The writing is on the wall for JPEG, and maybe raw too?

Started Aug 22, 2017 | Discussions thread
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Najinsky Veteran Member • Posts: 5,739
The writing is on the wall for JPEG, and maybe raw too?

JPEG has been a faithful servant to photo Imaging for over a quarter of a century, but its endgame is now underway.

Superior compression, by way of High Efficiency Video Compression (HEVC/H.265), has been upon us for some time, but without mainstream support is has been playing only to the early adopter crowd.

Samsung were famously criticised for adopting it for video in their NX1 ILC.

With genuine benefits of superior IQ and better compression (smaller storage sizes) it seemed like a great choice, but without native support in workflow tools, it also turned into an obstacle, with most users needing to transcode it into an alternative format to work on it. This earned it a notable mention as both a 'Pro' and a 'Con' in the DPR review.

This all changes in a few weeks with the release of Apple's iOS 11 with native support for H.265 (HEVC for video and HEIF for stills). The upcoming MacOS High Sierra similarly provides native support for Mac computers.

The benefits are real, higher IQ in half the file size. In the internet world of storage and data transmission, size equates to speed and cost, the benefits are too great to ignore and adoption will accelerate rapidly.

Camera makers will be forced to comply.

And In turn this will mark a decision point for a great many of us photographers too, in our choice of shooting raw or HEIF (or both).

In the early days of DSLR, raw shooting was compelling, there were too many benefits to be ignored.

  1. Sensor dynamic range was lower (noise was higher). Raw allowed teasing more DR into the image which was relevant for many shooting scenarios.
  2. Framing and preview was done through an optical finder, meaning white balance performance could only be checked after the image was captured. For tricky/changing light, raw had the advantage of setting WB later.
  3. In camera image processing engines were slow, clumsy and lacking in sophistication; smearing away details, over-sharpening, applying dodgy tone curves and introducing compression artefacts. Raw allowed for more sophisticated processing downstream.
  4. JPEG output was 8 bit, just enough for excellent presentation, but lacking in flexibility for editing. Raw retains more image data for greater flexibility in editing.

For all these upsides, raw comes at a price, and that price is complexity, storage and time; collectively known as a raw workflow.

But as cameras have progressed, bit by bit these benefits have continually been gnawed away, especially for us mirrorless ILC users.

In ILCs, the use of liveview allows for more sophisticated WB analysis, better WB choices, and for a live preview of those choices to confirm the setting is correct, all before the shot is captured.

Improved sensor performance giving higher DR/less noise combined with better image processing and DRO techniques enable more DR to be captured without resorting to raw.

More sophisticated image processing engines allow for much more control (and creativity) over the rendering of the image in camera.

These benefits have already led some raw adopters back into the time and storage efficient world of JPEG shooting.

This is especially true for users of Canon, Olympus and Fujifilm cameras where the manufacturer has paid special attention to the image processing and colour science features of the camera. Nikon are not far behind and Panasonic finally started to get on board with the GH5, leaving Sony trailing the field in this area.

HEIF is the next advancement to chip away at the benefits of raw, because, in addition to providing smaller 8 bit output files, it also offers the option to use higher quality 10 bit colour while still retaining the file size advantage currently offered by an 8 bit JPG over raw.

Skip forward a year from now, after the firmware updates have rolled out and introduced HEIF support into cameras,  lets say, on an E.M1.2.

As you take a shot:

  1. The dual quad-core processors perform billions of calculations per second helping the camera nail the metering and white balance.
  2. The liveview preview/histogram lets you see these are set correctly.
  3. The sensor captures the image data with 12 stops of DR.
  4. Lens corrections are applied to eliminate distortion and CA.
  5. Diffraction compensation is applied to maximise detail.
  6. DRO is applied to preserved your important shadow and highlight detail.
  7. Intelligent noise reduction applies your noise preferences.
  8. Sophisticated tone curves apply your colour and tonal preferences.
  9. The image is saved in a high quality 10bit file no bigger than your current JPG file.
  10. The image is as good, or pretty close, as anything you are currently getting from you raw workflow, but is now instantly usable for tweaking and publishing without the need for raw processing software.

When this is the norm, how many will still elect to use a raw workflow?

For sure there will always be a specialist demand for raw. And there will probably always be a genuine interest in preserving the digital negative, but for many of us, the days and hassle of processing the digital negative will be over and the most likely interaction most of will have with it is simply storing it somewhere safe.

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