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

A raw rant

2008, Photography

I know of all the benefits of RAW photography, but despite all the advantages I am still not always pleased with RAW. Larger file sizes, many RAW converters with different results, different RAW formats. And I wonder if RAW is really usable as an archive format.

Christmas bokeh

Many photographers want to believe that a RAW file is really raw, with no adjustments applied. But I honestly think that it is simply not true. Many manufacturers use a proprietary RAW file format instead of a standard RAW format. Either for selling more of their own RAW converters and some automatic software corrections, or for in-camera corrections on RAW files. Take Panasonic for instance. They worked closely with Silkypix to automatically apply barrel lens distortion correction. Now Adobe supports the LX3 RAW files and automatically corrects their files too, and now everybody rants of Adobe for supporting Panasonic instead of the consumers for keeping an untouched RAW file.

But how many people do really want to have an untouched RAW file. I personally think that the RAW files from most small sensor compact cameras are a lot more noisier then we ever see in our RAW converter. Many said that Panasonic applied some noise reduction even on their RAW files for the former LX2 and I think Ricoh does so too. Even RAW files can look mushy and smeary without any noise reduction in my RAW converter. Despite all automatic corrections many think that the Panasonic LX3 is currently the best small sensor camera for low light conditions. An incredible result indeed in my opinion. And I even don’t care that the ISO 800 of the LX3 isn’t really ISO 800, but more like ISO 400.

But honestly, do we really need to recover highlight or fill light for shadows? Is there no challenge to get the exposure and white balance right before taking the photograph? Are the processed files from RAW images really better then the jpegs? When my camera is set to RAW it also captures a jpeg image. Most of the photographs I posted originate from RAW files. For test purposes I chosen to edit the accompanied jpegs in Photoshop and compare them with the results for some of the processed RAW images and I was surprised. I thought it looked really good. So maybe I will try to keep the camera more in jpeg mode for a while. Life is too short for RAW.

Christmas bokeh

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma