating colors are often heard reasons. And because they all are pretty much true, why then use high ISO on these cameras? So keep it at base ISO, preferably at ISO 100 or at a maximum of ISO 200. Now this will result in longer exposures. So try to speed things up. First, select jpeg. The saving times are much shorter. Work with the camera in manual mode for more accurate exposing. Make the lens and sensor work for you and since small sensors give huge depth of field select the maximum lens opening. You still get plenty sharpness while getting the fastest shutter speed as possible.

Low light
Ricoh GX200, f2.7, 1/4 sec, ISO 100, manual mode

Fast shutter speeds at low ISO in dim light are pretty relative, but Thorsten Overgaard mentions another tip to get sharp photographs in low light. Shoot series instead of single photographs. Use the continuous or burst mode on your camera. When you do so the first shot of the series will likely have motion blur, but there is a good chance that the next shots are completely sharp and still. You will notice that you will be able to go to shutter speeds of 1/8 or even 1/4 seconds. These series of shots will be captured in only a second. Even a Sigma DP1 will be able to take 3 shots in a second and many mention that camera as being very slow. And Alex Majoli was able to use Olympus compact cameras on assignments in burst mode too. Though many will probably have read that story here and here.

Of course there are situations where it makes sense to shoot RAW in my opinion. For additional details, best dynamic range, getting the most out of a file and intended to be printed at large. But I think there are enough situations too where you won’t need the extra data. These photographs will still print fine at A4 or even A3 in my opinion.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

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9 thoughts on “Follow up ………

  1. Because I do not shoot with a compact digi with prime lens as do you, I cannot write to the majority of issues presented here. But there is one point upon which I firmly agree and frequently make use of with my dSLR.

    To keep my ISO boosted (to help diminish noise) to 100 or 200 I often fight the problems of subject motion or motion created by my own movement when working in less-than-ideal conditions regarding lighting. Certainly Image Stabilization helps, but it doesn’t always solve the problem. As such, I have always kept my camera’s drive mode set to the slower of the two burst modes (3-pictures per second). This way I’m able to fire off a number of shots in quick succession in hopes that at least one will be blur/motion free.

    As an amateur I’m glad to read that others use this method and that I’m not simply being stupid.

  2. Thanks for the wonderful insight…just making the recommended adjustments and shooting inside created some surprising results. On my way to the West Coast in a few hours and I hope to do a lot of different shooting with this info.

    Thorsten Overgaard had a lot of good stuff.

  3. Nice follow up, I agree with you on your recommendations (albeit I don’t mind boosting the maximum sensitivity to 400). Also, thanks for linking to the excellent Leica Digilux 2 article (I’m the new owner of the Panasonic variant of the Digilux 3, the Lumix L1) and I have a soft spot for the Digilux 2 & I’m glad to find a pro who agrees with me on just how marvelous that lil’ camera is.

  4. Hi, surfing on in from 1001noisycameras…

    Nice pair of posts, and I’m pretty much in agreement with everything you say. I shoot RAW on my 300D, and I think it’s likely I’ll shoot RAW (or one of the sRAWs) on the 5D mark II when it arrives – I may ‘have to’ buy a decent desktop for the number crunching, but that doesn’t really affect my image reviewing speed; I don’t like spending a lot of time in workflow/editing, but I’ve found letting DxO Optics (Or Lightroom) do things ‘automatically’ to my images (with a few presets tweaked for certain types of shots) is minimally labour intensive, and lets me output DNG’s in parallel for archiving.

    On a camera that can do reasonable burst in RAW, that works fine – I was in Guyana for a month in October, doing some volunteering (and a fair bit of photography). One of my fellow travellers had a 450D and didn’t like shooting in RAW, and got the white balance stuck in ‘fluorescent’ by mistake. This would have been very simple to fix in RAW, but was annoying to fix in JPGs. That’s a user error example, but RAW files also let me salvage shots that are irreplaceable records of a unique experience.

    But when I get a compact – I’m pondering the LX3 – I will shoot in JPG. Because it’s more than good enough in at least 95% of cases, once I get a feel for any given camera. Some of my best shots were made with an ‘old’ Minolta point and shoot 4MP cam, in JPG. And I can print them on 20 x 30 without any problems.

    I use a number of the tricks on my DSLR, but when/if I get around to getting a compact for those times an SLR is annoyingly bulky – I’m pondering an LX3 – I very much doubt I’ll

  5. Many thanks, bedankt, for your lengthly comment Mattia. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the dSLR’s and LX3.

    When a camera is really fast at recording there is basically no reason to keep away from jpegs. Though I know of professional photographers who use the 5D jpegs almost exclusively for their wedding photography. The key is to get your exposure and white balance right in the first place, even when you work in RAW mode.

    Like you I like to use presets and minimize the amount of processing on the majority of pictures. Only the best get some more tweaks. Before the Ricohs I used an old digital 4MP Oly and it produced some fine photographs in jpeg. And they printed very well on 20 X 30 cm.

    And just today I tried a dSLR. It was the first SLR experience since 2001. And although it was the Canon entry camera, 1000D, I got puzzled by all the buttons and lay-out. Somehow these cameras are not designed to work in manual mode.

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