Why I’m A JPEG Junkie

Back in those innocent days when I shot only with a humble Sony camera phone, captured everything in colour, and my processing workflow consisted just of plugging the phone into my PowerBook and downloading the images, I had little idea about image format.

Some years later, once I’d already been happily photographing JPEGs with my first “serious” camera, a Nikon Coolpix P300, and was starting to use a Sony NEX with vintage lenses, a photographer I looked up to suggested I should be shooting RAW.

JPEGs, he suggested, compressed the image too much and lost all of the important detail.

So I starting to experiment with shooting RAW and using LightRoom and a variety of presets to try to get a look I liked.

Also, unlike the Coolpix, where a hint of saturation boost in camera gave me colours I was happy with, the NEX’s JPEG colours usually seemed cool and flat anyway.

So with every image that survived my first few editing sweeps and I’d deemed a keeper, I went through a dozen different preset options and adjustments to the RAW files in LightRoom.

And sometimes I even landed on a look I like it. At least for a few hours.

But I hated this endless fiddling.

I was spending more time hunched over a computer processing photographs than actually out in the field shooting them – the opposite end of the balance I wanted.

It reminded me of the era I’d bought my own film scanner to save money on film processing, and would again spend hours scanning 120 and 35mm film and trying to achieve images I liked at the end of it.

Again, too much time on a computer, and not enough behind the camera.

I photograph to get out and escape from being inside with machines. Why would I want to add more of this activity to my life?

In 2017 I discovered the Pentax K10D, and initially shot RAW and followed my existing LightRoom flow, but rather than further tweak, I just let LightRoom auto adjust and export, and was happy with the images.

Then I read more about the K10D and other Pentax CCD cameras like the *ist series and K100D on PentaxForums, and realised that many, if not most people shot JPEG and used the images straight out of camera (SOOC).

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This appealed hugely to the part of me that feels photography (for me) is all about being out in the countryside with a camera I love, and post processing should be absolutely minimal, if not zero.

The old Pentax CCD cameras do have scope for adjustment in camera, like contrast and saturation, and many have different Custom Image settings also, like B/W, Muted, Vibrant and so on, which can be further tweaked.

So you don’t have to rely on the camera’s default factory set up (though on the K10D, K100D and K-m, the “Bright” image setting does give lovely images SOOC).

Ironically, the common belief is that these cameras have Sony sensors!

So out went LightRoom (along with its restrictive and expensive subscription only plan) and I didn’t look back.

I haven’t shot a RAW image in about two and a half years.

My photography needs aren’t at a level where I needed the higher “quality” of shooting RAW, nor do I have the desire for the greater (and indeed infinite!) adjustments in post processing that RAW allows.

Put another way, JPEGs, are good enough, in fact more than good enough.

Their convenience, speed and directness, plus the fact I love the images I can get just using on board camera settings, means I have no plans for using any other option in the foreseeable future.

In addition, JPEGs are smaller, so are quicker to upload and open, and take up less storage space.

How about you? Are you a JPEG junkie, or do you have a more complex processing flow?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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34 thoughts on “Why I’m A JPEG Junkie”

  1. Hi, Dan. I only shoot film, almost exclusively B&W, and develop it myself, so obviously my workflow is going to be quite a bit different than yours. But when it comes to film scans, I despise JPEGs (as all film photographers should). Simply put, they’re worthless. I work with 16-bit TIFFs. If a lab is supplying just JPEG scans to their customers, they’re screwing them over bad, and the lab knows it. They should be providing TIFFs by default, and film shooters shouldn’t be settling for anything less. There is no point in shooting film if after going through all the effort all you have to show for it are poor quality JPEGs that can’t even begin to do the negative justice. Although I wouldn’t personally, I can understand shooting JPEG with digital cameras, but I cannot understand JPEG film scans.

    1. P, I completely understand that if someone is shooting film for the aim of having high quality negatives to make prints from (or have high quality digital images) then a low res JPEG isn’t going to cut it. What does it cost a lab to make higher res TIFFs, is it just more time? Can’t cost any more in materials surely, because it’s a digital scan not a print. Just wondering why so many seem to offer low or medium res JPEGs as the default and you have to pay more for higher resolution. Why would they not want to provide high resolution and delight the photographer, not only gaining their trust and return business, but generally promoting what film can do.

      1. The quick answer is that labs in general are greedy as all get-out, lazy as can be, totally incompetent, and don’t care at all about their customers. And since these problems are very nearly universal (at least in my part of the world), and since customers keep giving their business to these labs that don’t deserve it (I assume they don’t know any better), they get away with it and the problem keeps getting worse. It’s the biggest issue I face shooting film.

        But to answer your question, no, TIFFs really don’t require any more time, effort, or resources on the part of the lab, at least with Noritsu scanners (I don’t like Frontiers). Increasing resolution requires increased scanning time, yes, but even with the largest ~24/30 MP scans (on Noritsus), the total time it takes to scan an entire roll of film, start to finish, is about 20-25 minutes. Normal, fairly small, ~6 MP scans take about 5-8 minutes total. The worthless ~1.5 MP scans take so little time — as in two minutes or less — it’s not even worth mentioning. Plus, almost everything is fully automated. The operator isn’t even really doing anything.

        So, given all that, do people doing business with labs still think they’re being charged fairly for scanning services? If they’re being honest with themselves, I seriously doubt it. They need to start demanding better.

        Take care, Dan.

      2. I can’t quite gauge your opinion ion this P, so you’re not that keen on film labs? ; )

        I really think most customers, ie amateur film photographers, don’t know any better. I know when I shot film and used the local supermarket lab, I was more than happy with the results. Partly it helped that the people usually doing the processing had an insight and interest in photography and knew how to use the machines pretty well. But I never had high res scans or anything, so would probably be shocked at the difference in using a high end lab with high res scans.

        But with film photography expensive anyway (film itself, and the basic processing), most people don’t have any money left for expensive scans, they’d rather buy more film, so the labs are surely doing themselves out of business. If they made higher quality scans cheaper, surely it would encourage more people to have them, then be even more enamoured with what film is capable of?

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more Dan. JPEGs work well with the Pentax CCD sensors. I have used them consistently, and like you, can’t be bothered fiddling around in Lightroom. I shoot mainly for myself and share some with friends on FB. I produce gift cards and calendars each year, and still find the quality of the JPEGs more than adequate for this purpose. The other benefit is that when travelling or in the field, you can get so many more images on the memory card. In all things in photography: each to their own!

    1. We’re on the same page Paul! Yes, with my higher res 16MP K-30 I set the image quality to 12MP when I first got it, and then forgot it was 16MP! Even on the 8MP setting the images are big enough and detailed enough for my needs.

  3. I have never shot anything except JPEG’s, and mostly have no complaints. My Fujifilm Xpro 1 seems to produce the ones I like best. I received some very nasty comments about this on social media from more “advanced” photographers. I don’t miss any of that, although quitting was like going through withdrawal from drugs.

    1. Jon, I think it’s one of those aspects of photography that some use as a kind of snobbery to put down others and make themselves feel better. I’m more than happy with old CCD Pentax cameras with their JPEG output!

      Which social media are you talking about quitting? That withdrawal sounds extreme!

      1. Dan, all of it. Facebook was really tough, I was active in several groups that I really missed.

      2. I hear so many comments about Facebook groups, and them being the only reason people stay. Surely there are other options? What did you all do be fore Facebook?

      3. Well, when I lived in the City, there were plenty of other options. Now that I live in the middle of nowhere options are very limited. I’m sure there are other ways to connect with like minded people online, but I can live without them. I got a job, so I really don’t do much with the internet these days. I follow a few blogs, do some shopping, and Bob and I have a few YT channels we watch. We listen to music, work in the garden and read If we have time.

  4. Same. Tried the much-advocated RAW format and found it was a lot more work for no noticeable improvement in end results. Probably suitable for professional photographers getting paid by the hour and people suffering from OCD, but not worth it for serious photographic artists.

    1. Agreed Marc. I get that some people are at the kind of digital imagery end of photography rather than camera lovers, and would rather craft something on a computer from the lump of clay they originally captured in camera. Trouble is, you can make virtually any image look however you want it, if you adjust and manipulate it enough. If you take an old beat up car and systematically replace every component, is it still the same car? I’d rather get it as right as possible in camera and have zero processing time and input.

  5. Same here with the K10D Dan. Most images made with a digital camera a JPET will do, and the sensors and rendering engine keeps getting better and better. In fact the only time I post process is to tweak a dodge or burn or special effect. And I use Ribbet which is very much like Lightroom but without the cost. I think you just shared a huge hidden secret about the JPEG as well as why the CCD needs to come back. I also think if Ansel Adams where alive he’d shoot JPEG’s as well, because with film he perfected his craft so well that he did things with it most did not, that if you took one of his film made prints and put it next to a JPEG digital made print you would see little to know variation.

    1. Gotta love those CCD sensors! I watch various things on eBay and it’s interesting to see how the value of the old Pentax bodies like the *ist and K100D are starting to creep up again. I paid £26 for my K100D and £31 for its successor, the K-m. I’ve seen the earlier *ist bodies advertised for £150-200!

  6. Dan, which is your favorite vintage Pentax digital body? A shop nearby has a *ist kit, but the price is very high. They seem to be collectible now.

    1. Ah I just replied to Frank about this! Which *ist is it? The best model to go for I think is the DS or DS2. I’ve had a Samsung GX1 which is a Samsung clone of the DS2, the best *ist they made. There are a couple of DL models which I believe are a bit more basic, and lower spec, probably smaller screens too. But any *ist is fun to use. I paid £26 for my K100D and £31 for my K-m, which succeeded the K-m, and has the same 10MP sensor as the K10D.

      Which *ist model is in your nearby shop and is it with the kit lens, the DA 18-55? Even for an immaculate one with kit lens, I personally wouldn’t pay more than maybe £75, if that. With patience you can pick up lovely cameras of this era for significantly less. Look out for the Samsung models, they tend to be cheaper but are nearly identical except the menu look is slightly different. The GX10 is the same as the Samsung K10D (I’ve had both, and the images were identical, as was the fell of them with my eyes closed), and the GX1 series are like the *ist series – GX1s = DS2 (the best *ist) and I think they made a GX1L which was like the slightly more budget *ist DL/DL2.

      Hope that helps!

    2. PS/ My favourite is probably the K100D. It’s for me like the flagship of all that was great about DSLRs of that era, and just the right balance of simplicity and capability. But the K-m (aka K2000)is fantastic too and has more image adjustment in camera so I can shoot colour or b/w straight out of camera with the K-m.

      1. Thanks Dan, it seems like the prices in these parts are way out of kilter. I think this is the original, and the seller is asking almost $200 with tax. Prices here on the big auction site are high also. I don’t really need another camera anyway. I appreciate the response.

      2. Yeh that is a high amount for such a DSLR. How much is something later like a K-30 or K-50? I paid about £150 for my K-30 last year, and sometimes they’re a little less. Certainly much more than an *ist.

      3. I’m not sure Dan, I will check those out. It seems like anything Pentax has become a cult item here, which is odd since I haven’t seen another photographer with a Pentax digital camera in twenty years. I had an older friend years ago who predicted that eventually Pentax equipment would increase in value, and we all chuckled about how unlikely that was.

      4. I think Pentax have quite a dedicated following. I know on PentaxForums, where I follow a few threads about older cameras, there’s a very enthusiastic and friendly bunch. I don’t know, I do somehow connect more with Pentax cameras, whereas other brands like Canon, Nikon and Olympus just leave me cold.

  7. When you get pictures like the one in your article from the camera, who can argue with your point? 🙂
    I go back and forth.. I like having good presets that I can rely on, for our family pictures. I also have some that I felt were good enough for walking around, but I felt they could be improved by Corel Aftershot Pro 3 and its Perfectly Clear implementation (don’t use ASP3 for RAWs… it’s not very good anymore).
    But recently I found a workflow that is very quick and gives me results I’m quite happy with, based on a startup preset I created – afterwards I basically just need to adjust exposure, contrast and saturation, basically, as every picture is a bit different. I’m quite enjoying it and I think I’m getting results that are beyond what the JPEG engine can give me, without spending too much time.
    I put a link to my new flickr page in this post, in case you’re curious… the first 10 (up to the beautiful orange lilly) were done with this new approach – and the two at the very end of my page.
    You’ll notice hardly any CCD pictures… only some old ones I put there, as my K10D has been out of reach for several months now.

      1. When I got my K10D about three years ago I read up quite a bit about it on PentaxForums, and that application came up often. I tried it briefly, but I don’t know, I just didn’t have the patience or interest in learning another new app. I just think the camera should deliver, which most of the time the CCDs do (and far less often, but occasionally, the K-30 does too).

    1. Thanks for the comments, and the Flickr link. What do you think you get “beyond what the JPEG engine can give me”. I think I’m less educated in the nuances of digital photography, and so a good JPEG straight out of camera makes me very pleased!

      1. Well, a lot of times the JPEG will be good enough, but I take a lot of pictures where dynamic range is important… people pictures especially, but also pictures where there’s bright light along with deep shadows… like this (not sure if it will work…):
        //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
        The JPEG was just a mess of darkness and blown out light… here I was able to get it much more manageable. But it literally took me 30 seconds to edit that image and save it, because I already had the preset ready and just had to adjust contrast (take some off actually… which is a common thing for me) and saturation.

      2. Chris, I’m intrigued about this photo now, bu unfortunately the link hasn’t worked. Can you just post the link of the main photo page on Flickr?

  8. I put my hand up to having been a RAW only snob but more recently have come to enjoy the jpegs and film simulations of my Fuji cameras, experimenting more with in camera “recipes”.

    As much as I enjoy editing, there is much to be said for spending less time staring at a pc screen adjusting sliders.

    1. Absolutely. Plus a part of me only wants to be at a screen when I’m doing something I can’y do another way, like writing and publishing blog posts. Manipulating digital images is something that can be simplified and done by how you set up your camera (and which camera(s) you choose of course) and doesn’t need hours of post processing, in my experience. The whole concept of photography time without actually using a camera just seems bizarre to me too. For me the joy is so embedded in the experience of using the cameras.

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